Partnership

Membership says “what’s in it for me?” Partnership says, “how can I be a part of this?”

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Being a Partner is all about being connected. There is a big difference between membership and partnership. Let me explain it like this. It is possible to be a member of a gym, but only go there once a year, correct? But when you are a Partner you are connected, there is a connecting and a joining that takes place. You have a vested interest in everything that happens.  It is so much more than just being a member.

The same thing is true when it comes to be a partner in a church.  It’s not the fact that you visit that place, it’s all about that ministry – being a part of who you are and you are a part of what that ministry is. There is a connection, a joining and a communion that takes place in that. The purpose of this ministry is to bring you to the place where you fulfil the call of God on your life.

Think about it this way:  membership says “what’s in it for me?”  Partnership says, “how can I be a part of this?”

This letter of Paul’s to the Philippians is often referred to as the letter of joy. We can certainly understand why it would be called that hearing some of the phrases that Paul uses:

“I thank my God…”

“I’m thankful for all of you”

“it’s always a prayer full of joy”

“I’m glad…”

“I feel affection for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.”

“I’m glad…and I’ll continue to be glad.”

 

He sounds pretty joyful for someone writing a letter from jail. But it’s not necessarily that he’s joyful because of his circumstances. But more than that – I think he’s so joyful because of the way in which the Philippians, the people of the church, have partnered with him, have taken care of him, and have been working in the ministry of the gospel with him

And so, as I was reading this passage, I kept being drawn to these two verses about partnership: Verse 5: I’m glad because of the way you have been my partners in the ministry of the gospel from the time you first believed it until now.  And verse 7: I have good reason to think this way about all of you because I keep you in my heart. You are all my partners in God’s grace, both during my time in prison and in the defense and support of the gospel.

Now, when we think about partners…we probably have different responses. Perhaps some of you have partners who you work with professionally, and those may be good relationships, but it’s possible that some of them are strained.

And I don’t know about you, but when I was in school I would cringe a bit whenever a professor informed us that we’d be working in groups for a certain project. I didn’t necessarily always want partners – sometimes it would have been a whole lot easier if I could have just taken care of something on my own and did it myself.

Perhaps it’s because of the very individualistic society that we live in, but I’m sure that many of us would admit, if pressed, that we often prefer to be lone rangers…taking care of things by ourselves, rather than having the help of others.

But the thing is…we can’t do it alone. Sure maybe I could have knocked out a project quicker by myself…but when we are talking about the stuff of life, when we are talking about the work that God has called us to participate in, in the world…that’s not something that is easily done as lone rangers.

And we’ve known this from the very beginning. As we look back to the creation story in Genesis…after God had created Adam, God said, “It’s not good that the man is alone. I will make a helper that is perfect for him.” We were not meant to be alone…and we were not meant to do this work alone…

We need partners. Here in Philippians, Paul is profusely thanking the Philippians for being partners in the ministry of the gospel. They supported Paul during his ministry with them, and continued to support him while he was in prison…most likely that was made manifest by the Philippians providing Paul with food and other necessities that he wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.

For us, this morning, one of the questions we need to ask ourselves is how are we being partners in ministry with God and to each other? How are we supporting what God is doing in this church and in our world? This work of the ministry of the gospel is not something that I do…it’s not something that only the church council does…this is work that we all participate in.

We all need to partner together to accomplish the values and dreams that we have set before ourselves. We will become just like Jesus:

  1. We will create an atmosphere which welcomes and connects people to the Body of Christ.
  2. We were made to worship. So we will create an atmosphere where worship is the centerpiece of our lives.  We will create an atmosphere where people can experience the presence of God.
  3. We will create disciples who are increasing in their love of God and neighbor.
  4. We will create a culture of the call; an atmosphere where every partner takes the step into serving and ministry and transforms the world.
  5. We will create an atmosphere and expectation of extravagant generosity. We will live our whole lives for God and God’s purposes.

This isn’t going to be something that we do alone. But it’s not just that we’re partnering with each other and with this church…we’re actually partnering with God, our creator, redeemer and sustainer.

God invites you and me to partner with him so that we can all be actively pursuing, and participating in, ushering in God’s kingdom…the ushering in of God’s hopes and dreams for our lives and for this world.  So that we can become just like Jesus.

I want to share with you a story called “Does God Have a Big Toe: Stories about Stories in the Bible.” It’s written by Marc Gellman. This story is called “Partners.”

 Before there was anything, there was God, a few angels, and a huge swirling glob of rocks and water with no place to go. The angels asked God, “Why don’t you clean up this mess?”  So God collected rocks from the huge swirling glob and put them together in clumps and said, “Some of these clumps of rocks will be planets, and some will be stars, and some of these rocks will be…just rocks.”

Then God collected water from the huge swirling glob and put it together in pools of water and said, “Some of these pools of water will be oceans, and some will become clouds, and some of this water will be…just water.”

Then the angels said, “Well God, it’s neater now, but is it finished?” And God answered…“NOPE!”

On some of the rocks God placed growing things, and creeping things, and things that only God knows what they are, and when God had done all this, the angels asked God, “Is the world finished now?” and God answered…“NOPE!”

God made a man and a woman from some of the water and dust and said to them, “I am tired now. Please finish up the world for me…really it’s almost done.” But the man and woman said, “We can’t finish the world alone! You have the plans and we are too little.”

“You are big enough,” God answered them. “But I agree to this. If you keep trying to finish the world, I will be your partner.”

The man and the woman asked, “What’s a partner?” and God answered, “A partner is someone you work with on a big thing that neither of you can do alone. If you have a partner, it means that you can never give up, because your partner is depending on you. On the days you think I am not doing enough and on the days I think you are not doing enough, even on THOSE days we are still partners and we must not stop trying to finish the world. That’s the deal.” And they all agreed to that deal.

Then the angels asked God, “Is the world finished yet?” and God answered, “I don’t know. Go ask my partners.”

So we not only partner with one another to participate in this ministry of the gospel, but we partner with God.  We are working with God, so that God’s kingdom may come. We can read the news, glance at our Facebook News Feed, or even just look all around us, and see the ways in which this world is clearly unfinished…and not as God would have it.

Children all around the world die every day from lack of clean water, food and shelter. Single moms work long hours at multiple jobs, and can barely earn enough money to put food on the table for their kids. We hear about mass shootings, and are shocked and saddened for a few days, and then move on with our lives, not taking the necessary steps to prevent future tragedies.

We live in a world where cyber-bullying continues to be a huge problem for young people, so much so that many have decided it was not worth living anymore and have taken their lives.  Is the world finished yet?  “NOPE.”

Teresa of Avila, the 16th century mystic, wrote the following:

Christ has no body but yours, No hands, no feet on earth but yours; yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world, Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.”  Is the world finished yet?  “NOPE.”

Since we all have different gifts and talents …partnering with God is going to look a little different for each person here.

There’s no end to the possible ways that we can partner with God.

But perhaps the most significant thing that we all can do is to simply reframe how we view ourselves in relation to God.

If we think that God is the one who just… does it all, that’s going to form and shape how we live in the world, how we engage with others throughout our day, how we treat other people.

But if we think of ourselves as God’s partners…if we realize that God works through you…that changes everything. That changes the way we view ourselves, the way we view God, and the way we view our place in the world.

When we realize that we are God’s partners, we know that we can’t just sit around and wait, expecting God to be the one to bring about change in the world.

As followers in the way of Jesus, we have been called to partner with God to embody and bring about the Kingdom of God in the here-and-now; the Kingdom of God on earth, as it is in Heaven.

Worship Because God is Worthy!

A number of years ago, a woman in Kansas City walked into a Haagen-Dazs ice cream shop at her local shopping center.  While waiting, she turned to find actor Paul Newman standing behind her.  He was in town filming a movie and was now standing behind his biggest fan.

He smiled at her and said ‘hello.’  She took one look into his eyes and her knees almost buckled.  Her heart was in her throat.  She tried to speak, but not a sound came out.  Mortified, she turned around, paid for her ice cream, then quickly walked out of the store.  Outside, she sat down on a bench and caught her breath.  As she calmed down, she realized she didn’t have her ice cream cone.  She was debating walking back in to get it when Paul Newman walked out.  “You looking for your ice cream cone?” he asked.  Speechless again, she nodded.  “You put it in your purse with your change.”

If you or I would come face to face with a celebrity we admired, I imagine we would behave in a similar way.  I wonder we, who get excited about celebrity – why it is that we can enter into the presence of God with a yawn and a shrug?

Worshiping God is the single most important thing that you and I can do.  In fact we, we were created to worship God (Isaiah 43:21).  Worship brings pleasure to God.  In worship we practice the greatest commandment that Jesus taught – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Worship bends our lives toward God.

When Scripture talks about worship it always reminds us that the purpose of our worship is glorify, honor, praise, exalt, and please God.  Worship is the number one priority.

Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher in the 19th century, once clarified the most common misconception about worship using the analogy of a drama. “When we come to worship God, we generally feel as though the preacher and other ministers are the performers and God is the subject of the performance and we as the congregation are merely the audience…but this is a terrible misunderstanding of worship.”

Kierkegaard is describing a consumer-oriented approach, focused more on what we receive than what we give. Kierkegaard goes on to say, “Authentic Christian worship is just the opposite. We, the congregation, are the performers. The preachers and other ministers are the directors and God is the audience.”

It is revolutionary to worship something other than ourselves.  Every time we worship, we set our own egos, desires, ambitions aside so that God is the audience.  When we worship we should make much of God!

That’s why real worship can only happen when we enter into the presence of the Living God.  Worship is a deliberate encounter with God in Jesus Christ.  We can’t worship to squeeze God in; to feel better for the week; or to get a blessing.  With eagerness and expectancy we encounter God and are drawn into his presence where our focus is on giving to him. Worship is an encounter with the Holy God!

While there are many moments in Scripture were we see people encountering God, one act of worship stands out.  One story that should be the rule instead of the exception.  It is the story of the moment Isaiah encountered the Living God.  It is a story of worship and what naturally happens when we rightly worship God.

READ Isaiah 6:1-4

Let me provide some context for these verses.  The first five chapters set the stage of Isaiah’s vision of God.  In Isaiah 1-5 we are given a description of God’s people – Israel.  It is a picture of a people who have completely and deliberately turned their back on God.  They have exalted themselves in the place of God.  They worship the creation instead of the Creator.  The bow down to idols that they have made.  They care only about accumulating wealth and military power.  They confuse evil with good and good with evil.  And God does everything he could for his people, but they won’t respond to God’s goodness.  But even in this context of his vision, Isaiah holds out the possibility of radical transformation – an unholy people can become a holy people.

These people for whom Isaiah cared so much about were experiencing turmoil under King Uzziah.  When the king died, Isaiah has this vision of God.  Who was Uzziah?  In 2Chronicles 26 we are given a detailed account of his reign.  Uzziah was 16 years old when he was crowned king of Judah, and he reigned a long time – 52 years.  For years his reign as king was grand and significant.  Uzziah trusted God and took Judah to a period of prosperity and glory.

But unfortunately Uzziah’s reign which had begun in faithfulness and obedience to God, ended in shame and humility.  He grew proud and arrogant.  One day he entered the temple and went to the holy place where only the priest could go.  But when he came out he was no longer the proud and glorious king.  Instead he staggered out a leper; broken and humiliated.  Uzziah lived as an outcast for the rest of his reign.

And when that once powerful king died, Isaiah has this vision of God.  Isaiah and the whole nation felt devastated and abandoned.  The one they placed their hope in was gone.  What next?  But this emptying was absolutely essential.  It was necessary if Isaiah was going to see God.  His own throne had to be emptied before he could see God sitting on his throne.  His false Gods had to be brought down before he could see God high and lifted up.  Generally we don’t really seek after God and find him until we have tried almost everything else; every other possible way and found it empty.  When we reach the end of our own resources, we turn to God and worship him.

And that is why this event from Isaiah teaches us so much about worship.  God is all that we can turn to.  God is all that we can trust in the darkest moments of life.  And when we move from ourselves into the presence of the living God – we find life.  That’s worship!  The place where we glorify, honor, praise, exalt and please God.

So who is this God who calls us into worship?  And why is God worthy of worship?  He is the same God that Isaiah sees.

This God who we worship; this God who calls us to himself; who invites us into a life with him – this God is holy!  This vision has a profound effect on Isaiah.  What does he see?  What does he comprehend for the first time?  It can be summed up in one word – a word that the angels repeated three times:  “Holy, holy, holy!”  Isaiah got a glimpse of the holiness of God.  It became clear to him as never before that God is holy.  There was this great sense of awe.

Holiness is not just one attribute of God.  Holiness is all that God is.  At the very beginning of this vision, Isaiah sees God sitting on a throne, high and exalted.  At that very moment Isaiah emphasizes God’s separateness; his transcendence over all of creation and all that is.  God alone is exalted!  Isaiah sees nothing higher than God.  To say that God is holy is to say that he is utterly different than you and I and all the rest of creation.  And as Isaiah encountered this God, the temple shook!

When was the last time you stood in awe of this holy God?  When was the last time you were engulfed by an encounter with this God who is high and exalted?  Most of us are guilty of what is called the “sin of reductionism.”  We reduce God to a manageable size.  We put God in a box – we don’t want too much of God; we want to control the outcomes; we want to limit what we know about God.  Isaiah would have been so in awe of God’s holiness that he couldn’t help but approach God with reverence and honor.  We need to guard against casual, indifferent attitudes when we enter the presence of God.  God is more powerful and more holy than our ability to describe him.

Yet, here is the amazing characteristic of this holy God whom we worship with reverence and awe.  This holy God can be known!  When we commit the sin of reductionism, we not only reduce God to what is manageable to us, but we also reduce Christianity to a set of moral and ethical imperatives devoid of relationship to God.  Christianity and Christian worship is primarily about having a deeply connected relationship with the God of creation.

What is amazing about God, as we see it unfolding in this worship experience of Isaiah, is that God chooses to make himself known.  He allows Isaiah to see him high and lifted up.  And when God makes himself known, you and I can enjoy his presence.  The God who is holy and high and exalted, comes to you and makes himself known to you.  And in worship we can enjoy the presence of God.

Even though we have access to him, we never take it for granted.  We never treat it lightly.  We are going to his throne, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  He is at the same time our heavenly Father and yet he is the reigning, ruling righteous supreme king of the universe and we live in that tension.  He is the God of all, the supreme judge, yet we have a relationship with him.  And so we can come in with that intimacy yet with reverence at the same time.  He’s our father, he’s our friend.  He’s a shepherd.  He’s redeemer.  He’s righteous king.  He’s the judge and ruler of all.  And he makes himself known.  He wants the whole earth to be filled with his glory. He is looking for people who will be receptive of him.  God is looking for people who will present to him.

Of course, God is present everywhere at all times, but not everyone is aware of his presence.  I’m not sure we always come to worship expecting a life-changing encounter with God.  Many people go to church.  Not all worship!  But God is present whether we are aware or not, but his presence is made manifest only when we are aware of it!  God makes himself known, but God’s presence must be sought.  We must be receptive to God’s presence.  God is always present to us, but in order for his presence to have its full impact upon our lives, we must learn to be present to God.  And in corporate worship we can be present with God when we pray, when we read and hear the Scripture, and when we break bread through the sacrament of communion.

God is holy.  He is utterly and completely separate from you and I and creation, itself.  God is high and exalted.  But God chooses to make himself known.  And ultimately, God makes himself known to creation in Jesus Christ.  We know God through Jesus. Jesus is the self-revelation of God.  God in the flesh.  When you are intentional about knowing and following Jesus, you are intentional about knowing this God who makes himself known.

One last thing I want you to see (and we will spend much more time on this over the next two weeks) – it is that while God is holy and God makes himself known, God calls you and I to holiness.   When Isaiah has this vision of God during worship, he sees and maybe even feels the temple shake and the whole place fills with smoke.

Smoke means a couple of things in the Bible.  Sometimes it symbolizes the presence of God.  Other times, like right here, smoke also conveys God’s judgement.  Remember the context here – God’s people had turned away from God.  They were worshipping creation instead of the Creator; they bowed down to idols.  They care only about accumulating wealth and military power.  They confuse evil with good and good with evil.

One of the things that should happen when we encounter God in worship, is that we change.  We become more of who God wants us to be – just like Jesus.  In an encounter with the Living God you and I are called to be holy as God is holy.  In worship we should be convicted of the ways our lives are not lining up with God’s will.  In this encounter between Isaiah and God, and running throughout Scripture is the call to separate ourselves form the values and life-style of the culture around us.  To be holy, is to be separate.  Separate from the culture-driven values and lifestyles and free to be attached to God!

Read Romans 12.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could experience God, face to face, like Isaiah did?  Scripture tells us that we can.  A little girl was drawing intensely one morning in Sunday school.  Her teacher asked her, “what are you drawing?”  “God,” answered the little girl.  The teacher laughed and said, “Honey, no one knows what God looks like.”  She never even looked up from her drawing – “well, they will when I get done.”

We’ll never see God with our physical eyes, on this side of heaven.  But we can encounter God with our spirits through the act of worship.  In worship, we become aware of the presence of God.

Resources:  Dr. Steve Seamands Holiness of Heart and Life

 

My Next Right Step

  1. Remember and journal a moment of deep worship – one in which you were very aware of the presence of God.
  2. Apart from Sunday worship, when are you practicing disciplines of worship like prayer, Bible reading, meditation, etc.?
  3. If worship is a lifestyle, how are you reflecting that lifestyle? Where do you need growth?
  4. God is holy and calls me to holiness. If I stay close to God (worship) I can reflect more of God in my life.  By God’s grace, how am I becoming more like Jesus and less like culture?

 

 

 

Communicating through the craziness

Our families are the center of our universe. Family is there when no one else is around. Family supports us, helps us, loves us. Family DRIVES US CRAZY!

In “Building Family Strengths: Communications,” Brenda Thames and Deborah Thomason define family communication as “more than just the exchange of words between family members.” It is not just the words we speak but also “components like facial expressions, body language, tone of speech and posture.” Family communication, then, is sharing information with verbal and nonverbal cues. Thames and Thomason maintain that listening is as important as communication because listening allows you to understand the family member’s point of view.  Rick Peterson and Stephen Green, maintains that family communication can be divided into two areas, Instrumental and Affective. Instrumental communication is the “exchange of factual information that enables individuals to fulfill common family functions,” such as telling your children what time dinner is served. Affective communication “refers to how family members share their emotions” such as anger or happiness with one another. Some family members might successfully communicate in one area but not the other.

But poor communication is a hallmark of a dysfunctional family. Communication may be strained, ineffective, or nonexistent. Family members may have difficulty communicating their wants and needs to other members, which can result in misunderstandings and little self-expression.

What could poor communication look like?  We communicate poorly when we dismiss, ignore, or talk over the other person.  This style of communication says that the other person is not important.  Triangulation – we don’t talk directly to the family member and instead use someone as an intermediary.  You are not really permitted to share your thoughts but expected to keep your opinions to yourself.  There’s rarely any hope of resolving problems; things are swept under the rug.

Remember you and your family are made in the image of God.  The first family – Adam and Eve – were “naked and not ashamed.”  They were transparent with each other and with God.  Communication pattern would have been good; open, honest.  The moment humanity chose to do things their own way – immediately communication broke down.  They hid from each other and God.  Relationships were challenged.  But as disciples of Jesus – especially in our families; we have the opportunity to live like God intended in relationships and a big piece of living this way is practicing communication habits that honor God and reveal our new life in Jesus.  The way you communicate with your family will be a significant way that God can bring his grace.

Last week I told you I wanted us to have fun with these very serious topics, so what do you think of this?  There was a man who lived up in upstate New York and he was getting tired of the cold weather, so he decided to go to Florida. His wife was on a business trip at the time so he called her to let her know what he was doing and to tell her not to go back to New York but to meet him in Florida.

When he arrived he sent her an e-mail to let her know he was there, but he got a few letters wrong in the address and instead of going to his wife the e-mail went to a little old lady in Iowa, who was a pastor’s wife. And whose husband had died the day before.

The little old lady turned on her computer – read the e-mail, screamed and fainted right on the spot. Her family and friends who were there came in saw her on the floor – and when they read the screen they understood why she fainted..

Ø Dearest darling just wanted you to know I arrived safely
Ø Looking forward to you being with me, tomorrow
Ø Signed, your husband – PS, it sure is hot down here…

Communication is what we say and what we hear – so it’s got to be clear.

How about the man who was struggling to get his washing machine through the front door of his home as his neighbor was walking past.  The neighbor stopped and asked if he could help.  The man breathed a sigh of relief and said, “That would be great.  I’ll get it from the inside and you get it from the outside.  We should be able to handle this quickly.”

But after five minutes of continual struggle, they were both exhausted.  Wiping the sweat from his brow, the neighbor said, “This thing is bigger than it looks.  I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to get it into your house.”  “Into my house?  I’m trying to get it out of my house!”

Rather than fighting against each other let’s see what the Bible says about helpful communication.  The family we’re  going to study today is found in the OT book of Esther.  I don’t know how familiar you are with this story so let me give you some background.  The book begins with a six month celebration that King Xerxes holds to show off all the good things he has.  As a finale to the celebration the king summons Queen Vashti to appear in all of her regale to display her beauty and show off the king’s glory.  Vashti snubs the king’s request.  Because he’s already a little unstable, the king’s masculinity is challenged.  So he basically fires her from the position of queen.

Once Xerxes gets over his tantrum, he decides to look for a new queen. Eventually he manages to choose Esther.  She’s beautiful; he was attracted to her; she had the character and strength of a queen.  And so Xerxes made Esther queen of Persia.

But here’s Esther’s back story that Xerxes doesn’t know yet.  She’s Jewish.  She isn’t Persian.  Esther was an orphan raised by her cousin Mordecai.  When she hears the king is looking for a new queen, she jumps in line.  She is well liked by the people and eventually with the king himself and becomes queen.

While all this is happening, Mordecai uncovers a plot to kill the king.  He alerts Esther and she warns the king in time.

But there’s more craziness.  There is treachery.  When Mordecai refuses to bow down to the evil counselor, Haman; Haman engineers a plot to murder all the Jews in the Persian empire.  The plot basically involves Haman going to the king and saying, “I think we should kill all the Jews in the Persian empire.”  And the king says, “Alright!”

Haman walks away glad the king has agreed to his plans for genocide.  The king doesn’t know that his new wife is Jewish.  Esther has been keeping it secret.  But the threat of their imminent demise kicks Esther and Mordecai into action.  Esther fasts for three days before visiting the king and alerting him to what is about to happen.

Esther is worried herself that the king will execute her for visiting unannounced – but he’s pleased to see her.  He offers her whatever she wants. She asks to have a banquet for her and Haman the next day.  Meanwhile, Haman is excited about the massacre that’s about to happen and he builds a huge pole on which to impale Mordecai.

But his hopes are dashed the following morning, when the king, remembering how Mordecai saved his life – orders Haman to honor Mordecai and throw him a parade through the town (which Haman reluctantly does).  At the second banquet, Esther asks the king to punish Haman for trying to kill her and her people – and the king does.  Haman is killed on the same pole he built for Mordecai.  Ironic.  The Jews of Persia massacre all of Haman’s supporters, Mordecai is made the kings new counselor and Purim becomes an official Jewish holiday to celebrate.  Good times, gang!  There’s craziness in every family system.

I tell you that story of Esther so that we can understand some Biblical concepts of healthy communication that can be beneficial in every family system.  What we see is healthy communication habits occur between Esther and Xerxes.  Watch for the healthy that happens in the crazy.

Before we get to communication, I want to set this up by looking at Esther 4:14.  “If you remain silent, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish.  And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.”  For such a time as this – very quoted portion of Esther.  The point was that Esther needed to communicate – to speak up – to save her family.  So much is at stake in how we communicate.  Your family may be at stake.  For some of you – if you don’t start communicating better now, you may not have a family left.  If you keep doing what you’ve been doing you will get what you always get.  What needs to be better about communication in your family?  It may be time for you to relearn communication strategy that is life-giving.

When it comes to communicating through the craziness, Position yourself.   Read 5:1.  Positioning yourself means getting ready for communication.  Sometimes it’s going to mean believing you are valuable and have something to say.  This is very important if you are in a family system in which you are not valued as a person; always put down; never taken seriously.  A first step in helpful communication is believing that you are valuable and that what you say matters.

But more so, are you thinking and praying about what you need to communicate?  Esther herself, was in a difficult place.  She had to be sure that she was intentional and concise.  She had a game plan.  She owned what she wanted to say.  She is not caught off guard.  If you want to change the way your family communicates it may come down to you and your plan for change.  This is an important place to lead.  Position yourself.

Second, Be Clear.  Ask for what you want.  Be assertive.  When I do marriage counseling, this is always the step that is most uncomfortable.  Many of us aren’t accustomed to have permission to ask for what we really want.  I usually have families write a wish list of the things they want from their spouse or family.  It’s hard to be assertive. Often we want to apologize for the things we really want in a relationship.  Being assertive means that I will have the ability to express feelings and ask for what I want in this relationship.

You might think it’s selfish.  But how many of you live day to day feeling like your family relationships could be better if only…And you never ask for that one thing that could make it better.  I need you to put your phone down and look me in the eyes when we’re talking; I need you to call when you are running late; I need you to speak encouraging words to me; I need you to touch me…If you don’t clearly ask for that which would be helpful to you in your relationship, you probably won’t get it.  Your family cannot read your mind!

Esther has positioned herself with Xerxes and when the opportunity comes she is intentional, assertive and concise.  Not just once but multiple times throughout the story.  “If it pleases the king, let the king together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for him.”  Specific.

Now remember.  Just because you ask doesn’t always mean your family can give you what you need.  But the significance is in taking the courage to ask and in being heard.

In fact this is the last fill in today.  Listen Attentively.  Communication is a two-way event.  You talk and you listen.  Ideally the asking and listening happens in an environment where you and your family member are sitting down, facing each other and fully engaged.

Notice Xerxes action and response:  “What is it?  What is your request?”  He is attentive.  He is interested.  He’s looking at her. He isn’t interrupting.  Studies show that a person will interrupt someone else, on average, after 17 seconds.  When we listen attentively, we are not interrupting.  We’re letting our family member say everything they need.  We pay attention not only to what they are saying but also to non-verbal communication.  And then we respond.  And when we respond we should be able to tell them exactly what we heard them say.  This takes work.  We’re usually not used to this level of communication.

The way to improve your listening skills is to practice “active listening.” This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, try to understand the complete message being sent.  In order to do this you must pay attention to the other person very carefully.  You cannot allow yourself to become distracted by whatever else may be going on around you, or by forming counter arguments that you’ll make when the other person stops speaking. Nor can you allow yourself to get bored, and lose focus on what the other person is saying. All of these contribute to a lack of listening and understanding.

Communication within the family is extremely important because it enables members to express their needs, wants, and concerns to each other. Open and honest communication creates an atmosphere that allows family members to express their differences as well as love and admiration for one another. It is through communication that family members are able to resolve the unavoidable problems that arise in all families.

Family is God’s Gift

Our families are the center of our universe. Family is there when no one else is around. Family supports us, helps us, loves us. Family DRIVES US CRAZY!

What’s the old saying? “You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family.” There was a point in the creation story when the family unit was living in harmony; communicating, loving unconditionally and unaware of each others shortcomings. But then they ate the apple and in flew all the dysfunction. You know as well as I do that each of our families have some level of dysfunction; some level of crazy. There are some Biblical families that had a certain amount of issues; a certain amount of dysfunction – just like yours and mine. And in these stories we’re going to look for God’s grace. We’re going to listen for the good news God can speak into our dysfunction. We’ll discover that our family problems are not all that different from anyone else’s problems. And we’ll discover that God loves our families and can give grace even in the craziness.

Dysfunctional is a word we hear a lot in the context of family. Dysfunctional is an adjective that means “not operating normally or properly.” It means “deviating from the norm in a way that’s regarded as bad.” Dysfunctional is a term that’s so often attached to family. We talk about the dysfunctional family. You don’t hear much about the functional family, but you hear a lot about the dysfunctional family. The definition of a dysfunctional family is this:  “A dysfunctional family is one in which conflict, misbehavior, and often abuse on the part of individual members occur continually and regularly, leading other parts of individual or other members of the family to accommodate such actions.”

That’s a good definition. There’s something wrong in one part of the family and it causes the other part of the family to act in a different, weird, crazy way in order to accommodate the bad actions.

God didn’t create family to be a dysfunctional thing. He didn’t create home to be a place where it’s just World War III. You know, we understand, as little kids, what home is supposed to be. When I was a kid growing up, my home had a lot of fighting and yelling and it was all brought on by a lot of variables; poor communication, unresolved conflict, money, fear, uncertainty.  I remember tense times.  Times when I wanted to leave/escape.  That’s not God’s intention for the family. That’s not God’s best.

You know, when you played tag as a kid the first thing you do is you set up home base? And once you set up home base that was the safe place. You know, when you’re playing tag and you’re on home, nobody can tag you out. You’d be like, “You can’t get me; I’m home.” And I used to play, and my friends would play, and my brother would always do this. He’d take his hand off home like this, just that close and you’d come to get him and he’d be like, “I’m home. Can’t get me! I’m home.” Home’s a safe place. It’s a refuge. But for so many people home’s not a safe place. It’s not a safe zone. It becomes a war zone. God has a better plan.

So what we’re going to do for the next several weeks is talk about family.  I believe that family matters.  But there are attacks taking place against the family. So while I want us to have fun with this; I want us to be real about this topic; maybe you’ll face some moments when you realize that God has something better for you and your family.  But all us, we have some craziness in our families.  We have some dysfunction.  It might be with our spouse, in-laws, parents, adult children, aging parents, kids.  We’ve all got a little bit of crazy. Own it.  Admit it.  I’m broken; you are broken. Ask my kids, they’ll tell you we’ve got crazy in our house, too.  None of us are immune and a lot of us have the same stories we could tell.  But when we come together in family, all those broken pieces can fit together and make something good.

So I want the next few weeks to be helpful for all of us.  Let’s own our craziness and at the same time discover God’s best for families; God’s purpose for families; and how we can receive God’s grace in our crazy, messy, chaotic families.

The place we’re starting today will be in setting the foundation.  We’re going to go back to the beginning, to the earliest story of family and discover God’s intention and purpose for family.  What is the measuring stick for family?  I know what my family is like but how does it measure up to God’s hopes and dreams and expectations for family?

Family starts with God!  God created the family.  In the beginning there is time, space, matter, humanity; the beginning of culture, customs, languages and nations.  At the center of all of human history is the family.  The formation of the family may be the most important event in the entire story of Genesis.  God created the family as the basic building block of society.  Your family, regardless of what it looks like, is a gift to you.  Even in the craziness, your family is a gift to you.  You may not believe me!  Let me tell you why – let’s build some theology around our family.

Let’s go to Genesis 1&2 and remember God’s intention for family and how this can be really practical right now, especially if your family is in a tough spot.

The place to start if you’re taking notes:  My family is God’s gift because they are made in the image of God.  That’s right.  You and your family are made in God’s image.  READ GENESIS 1:26-27. Have you ever stopped to think about what it really means?  “Made in the image of God” is an audacious claim—and one that probably carries some responsibility with it.  So, what does it mean to be created in God’s image? The Hebrew root of the Latin phrase for image of God—imago Dei—means image, shadow or likeness of God.  When this piece of Scripture was being written kings, Pharaohs, Caesars would put their image on a lot of things, especially coins.  So you knew what belonged to that king.  So this is radical what is written here in Genesis. God creates humanity to make himself visible.  God puts his stamp; his image on you.  That gives us value. You know who is represented through you.  And both sexes have godly value – God created male and female.

Now here’s the tough part – when your family is struggling and messed up and there’s pain or chaos; it can be hard to remember that you are created in God’s image and that person in your family who making it hard for you is created in God’s image.  When there is chaos, and pain and craziness usually a first reaction is to ostracize and demonize the person bringing the pain.  That just brings more pain.  What if we saw each other as the image bearers of God; even if it means digging through the crazy?

How you and I live in relationships is a reflection of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity says that the three Persons of the Godhead are all one, yet in some sense distinct from each other. The significance of this is that God is an intrinsically relational being in and of Himself, living in eternal loving relations between Father, Son and Spirit. So humanity made in His image is relational.

Your aging parents are made in the image of God.  Your addicted child is made in the image of God.  Your physically challenged brother is made in the image of God.  The husband who cheated on you is made in the image of God.  Your wife who divorced you is made in the image of God.  Your parents who didn’t have the best skill in raising you are made in the image of God.

Regardless of the level and pain of the craziness, messiness and chaos; how you relate to your family speaks volumes about what you believe.  If I believe you are made in God’s image then that’s how I will treat you as a person; and it’s a reflection of what you believe about yourself.  This doesn’t mean you endorse their craziness but it does mean that in some intrinsic way they are valuable to God and they hold value for you.  Even in the current reality of sin and brokenness we hold within us as created people the image of God.

What we see next in Scripture – READ Genesis 1:31.  God wraps up the action of creating and calls everything good.   Everything that God has made is good.  And he places these first people in Eden.  Eden means joy or delight.  God places us in a position of joy and delight.  So God created us for relationships and he places us in a place of joy and delight.  When we focus solely on the craziness and messiness and chaos we lose the joy and delight that is intended for relationships.

God says I’ve made this good.  When we lose sight of the good of our family; the potential of our family – the good starts to slip away.   But God calls this good and we have the capacity to reflect the work of the master artist who created us.

A lot of us are guilty of being critical about other family members.  We spend more time putting them down than lifting them up.  What if we lived out some goodness in our families like:  thinking before we talk!  Serving each other.  Giving compliments.

Everything God makes is good.  God makes nothing evil.  You know where evil comes from?  Genesis 3:1 it’s all good.  All of this good stuff and you can’t have it.  Eve knows Genesis 3:2.  You’re not going to die.  You’ll be like God.  Verse 6 – she took some ate it and gave some to her husband.  They think they’re going to find life but ultimately there is isolation (v8).  The goodness God intends is broken.

How are you letting God reverse the craziness and brokenness that leads to more and more isolation – and allow God through you bring his intended goodness into your family?  As redeemed people of God, God can use you to bring back his intended purpose.

Let’s get back to chapter two.  Here’s the next thing we see happening in this first family built on God’s intention.  We need each other.  READ Genesis 2.  God created us in His image. We were made for relationship.  The first relationship which profoundly affects all other relationships begins with God. It is on this meaningful relationship all others are to be built. We love God first and love our neighbors with the same legitimate concern we have for our own well-being. When we remove God from first place, we will rapidly begin to fail one another.  Meaningful life is found in meaningful relationships.

Each of us has value by virtue of being human, but as God said of Adam, it is not good for man to be alone. Our family is God’s gift because we need each other.  No one is an island.

The first thing God does in creation is that he brings Adam and Eve together – the first marriage – but more so to show creations that family is central to creation.  This first family is in a position of helping and serving each other. 

 From experience we could probably admit that the first thought we have when my family is crazy, messy or broken is to escape that family.  They are so screwed up I can do better on my own.  That’s a legitimate response.  At some point, each of us will become discouraged and disappointed with a relationship.

The health and maturity of a relationship are not measured by an absence of problems, but by the way the problems are handled.  How do you deal with relational disappointments? Do you blame, deny, run away, avoid, threaten, and manipulate? Or do you speak the truth, exhibit patience, approach people gently, ask for and grant forgiveness, overlook minor offenses, encourage and honor others?

Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t just make your relationships better overnight? We often think that if God really cared for us, he would make our relationships easier. In reality, a difficult relationship is a mark of his love and care. We would prefer that God would just change the relationship, but he won’t be content until the relationship changes us too. This is how God created relationships to function.

What happens in the messiness of relationships is that our hearts are revealed, our weaknesses are exposed, and we start coming to the end of ourselves. Only when this happens do we reach out for the help God alone can provide. While we would like to avoid the mess and enjoy deep and intimate community, God says that it is in the very process of working through the mess that intimacy is found.

Here’s the last point for today.  The gift of family is that there is a safe place.  God’s original intent is for a safe place.  READ Genesis 2:25.  The family can be a place of transparency; where there is no shame; no embarrassment; no ridicule.

This particular context is marriage so let me say this to those of you who are married and struggling with transparency and intimacy.  After God brought together the first man and woman, we find an expression of pure intimacy: “They were both naked and they felt no shame.” In other words, they had nothing to hide physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually. They were “not embarrassed or ashamed in each other’s presence” In the Biblical model the Hebrew words used in the creation account reveals much about the unique gifts Adam and Eve brought to intimacy.

His gift. “The Lord God formed [yatsar] man …” (Genesis 2:7). The word yatsar means forming by plan or design, like a potter. Just as a pot usually has a singular purpose, God gifted man with a purity of focus that helps him initiate, protect and provide.

Her gift. “Then the Lord God made [banah] a woman from the rib …” (Genesis 2:22). Banah was sometimes used to describe constructing a palace. God fashioned woman with an emotional, physical and relational complexity that allows her to nurture deep connections. The good news for us is that intimacy thrives on differences! By refusing to hide from each other and God, and through honoring our differences, we bring each other exceptional gifts.  And it creates a place of safety.

Now we can broaden this to all of our other family relationships and ask “how am I intentionally creating a safe place where people in my family can be transparent with each other with no fear?”

All of us have a certain amount of dysfunction in our family; craziness, messiness, chaos.  Call it what you will.  Sometimes we get used to it and start to think it’s normal. In Genesis, God describes normal.  God made the family and God has a great picture of what a healthy family can be.  God has a plan for the family.  It is still the basic building block of society.  So, as Jesus followers, how do we let God take our brokenness and craziness and turn it around to bless people and show our culture how God still uses the family.

Next Steps

Growth is not an option. Maturity is not for just a few. Growing in relationship with God is life! Our relationship with God will determine success or failure in every other facet of life.

Why do you follow Jesus?

We have our reasons, but the operative word is “follow.” Follow implies movement. Standing still is never an option in our relationship with Jesus. Time after time in the Gospels, Jesus runs into someone and says, “follow me.” And in following Jesus, ordinary people are transformed and used powerfully by God. Would you like to be used by God to make a difference? Sure, I think most of us do.

But that will require growth with God. The more you and I grow with God, the more God can use you. So I want to talk about growth and maturity today. As Cardinal Newman said decades ago, “growth is the only evidence of life.”

Recently many denominations have been meeting for annual gatherings. Our United Methodist denomination has been meeting and so have the Southern Baptists. A report from the SBC caught my eye this week. The report discovered that “Many of our churches have chosen to celebrate other things as the measure of success rather than believers following Jesus. We have drifted into a loss of expectation.”

Does that describe us here at Christ Church? Have we drifted into a loss of expectation? What do we expect from each other as we follow Jesus? Do we expect anything? Do we only expect that we show up on Sunday morning and put money in the offering plate? Is there more to following Jesus? Remember, growth is the only evidence of life.
On the flip side, I wonder if some of us believe that we have it all together and we don’t need growth and maturity with Jesus. This is just as dangerous and a loss of expectation.

Did you watch the Cavs lose, I mean play, this past week. Tough series. Golden State is strong. But more than what happened on the court, I was once again transfixed by the bravado of Lebron James. After last Sunday night’s game, Lebron had an interesting statement about himself…”I feel confident because I’m the best player in the world. It’s simple.”

That’s bravado! And maybe it’s okay for a sports star, but it can be death for a Jesus follower.

Growth is the only evidence of life. And each one of us needs to take the next step in spiritual maturity with Jesus. We can become pretty content to stand still in our relationship with Jesus. We can become too comfortable and feel that we’ve already arrived where God wants us to be. And maturity does not develop overnight.

When Pablo Casals reached 95, a young reporter asked him: “Mr. Casals, you are 95 and the greatest cellist that ever lived. Why do you still practice six hours a day?” And Mr. Casals answered, “Because I think I am making progress.” Our movement should be to make some kind of progress every day with God. So let’s look at 1Corinthians and talk openly and honestly about our current relationship with Jesus and what our next step could be.

1Corinthians 9:24-27

Paul uses a couple of metaphors here: running and boxing. Paul compares our life with God and maturity to competitive athletics, and he urges us to win. To understand what Paul is talking about and what he is communicating to the Corinthian church, we have to understand the sports culture of the first century.

In the city of Corinth, there was a place called the campus. This was the old drill ground for soldiers. Over time the campus became a track and field playground. Young men would gather on the campus to play and exercise. Men would participate in foot racing, jumping, archery, wrestling, boxing, riding…

These sports developed out of the ancient Greek Olympics. The Olympics offered several different types of races from short distance to long distance. They also offered boxing which was one of the most popular events. There was also one special event called the pankration which was a combination of boxing and wrestling – sort of resembling MMA. It was violent and many times the athletes were in danger of being killed in the ring.

Paul uses this imagery to talk about the intentionality and training that goes into growth and maturity with God. When he wrote about running or boxers swinging wildly, the Corinthians knew exactly what Paul was talking about.

In this passage Paul gives us the rules of running: a lot of people run the race; only one wins; run to win. The rules are clear. And he goes on to make the point that the runners in the race in Corinth run for a crown that doesn’t last – a laurel wreath. Paul writes that disciples are running for a crown that will last forever. So what’s the point?

Well, as we read 1Corinthians 9 & 10 we get the picture of a man who is making his case in the strongest possible terms. Everything Paul does, every way that Paul is living is only for the message of Jesus. He has sacrificed, he has used all of his gifts and skills, he has traveled tirelessly been shipwrecked, beaten, arrested, ridiculed, rejected – all for Jesus and for the purpose of inviting people to grow with God.

Growth is not an option. Maturity is not for just a few. Growing in relationship with God is life! Our relationship with God will determine success or failure in every other facet of life.

Jesus is at the center of everything. And Paul emphasizes the work and training that must occur in spiritual maturity.

Here’s what we learn from Paul about growth and spiritual maturity:

1. It is not a game, it is a matter of life and death! Spiritual maturity is not about “what you do,” but about “who you become.” Its essence is found in conforming yourself to the character of God.
The essence of spiritual maturity does not relate to knowledge you gain or skills you acquire. Our goal, as believers in Christ, is not to learn or to do things. Rather it is to become the kind of person whose character imitates God.
Granted, in order to work on this goal we must gain knowledge and do actions. But those are only steps in the process of achieving the real goal – conforming ourselves to the character of God. Your spiritual maturity will advance only to the degree you understand and work toward this end.
2. It’s not easy, it requires training and commitment. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.

Spiritual maturity must be intentional. Maturity is not automatic with the passing of time. The writer of Hebrews sadly noted, “… though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” (Heb. 5:12)

Your_Next_Step_app
Millions of Christians have grown older without ever growing up. The truth is that spiritual growth requires a commitment to grow. A person must want to grow, decide to grow, and make an effort to grow.
Discipleship begins with a decision. It doesn’t have to be a complex decision, but it does have to be sincere.
When the first disciples decided to follow Jesus they didn’t understand all of the implications of their decision. They simply expressed a desire to follow him. Jesus took that simple but sincere decision and built on it.
Philippians 2:12-13 says, “… continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”
Notice that it says “work out” – not “work on” – your salvation. There is nothing you can add to what Christ did for your salvation. Paul is talking about spiritual growth in this passage to people who are already saved.
The important thing to note is that God has a part in our growth but so do we. We must make an intentional effort to grow.
Becoming like Jesus is the result of the commitments we make. We become whatever we are committed to – without a commitment to grow, any growth that occurs will be circumstantial, rather than intentional. Spiritual growth is too important to be left to circumstance. It needs to be intentional, not incidental.
Spiritual growth that leads to maturity begins with the kind of commitment described in Romans 6:13: “… give yourselves completely to God – every part of you – for you are back from death and you want to be tools in the hands of God, to be used for his good purposes.”
3. It has a goal. There is a finish line and winners circle. The goal is to be just like Jesus. In our Methodist history we call it “going onto perfection in love.” John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist renewal movement, clearly understood that every follower of Jesus must be moving forward. Accountability is crucial. Wesley cared so much for his Methodist Christians, that he created a system of spiritual maturity called the class meeting – or small group. Attendance in the small group was required for the Methodist. In the small group people were moving onto the goal of maturity – having the character of Jesus shaped within them – moving forward to be able to love perfectly and completely.
For Wesley, just as for Paul, spiritual maturity – discipleship, was not a game – it was life and eternity.
So let’s make our conversation about spiritual maturity – discipleship – very practical. What is going on at Christ United Methodist Church to equip every single one of us to take the next step of maturity? So that we can be just like Jesus – having his character shaped within. For discipleship to take root and for maturity to happen there must be an intentional process.

Compelled

Leonard Kim, in his blog, writes “The only things people want are Love, Entertainment, to be Happy, Money, and Better Health (to feel better). These are the primary motivating factors to the decisions that each person makes.”

One of the biggest steps we take in spiritual maturity to place our needs, desires, and wants in a secondary position behind Jesus. And this secondary placement of ourselves under Jesus is a response to the saving love of God we ourselves experience.

I’ve mentioned to you before that I am a student of history. One the things I enjoy doing is researching the history of each appointment the bishop has sent me to. Before I came to you last summer I did some research on Christ United Methodist Church. I’ve always known that you folks have had some rich and important history, but I wanted to discover the details, so that I could begin to know you. Now, as our first year of ministry ends and our second year begins, I thought it would be helpful to remember we’re we’ve come from and then grasp where we are going into the future.

Some of you obviously know the history well. You’ve been here since the beginning (or very close to it). But there are others of you who are new to Christ Church. So it’s important for us to go back so that we can prepare for the future.

Sixty-four years ago (1951), Christ Church was just a dream. It was a dream of the Erie Conference of the Methodist Church, of Lakewood and Cascade Methodist Churches, of Dr. Thomas Colley (Erie DS) and Rev. Ed Donner. There was a need to start a new mission to reach people in the southwest portion of Erie – this new growth into Millcreek Township. In a letter to Bruce Middaugh (of Lakewood), Ed Donner wrote that he wanted to accept the challenge of a new church start where there was “no charge, no church, no parsonage; no nothing!” Ed was convinced that God wanted to begin a new work to reach new people for Jesus who were not part of a church. I love what Ed wrote in a paragraph to Bruce. Ed wrote – “If there is a need, then let’s get in there quick!”

A year later in October 1952, Christ Methodist church was celebrating her first anniversary. Ed Donner wrote this about the culture of Christ Church – “Possibly the text ‘Go Ye into All the World,’ best describes Christ Methodist Church. The story of Christ Church can be traced back to the Erie Council of Churches and there study that revealed several growing suburban areas which needed new churches. Southwest Erie, west of Pittsburgh was one such area.” So the mission of Christ Church was begun to reach new people in a new place.

As Ed testifies in his letters, growth was happening all the time. They kept running out of space, using every nook and cranny that they could. And the growth kept happening. New people (some of you) were being reached with the message and love of Jesus. The culture was all about sharing the hope of Jesus. As the times changed, Christ Church was willing to adapt, with Scripture at the center, to reach people for Jesus.

And while the last several years have seen its challenges: shrinking attendance, shrinking ministry budget, changing community and personal preferences, the original vision of Christ Church must rise to the top.

This mission of Christ Church was begun because people were compelled by the need to start a new church that would reach new people. I’d like us to think about how we can rise above our current church culture to re-imagine the vision that brought Christ Church to life.

Are we still compelled by the vision of reaching new people with the hope and life of Jesus; the vision which has been here since the beginning of Christ Church?

This whole idea of being compelled is not new to us. This second letter to the Church at Corinth was an invitation to these first century disciples to grasp why Paul did everything he could to share the hope and life of Jesus. And Paul’s words offer an invitation to the Corinthians to be motivated and compelled by the same things.

Read 2Corinthians 5:11-21

One of the first things we hear is Paul’s sense of urgency. Since then we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. And then, For Christ’s love compels us for we are convinced that one died for all…

What is driving Paul? It is this passionate and unchanging belief that Jesus has changed his life and that everyone else needs to know this Jesus.

Do you remember Paul’s back story? He was a very educated, religious man who came from a great family. He spent the early part of his life doing what his religion told him was the right thing to do – destroy this new Jesus movement. So Paul intentionally spent his time looking for Christians to persecute and churches to destroy. And he did that until Jesus showed up in Paul’s life and changed everything. From that moment Paul experienced the love and grace of God in Jesus. And from that moment Paul did all the he could to help other people know Jesus. Jesus was Paul’s passion. Jesus was Paul’s calling. Because Jesus changed Paul, Paul was compelled to live the rest of his life as a response to the grace and love of Jesus.

Paul uses the language of being “compelled.” This is a strong word. It is better used as “control.” For Christ’s love controls us. It literally means to draw a boundary around us. That is, as we live in the love of God in Christ, bounded by it, living in it, as it surrounds us, we find no need to live for our self. The Love of God in Christ, keeps us, as it were, from seeking to serve self. The love of Jesus completely controls Paul so that he has no option but to introduce people to Jesus.

How does this fit into our lives. Does Jesus control us? Does the love of Christ compel us? Truth be told, I think we might confess that not always.

Leonard Kim, in his blog, writes “The only things people want are Love, Entertainment, to be Happy, Money, and Better Health (to feel better). These are the primary motivating factors to the decisions that each person makes.”

One of the biggest steps we take in spiritual maturity to place our needs, desires, and wants in a secondary position behind Jesus. And this secondary placement of ourselves under Jesus is a response to the saving love of God we ourselves experience.

So for Paul, being compelled by love is a response to the love of Jesus. This is where it all starts. Jesus has saved me and changed my life, so I want to live for Jesus. I want to be compelled to help someone else know Jesus.

And this changes everything. In verse 16, Paul wrote: So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.

When we think about other people we should no longer look at their worldly status, such as appearance, status in life, fame, wealth, etc. We should look at them no longer in a physical way but a spiritual way. Being compelled by love requires us to see people as God sees them.

This world view aligns us with Christ. Christ does not see us as the world see us. He sees our heart. This should be the world view for Christians, since we are now a “new creation” in Christ. We become a new creation when we become a Christian. We are indwelt with the Holy Spirit who changes us and conforms us to Christ over time.

When we become a Christian, we are reconciled to God. Until then, we are separated from God; we are still condemned for our sin. But when we are reconciled to Him, our sins are not counted against us.

The Holy Spirit then makes us a new creation. He no longer wants us to see the world as others do. He wants us to change. He wants us to see the world as God does. He changes our priorities. He changes what we want to do.

All of this means we are now Christians, Christ followers. We are now thinking like Him. We are now seeing others as He does. Our world view has now aligned with His. And we get to the place where we can say with Peter, that does not want anyone to perish but for everyone to come to repentance.

So, in light of being compelled by love and seeing people as God sees them, Paul gets to the heart of life. All this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…we are therefore Christ’s ambassadors as though God were making his appeal through us.

Paul understands that when God’s love changes me and you we are intrinsically motivated to see people as God sees them and then live in a way that we are engaged as ministers of reconciliation. In other words, the priority as disciples moves to the place where we do all that we can to connect people back to God.

This is tricky. Remember it’s not natural to be compelled by the love of Christ. We’re often compelled by things that make us feel good or safe or comfortable. And then we get frustrated when that sort of life is interrupted in order to help another person connect to God.

Do you remember the story of the Prodigal Son? Father and two sons. The older son was compliant. He stayed home. He played by the rules. He was comfortable. The last thing he figured on was that someone would come home and interrupt his status quo. But the younger brother did come home and dad threw a great big party. And frankly, the older son was ticked off. Why should I suffer and lose my comfort and attention because of him? And the older son got angry and resentful and refused to participate. I can imagine him sitting out on a rock sulking with the lights and party of house going on behind him. And I can imagine it because I would probably be acting like that myself. I don’t like it when what I want is interrupted. But dad comes out and look at the love and compassion dad has for both kids –But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again, he was lost and now is found. So come and celebrate. Quit feeling sorry for yourself. There’s room for everyone.

As ministers of reconciliation you and I get to introduce people to God. We get to help people who are far from God enter into a relationship with him. Is there sacrifice? Sure. Will we need to do some things differently? Sure. Will we be a little uncomfortable? Maybe. Will we be stretched out of our comfort zone? I hope so. But God has put you and me and Christ Church in a unique position to engage as ministers of reconciliation – bringing men and women and children back to God.

John Wesley founded this Methodist movement in the mid 1700’s in England. Wesley’s life was changed by a direct encounter with the Holy Spirit. This encounter compelled Wesley to live his life to bring people into a relationship with Jesus and live into holiness of heart and life.

In America the Revolutionary War had come to an end and Methodism was beginning to transform the landscape. But due to the conflict with Great Britain, the Methodist Church in America needed to cut its ties with British Methodism. So Wesley ordained Thomas Coke as a Bishop and sent him to America to ordain Francis Asbury as a bishop and begin a uniquely American form of Methodism. As Coke was being sent off to America by Wesley, Coke confessed to being slightly afraid and not really knowing what to do or how to go about this new business of forming Methodism in America. Wesley leans over at Coke and offers a phrase of encouragement – Offer them Christ.

Those words are all that matters even into the 21st century. John Wesley stills leans over and whispers in the ear of every one of us when we are scared; when our comfort zones are challenged; when we don’t know the next step and he says, offer them Christ.

It’s all about Jesus. And it is the love of Jesus in our hearts and lives that compel you and me to do anything we can to introduce people to Jesus in positive ways.

This is intentional and proactive. It is risk-taking. It is upsetting. What are you and I willing to sacrifice to introduce people to Jesus in positive ways? What kind of church will Christ church be for the next 64 years? Will we be one that is compelled to do anything and everything to introduce people to Jesus?

As someone who has started a church, I would have loved to have been there with Ed Donner and that group of risk-takers and revolutionaries who dreamt of creating a place to introduce people to Jesus.

But now, we’re the second and third generation of disciples to whom the baton has been handed. We can do the very things that first group of 60 people did but in a different culture and context.

In his letter in 1952, Ed had written that the culture of Christ Church was found in her desire to go and make disciples. The context is different in 2015 but the need is still there. Let’s prioritize above everything else the purpose of introducing people to Jesus in positive ways and creating disciples. Let Christ’s love compel us to nothing less.

Jesus Brings You to God

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It’s baseball season! Pitchers and catchers showed up at Spring training last week and full rosters report this week. That means the Pirates are in Bradenton getting ready to go all the way this year! Baseball always lends itself to good sermon illustrations. And this morning is one of those cases.

In baseball, there is a thing called a “sacrifice.” It is when the batter hits a ball that is caught or fielded in a way to throw out the batter, yet the runners already on base advance to the next base or to home plate.

The batter is out, but the result was good for the team.

This morning we are going to talk about another kind of sacrifice. One that doesn’t contribute to the winning of a ball game, but one that accomplished infinitely more – salvation to all who will call on God.

We are going to look at one verse in Scripture. And while we will reference others, we will focus on this verse. Please turn with me to 1 Peter 3:18. Here’s what it says:

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.

Peter is writing to a group of Christians who are experiencing persecution because of their faith. Peter reminds these disciples that when they suffer for doing what is right – they are blessed (3:14) and shouldn’t fear.

This text about suffering and persecution is critically important in light of world events. Current reality is that in certain areas of the world Christians are being brutally persecuted; beheaded, set afire, tortured, raped all because of Jesus by people who literally despise Jesus and the cross.

In the context of 1Peter it would have been a similar experience. In the East in places like Asia and the Middle East, Christians are persecuted violently and killed. In the West in place like Europe and the US, Christians are persecuted because of ideology. And in the context of 1Peter, we have this word of hope. Jesus has suffered and his followers should expect the same. But Jesus overcame and so will his followers.

So what we need to talk about today is what Jesus has accomplished to bring you into a relationship with God.

And here is the point that Peter wants to make – Jesus suffered on our behalf. And his suffering and death is the very act that reunites you with the Father.

Jesus, God in the flesh, was the Suffering Servant. His coming had been prophesied hundreds of years earlier. The prophet Isaiah said the future Savior would be “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). He was to be the willing lamb led to the slaughter. Isaiah wrote of Jesus: “it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer.” Why? To pay for human sin and make salvation possible.

Though fully God, Jesus also took on the same humanity as we have, in order to accomplish his saving grace. He also experienced the suffering and pain that humans do. Jesus confronted disappointment, felt pain, became hungry and tired, faced temptation and apprehension.
Jesus endured torture and finally hideous torment on the cross. Jesus had suffered through the entire human experience. Think of it: God in the flesh shared our human pain. The suffering and death of Jesus once and for all put to rest the idea that life must be fair, or that God is unfair. No one could accuse God of hiding himself or not caring.

Then he takes us beyond Christ’s example to the uniqueness of His substitutionary death.

The substitutionary death refers to Jesus Christ dying as a substitute for sinners. The Scriptures teach that all people are sinners (Romans 3:9-18, 23). It’s the nature we are born with. A Biblical worldview makes this point in Genesis 3 when the first humans chose to sin. They were our representatives and so the human race fell into nature of sin. It is our nature to sin that cause actions of sin. The penalty for our sin nature and sin actions is death. Romans 6:23 reads, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Death, physically and eternally is punishment for sin. So without Christ, we are going to die and spend an eternity in hell as payment for our sins. Death in the Scriptures refers to a “separation” – separation from God. Everyone will die and there are consequences for sin – both in nature and in actions. The death spoken of here refers to the life in hell. However, the second thing this verse teaches us is that eternal life is available through Jesus Christ. This is His substitutionary atonement.

Jesus Christ died in our place when He was crucified on the cross. We deserved to be the ones placed on that cross to die because we are the ones who live sinful lives. But Christ took the punishment on Himself in our place—He substituted Himself for us and took what we rightly deserved. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). Here again we see that Christ took the sins we committed onto Himself to pay the price for us. A few verses later we read, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18). Not only do these verses teach us about the substitute that Christ was for us, but they also teach that He was the atonement, meaning He satisfied the payment due for the sinfulness of man.

We can only pay the price of sin on our own by being punished and placed in hell for all eternity. But God’s Son, Jesus Christ, came to pay for the price of our sins. Because He did this, we now have the opportunity to not only have our sins forgiven, but to spend eternity with Him. In order to do this we must place our faith in what Christ did on the cross. We cannot save ourselves; we need a substitute to take our place. The death of Jesus Christ is the substitutionary atonement.

Christ’s suffering involved “the just for the unjust” (or, “righteous for the unrighteous”). Only Christ is just or righteous. None of us, when we suffer, can truly say, “I don’t deserve this!” We do say that because we erroneously compare ourselves with other sinners and think, “I’m a good person! I don’t do drugs or cheat on my mate or murder. I’m basically honest and law-abiding. Why should I suffer when scoundrels get away with murder and enjoy a good life?”

But our problem is, we’re comparing ourselves with the wrong standard! If we would compare ourselves with the absolute righteousness of God, we would see that the only thing we deserve is hell! Each of us has broken God’s commandments and laws over and over and over. We put other gods before the living and true God. We make idols for ourselves. We take His name in vain. We don’t keep His day as holy. We dishonor our parents. We murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, and covet. If we think we don’t, read the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus shows the self-righteous what the true standard of the law means. We are unrighteous; only Jesus Christ is righteous.

God, in His perfect justice, cannot just shrug off our sin. But He took our sin and put it on Jesus Christ, the righteous, to bear the penalty we deserve. The purpose was that Christ might “bring us to God.” This is the idea for an admission to an audience with the Great King. You just didn’t stroll into the presence of a great king and say, “How’s it going?” You had to have someone to introduce you properly. Because the righteous Christ bore our sins, He can bring us into an audience with the Great King.

One other point: Christ’s death for sins was “once for all.” His death was sufficient to pay for all the sins we have committed and will commit.

The point is, if you’ve put your trust in Christ, then your sins are on Him and you have been reconciled to God once-for-all. God wants every believer to come to the place of full assurance where you understand that the basis of your acceptance with God is not your performance; it is His grace, that Christ died for your sins once for all and you have trusted in Him, not in your own good works.

We’ve covered a lot of difficult material. But I don’t want you to miss the clear application of this text for your life. Three questions we each need to answer:

Have I truly trusted in Christ as my sin bearer? To do that I need to view myself as unrighteous, unable to present myself to God by my own good works. The pervasive pride of the human heart always wants to earn salvation based upon personal merit or worth. But God’s way is always to humble our pride and strip us of everything in ourselves that would commend us to Him. We can’t trust in our own goodness or hope that God’s standard is not absolute holiness. That’s a false hope. Make sure that you have let go of all human goodness and trust in the righteous Christ who died for the unrighteous.