On January 24, President Obama is scheduled to give the State of the Union address. This is an annual speech before the joint Congress in which the President outlines what happened in the previous year while expressing his desires and expectations for the New Year. This speech is traditionally one of hope and anticipation, of announcing new policy and trying to build support for programs the president wants to start. At my previous church our pastor would annually give a “State of the Church” address in which he essentially did the same thing, celebrating the past while looking ahead to the coming year.
Today I would like to offer a “Year in Review” of sorts. We have completed our first calendar year as a church. Looking back over 2011 I think we have some exciting things we can celebrate. We had a great spring semester last year. We started the year off well and developed some great momentum leading into the summer. On the strength of an excellent Disciple Now weekend and our first Easter as a church we saw some amazing numbers of people in our building. As we developed a bit of a sense of identity, I think we developed some excitement for the potential of our little church.
We joined with New Birth Fellowship on Stone Road in an event called iServe. We’ve participated in three iServe events so far with wonderful success. We’re starting to see other churches in the community catch the vision and want to join together in a true community effort to see the name of Jesus made great in this city. After a somewhat sluggish summer where I believe we lost a bit of momentum, we responded this past fall with a bit of re-focusing on what it is God would have us do.
As we look forward into 2012 and beyond, I wonder who it is that God would have us become. In the past months we’ve looked at what a church is and who it represents, trying to become more focused in our efforts to expand the Kingdom. We are messengers of God’s love. We are the light that shines into the darkness. We are the holy nation and royal priesthood that Peter talks about, destined to show the world who God is. God’s desire for his people has always been the same. He is looking for a people who will announce his Kingdom and his presence to a world in need of a Savior.
If we want the message of Christ to get to the people of this community through iServe and other events, we must first take a step of faith and be willing to be Jesus followers. We must be willing to live like we say we believe. I’ve mentioned this before: if we say we believe the Bible, then it ought to change how we live. The problem is that we either don’t know what the Bible says or we can’t agree about what it says, which brings me to my first point today.
Paul makes a bold statement at the beginning of this chapter. He urges the Ephesians to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…” We have been set apart to live out the grace of God. We have been chosen to be a light in the darkness. Now we have to live like it. I think in our society we have a problem with this whole “chosen” thing. I think we have a problem with being called to do anything. After all, I’m the one who prayed to receive Christ. I’m the one who walked down an aisle. I chose God. Without getting into an argument about predestination or free will let me just say this: whether we were chosen or we chose or both happened in a mystical, supernatural salvation experience, there was a decision made and life is supposed to be different. To me it is more like a marriage anyway. I didn’t just choose Amanda and she didn’t just choose me. We chose one another. Because of this, our lives are different. Neither one of us is out still trying to find someone to choose us. We are “us” now.
In the same way, with God I am no longer “me” instead we are “us.”
Now, back to the calling. We are exhorted by Paul to live in a manner that is worthy of our relationship with Christ. Because of this relationship, there is a way we are supposed to live. We’ll define that a little more specifically in a moment, but Paul starts by saying this: “…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
You see, there is one faith. There aren’t multiple faiths. There isn’t your faith and her faith and that guy’s faith over there. There is one faith. There is faith in Jesus. Beyond that, it’s all superfluous. If that is the case, then, shouldn’t we be unified? Aren’t there too many petty disagreements in the world anyway? Don’t we spend too much time disagreeing? There is one faith.
Paul says in verses 4-6: “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” We serve one God. We are a body with many parts but we serve one God. There is one reason that we are gathered here this morning and it’s because we serve one God. We all go different ways after this service, to different homes and different jobs, but we serve one God.
I’ve got your back and you’ve got mine. We might differ in opinion sometimes, but we serve one God, so we should be unified. There is more that unites us than divides us. These words have been spoken many times in political speeches and will likely be spoken again. If politicians can say these words about the United States even with all the division that exists in our country, surely we can say the same thing about the church. As we strive for more and more partnerships with churches in the community let this be our mantra. There is more that unites us than divides us. We represent the God of the Universe to those around us. Let us do it in a unified manner.
So many people would say “I don’t want to go to that church because ____________ is there and I don’t like them.” What a foolish thing to say. Perhaps _____________ really isn’t a bad person but because they once did or said something stupid you don’t like them anymore. What a foolish thing for us to not love a brother or sister in Christ. There is only one God. There is only one faith.
This begs the question then, if we are unified in one faith to one God, how do we define that faith? What god are we serving?
We’ve just finished the Christmas season. We spent 5 weeks talking about and celebrating the birth of Jesus, who we believe is the only Son of God, YHWH, the I AM, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of the Bible. We believe in this God.
We live in an age where it seems like either people believe that everyone will go to Heaven anyway, or that one must earn his or her way into Heaven, doing enough good things to make it. In the church it becomes even more muddled. It seems that often people who aren’t living godly lives at all claim to know Christ because of a moment long ago when they were baptized. There are men and women who assert their Christianity but don’t seem to be living in such a way as to back their claim.
Jesus says that he is the only way. If we believe this, it ought to change not only how we live our lives, but how we engage other people. Perhaps there ought to be an urgency in how we live. Perhaps we ought to seek out opportunities to share our faith with others. Perhaps we ought to be a little more devoted to the cause of the Kingdom of God. If there is only one way, perhaps we should lead people to the way.
This year we can plan all sorts of events. There will be four iServe events scheduled on our calendar, one happening at the end of this month. There is Disciple Now happening at the end of January. Our students will go to camp this summer and there will be missions opportunities for our students and probably for our adults as well. We’re looking at going back to Peru sometime in the summer. Perhaps you are drawn to another part of the world or to another cause.
We must always be mindful that we represent one God. We are citizens of one Kingdom. We have one faith.
I could stand up here all morning and give you plans and lofty goals for what I want us to become as a church. We typically run between 60 and 70 people on a Sunday morning and that’s good. That’s better than a lot of churches in a lot of towns, but we’re not competing. I could announce that I would like to fill this room up on such a consistent basis that we have to add services, and I do. I could set a goal of having to move to a larger building by the end of the year and that would be wonderful, but that’s all beside the point.
Who are you going to be in 2012?
It’s easy to bemoan the condition of our society. It’s a simple thing to announce our plans and to set goals and try to reach them. All it takes is a little discipline and hard work. But what does it mean for us that Jesus is the only way? What does it mean for us to live in unity? Let me say it this way and then try to unpack what I mean. What if we lived in a life-giving sort of way?
I think that most of us are in a life-taking mode. What I mean by that is we want as much life as we can possibly muster. We upgrade and super-size our ways to a “better life” trying to either out-do our neighbors or ourselves. We believe in Jesus’ claim to bring us “abundant life” but we think that means making life as big and as fun as we possibly can. Our plans, our goals, our successes are all for us. In this, we take as much life for ourselves while leaving very little for anyone else.
What if our default was to give life? What if in every situation we thought of others first? What if we lived in such a way that other people were edified and we gave more than we took? Jesus came so that we might have life. He came to give life away. If we are to follow him, perhaps that should be how we live as well. We talked about Advent Conspiracy some this Christmas. What if that was our default, not only for Christmas, but for life?
If this was the way we approached every relationship, every situation, then it redefines everything. If this is the way we approached life, then even times of solitude and vacation are for the benefit of others. If I am concerned for your welfare and how I treat you, then I must seek down times and times to recharge. I used to lead a disciple now group every year for my friend Paul Mints. One thing he did that was differently than a lot of other ministers was send the students home on Saturday night. They would only spend Friday night at their host home. His reason has stuck with me for all these years. He said that sometimes the most holy thing one can do is to go to sleep. We all need times to recharge and refresh. Jesus himself would do that.
What if we lived in such a way as to give life to others? Would that change the way you talked to people? Would that change the way you thought about people? Think about the person in the world you like the least. What if you treated them differently? What if you tried to be a life-bringer to them? Would this attitude change how you interacted with the world? If we are going to live in the Kingdom, we must be life-bringers. If we are going to be disciples of Jesus, we must live the way he showed us to live, meeting people’s needs, befriending the friendless, touching the untouchable, eating with sinners.
James tells us that true religion is taking care of widows and orphans. How are we at that? One thing I want to start this coming year is an orphan care ministry. Last January we heard Chase Bowers deliver a message about caring for orphans. God has a heart for orphans. He had compassion on us when we had no heavenly father and he wants us to have compassion on those with no earthly father. Kay Warren once said that God didn’t adopt us because he needed children, but because we needed a Father. We have a missions table available at the back of the room. There are ways you can interact with the whole world. You can go to Peru. You can go to Brazil. You can go wherever you want. But in whatever you do, seek to be a life-bringer.
As we come to the end of the beginning, I want us all to think about what God would have us do. What stirs your affection for Jesus? In what ways can you be involved in reaching other people with the love of God? Maybe you are supposed to take on responsibility at Cornerstone. Maybe you are supposed to join us here, working with us to reach the community around us. Maybe you need to be working with one of our age-based ministries like our student ministry or our children. Luke needs help right now getting host homes for Disciple Now. Maybe you can do that. Cassie and April need help organizing our children’s ministry. We must do a good job with that. We need small group facilitators and hosts. Maybe you can do that. Remember, we are unified in our love for Jesus. There is nothing else.
We’re going to be handing out sheets that have a place for you to make a commitment for what you are going to do this year. I find that when I write down my goals, I tend to remember them better. There is a place for you to write down your 2012 goals for yourself and tear it off to put on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror or wherever. There is also a section above that where you can write your goals and give them to us. Put them in the offering basket as it comes by if you wish. This is not required nor is it something we are going to hound you about, but I’ve also discovered that when someone else knows my goals, I am more likely to remember them and work toward them. If you would like to make that commitment known to us so we can pray with you through it, please drop it in the offering basket.
I want your life to be transformed by Jesus. Maybe you’ve not taken even the first step in that journey. I wish you would. Beyond giving me eternal salvation, knowing Jesus has changed the way I view life. It’s not about me. I hope it never becomes about me. In fact, when it begins to become about me I tend to get depressed because a life about me isn’t a life worth living. There are people here who can help you take the first steps into a new life. Tim and I are available during the second set of worship. Use this time to spend a moment with the Spirit, asking what he would have you do.
We’re going to close with one last passage of scripture.
The second half of the book of Genesis is the story of Joseph and how he came to power in Egypt and saved the Hebrew people from death because of famine. At the end of Genesis Joseph dies. A new Pharaoh comes into the picture not long after and begins to oppress the Hebrew people. Verses 23-25 of chapter 2 tell us what happened then. “Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God.”
God always hears the cry of the oppressed. God is a merciful and generous God who is in the business of rescue. He can rescue you. Whether you are completely lost and in need of a Savior or simply struggling to find your way through a difficult time, God hears the cry of the oppressed. As we start a new year, I wonder if we will give God the opportunity to impress us. Will we give him the chance to show us what he can do? So often we try so hard to build castles for ourselves when God wants us to build his Kingdom. I wonder if we would let him do that. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” If this church is going to truly be a light in a darkened world, God must be the one who builds it. We are just laborers who work under the instruction and authority of the Master Builder.
May we long for God. May we cry out to him. May we be life-bringers.