05/24/2015 – Matthew 16:23-25; Romans 12:1-2 – Following Jesus Today: “The Transforming Power of Love”

Mark Wheeler

Matthew 16:23-25; Romans 12:1-2

“Following Jesus Today: The Transforming Power of Love”

May 24, 2015

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

You are our refuge and our strength, O Lord. We pour our lives into Your hands that we may discover all the benefits of Your grace and all the power of Your presence. Amen.

Let’s see a show of hands of anybody here who remembers having prayers said in school. Did any of you have class field-trips to a local church? Who remembers when students could lead prayer at a baccalaureate ceremony?

All of that has changed, hasn’t it?

Six weeks ago we started a sermon series right after Easter called “Following Jesus Today”. We started this series recognizing that the America some of us grew up in seems to have changed. There was a time, not too many decades ago, when “going to church” was sort of the normal, expected Sunday experience. Our culture and society sort of revolved around church schedules: no youth sports of Sundays, no after school activities on Wednesdays (that was church youth group day), Spring Break coincided with Holy Week, etc.

60 years ago when Spokane’s population was half what it is today, church attendance was three-times what it is today. But something shifted – for better or for worse, that’s not the way it is anymore. The Church has become irrelevant to the felt-needs of the people around us; and as a result our pews are emptier and our resources are fewer. Our influence has waned, our authority has dissipated, and our presence is ignored. So, during these weeks between Easter and Pentecost, we have been looking at how to Follow Jesus Today. We have examined how our words and actions impact the world around us, how we experience both the absence of God and the embrace of God in our daily walk with Him (and how to invite others to experience God’s perfect grace), what it means to love God and to love our neighbors, how to know Truth from falsehood, and the importance of displaying our faith in forms our neighbors can recognize as ways we actually are following Jesus. 

Today we look at two different Scripture passages that appear to be completely unrelated; but I invite you to listen to the Word of God and discover the direct connection. Let’s hear God’s Word from Matthew 16:23-25…. and then from Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 12:1-2 ….—-

Matthew 16: 23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (This happened immediately after Peter had made his out-loud faith declaration that Jesus is the one and only Messiah, the Son of the living God – and then Jesus told His disciples that He would go to Jerusalem where He would suffer and be killed, and Peter rebuked Jesus and said that that could never happen!)

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

And from Romans 12: Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

May God bless the reading, hearing, receiving of His Word which never fails. So, realizing that we live in one of the least-churched states of our nation, where fewer than 15% (the last poll I read [from 2002] said 17%, but church stats across our city indicate that it is lower today) fewer than 15% of Spokane is in a Christian worship service on any given weekend, what are we supposed to do?One model, and this has been in place for most of the 20th Century and continues into this 21st Century, is to try our very best to make our church more attractive than the church down the street and even more attractive than some of the other options our culture and society offers. So we build church buildings and develop programs that compete with society around us.

An “Attractional” Church tries to ATTRACT people to its building and programs, and to Christ. This model has worked for many churches – the churches with the resources to do it well – Life Center, Real Life, ONE, and in its day Calvary Chapel – have reached people for Jesus and grown! But even these churches confess to only reaching certain segments of society, and while they go out a mile wide, they often only go an inch deep.

There is nothing wrong with being attractional; being attractive is almost everyone’s goal. Admittedly, there are days when I look in the mirror and say, “Sorry world, this is as good as this is gonna get today”; but most days I at least brush my teeth and comb my hair. My resources can only make me SO attractive, but I usually try to be less unattractive than when my feet first hit the floor in the morning.

But I often wonder if this is just the worldly way of reaching people for Christ. Let’s look better, and see if we can win them to our side.God’s ways are different than our ways. Is this “suffering” that we encounter – this lower attendance in worship – because we have been lax in our efforts? Or is this part of God’s work to strengthen our faith and our fellowship? Or is there some third way to see this? 

Since the mid-1980s, this “attractional” mode of church growth has started to fail. It still works at one level – something like 75% of all American Church-goers attend Mega-churches, but something like 80% of those people have little more to their Christian faith than attending church services. The divorce rate, cheat-on-your-taxes rate, and relative-morality rate is the same as those who do not go to church at all.

And churches like ours try to be attractive – but we just do not have the resources to compete with the world around us – we can’t do better childcare, we can’t bring in big-name speakers or performers, we can’t even afford building upgrades so that we look like we’re leading the 21st Century.

Fortunately, God wants our best, and He gives us everything we need to offer it. One of the main American Church dilemmas is that we have tried to attract new people without making lasting connections with the people around us. In the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s – all you had to do was build a church and people would flock to it. That is no longer true!

“Attraction” without “connection” will not bear the fruit we hope to grow.

In this 21st Century, because we are no longer the center of all civic activities, we need to put more emphasis in being a “Connectional” Church – one that tries to CONNECT to the people in our neighborhoods, and CONNECT them to Christ.

Why is it so difficult for followers of Jesus, you and I, to focus on the things of God as compared to earthly things? It is part of our fallen nature. Adultery, murder, theft, lying, envy are all in the Big Ten Commandments because, by nature, we want what makes us look better to others and feel more worthy to ourselves – sparkly, jingly, shiny, loud stuff draws attention to us. The world seems to have drawn us into its deceptive stories of false values.

I want the bigger, badder, louder, motorbike. I also want the bigger truck, without dents and rust and leaks, and that I know will start every time I turn the ignition. But, is that the right thing to want?

Paul says to not be conformed to the world, butbe TRANSFORMED by the renewing of your mind”.

Today is Pentecost Sunday – this is the day we celebrate God’s Holy Spirit filling each of Jesus’ followers – the first time was 50 days after the Passover celebration in the year that Jesus was crucified, killed and buried – but that Pentecost was not a one-time event. Pentecost (the name merely refers to those 50 days, on the Jewish calendar it was 50 days after Moses led the Israelites across the Red Sea that God gave him the 10 Commandments), reminds us that the Holy Spirit of God fills each and every one of God’s children when we receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, when we are baptized – but it also reminds us that God always desires a deeper connection with His people. He wants to live in us, and empower us with His Gospel Truth.

To be TRANSFORMED by the renewing of our minds means to repent from whatever drags us away from our connection to God and to allow the Holy Spirit to take command.

What that looks like in your personal life will probably be different from what it looks like in my personal life – my sins may not be your sins.But before we’re done today, we will ask for a refilling of Holy SpiritI wonder what being “TRANSFORMED by the renewing of our collective minds” might look like in the life of LPC. Would we figure out new experiments to CONNECT with our neighbors? Would we be more deeply CONNECTED to each other? What would the world around us see and how would that ATTRACT them to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

In just a few minutes we are going to pray and then receive the offering for God’s Kingdom connections. Let me invite you to rip off a piece of your bulletin – I expect to hear a holy tear – and write down one concrete way LPC might demonstrate the Kingdom of God in northeast Spokane this year – you can then put your ripped-off ideas in the offering plates along with your tithes to God’s purposes.

Let’s pray:“O God, by Your transforming grace, help Your church point beyond itself through word and work to the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. Fill this room, again, with Holy Spirit power take hold of each person that is open to Your spiritual gifts and anoint us in ways everyone will know is from You. Fill this place, ignite our faith, fan the flame, and burn brightly through Your people into our neighborhoods, by Your Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Resources:

Detterman, Paul; Following Jesus Today: Challenges and Opportunities (Participant’s Book); Presbyterian Mission Agency; Louisville, KY; 2014; Pp. 36-43.

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