Sunday, November 21, 2004

Totally Committed to the God Who is Totally Committed to Us

Colossians 1:9-20
(shared with the people of Friendship Church on Commitment Sunday, a time when members and regular participants in the life of the congregation commit their time, talents, and treasures for ministry in the coming year)

I had a birthday this past week. I turned 51. It’s strange: the leap from age 50 to 51 seemed bigger to me than that from 49 to 50. Somehow, at 51, I feel a lot closer to the AARP Zone. I wonder how long it will be before I start to order from the seniors’ menu.

Turning fifty-one also caused me to do some prayer, reflection, and thinking. At this crossroads in my life, I asked God and myself, where am I and where am I headed?

The truth is that every day is a crossroads for us. Each moment that we live, we’re confronted with choices as to how we’re going to live and with what habits we’ll live. This past week, I ran across this quote from someone named Charles Reade, cited in a book by author and counselor Steve Arterburn:
“Sow a thought, and you reap an action; sow an action, and you reap a habit; sow a habit, and you reap a character; sow a character, and you reap a destiny.”
At this crossroads moment of my life, I want to sow thoughts, actions, habits, and a character that will help me make the most of my time on this earth, that will help me meet the destiny that God has in mind for me. I bet the same is true for you.

Lutheran pastor Mike Foss says that there are three things you and I need to know if we’re going to make the most of the rest of our lives, all of which are talked about in today’s Bible lesson.

First: We need to know the only God of the universe, the only One Who is worth living for. Our Bible lesson says that we see this God through Jesus Christ. It says of Jesus:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in Him all things in heaven and on earth, things visible and invisible...have been created through Him and for Him...[And] in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”
Martin Luther said that if you want to know God, all you have to do is look at Jesus. When you do that, you get a very different picture of God than what most people have. In his book, Living Faith, former President Jimmy Carter talks about how his image of God has changed because of Jesus. When he was younger, Carter says,
“I envisioned a supreme being, [who] was more like Muhammad, the founder of Islam, a patently successful man in earthly terms: a powerful warrior, political leader, founder of a great institutional [religion]. This was in many ways the opposite of the ‘suffering servant’ in [the prophecies of the Old Testament book of] Isaiah, whom Christians identify with Christ: physically unattractive, uneloquent, scorned, rejected...”
In Jesus, we see that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, to be sure. But we also see that He is willing to lay that aside out of consideration of His love for us. One of the early church fathers was a man named Origen. He told once about a village that had a huge statue, so huge that you really couldn’t see what it was meant to be. Finally, someone miniaturized it so you could tell who it was designed to honor. Origen said, “That’s what God did in His Son. He made it possible for us to see what God is like.” Knowing this God can help us find the right direction for our lives.

The second thing that we need to know in order to make the best of the rest of our lives is: what God has accomplished through Jesus. In our Bible lesson, Paul says that Jesus “has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved Son, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.” Jesus spent His blood on the cross to buy our freedom from slavery to sin, death, and purposeless living. Jesus is our Rescuer.

The third thing we need to know in order to make the best of the rest of our lives is: what is the goal of our lives. That’s why Paul writes: “...we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.”

For several years now, we’ve spent a good deal of time at Friendship talking about what we call the seven habits of joyful people. You can probably recite them by heart. They are:

regular prayer;

study of God’s Word;

regular worship;

inviting others to know and follow Christ;

encouraging others with the love of Jesus;

serving in Jesus’ Name; and

giving to the cause of Christ in the world.

Time and again, we’ve emphasized that adopting these habits can’t earn us a place in God’s Kingdom. That’s a free gift. God gives a right and everlasting relationship with Him--a place in His kingdom--to all who turn away from sin and receive Jesus as the God and Lord of their lives.

But in order to receive all the power God can give us for making the most of our lives (for making the most of this congregation), we must position ourselves to receive it. We have to open up our hands and heart and will to receive what God gives through Christ. These seven habits are conduits by which the living, loving God we know through Jesus Christ can transform our thoughts, our actions, our destinies.

You and I have not been called into a relationship with Jesus Christ or with Friendship Church simply to settle into a pattern of holy mediocrity. God has called us to join hands with God and neighbor in order to change our lives and the life of the world around us.

Over the course of this past year, your Church Council has been committed to sharing information with you about our financial circumstances. You know that our congregational giving has not kept pace with the demands of our bare bones budget, or even with our collective estimates of giving. You know also that if our giving continues failing to keep pace with our needs, we will have to institute dramatic cuts next year. And you know what a devastating impact that would have on our pursuing some of our long-cherished dreams---outreach events, more community service, the addition of a variety of worship celebrations.

But these financial realities are only the tip of a spiritual ice berg. Martin Luther was fond of saying that every Christian must undergo at least three conversions to Jesus Christ:

The first conversion is in the head. We must be intellectually convinced about Jesus conquering sin and death for us.

The second is in the heart. We need to have a connection of will and emotion to Jesus.

And the third conversion is in the wallet. Luther says that this, by far, is the most difficult conversion of all.

By the time our conversions to Christ have sunk down to our wallets---with our spending, saving, and giving reflecting Jesus’ priorities for our lives and Jesus being the Boss of our lives, other habits will have taken hold as well. As one person told me, “I give God 10% of my annual income not to make God love me, but because I’ve come to know how much He already does love me.” Thankfulness to Christ and a commitment to actively living our thankfulness will impact our wallets and a lot more of our lives.

Over the next few moments, I want to ask all of you to have a silent conversation with God. I want to ask what is almost impossible for we Friendship folks: That we keep silent. I ask you to talk with God about how you are going to develop these seven habits in the coming year. You know the needs of this congregation. But even more importantly perhaps, you know that if you are going to make the most of the year ahead, each of these seven habits need to play a part in your life, probably a bigger part in your life in 2005 than they ever have before.

After you and God have talked things over, I want to ask you to take pen or pencil to paper and make your covenant with God for how you will pursue these habits in the coming year. And then, when you’re ready for it, please bring your completed time, talent, and treasure form forward, setting them on the Lord’s Table up here.

Before you start to do that, would you pray with me?

Lord Jesus, You are the King of kings. We want You also to be the King of our every moment. Lord, we know that You are the only God worth living for; we know what You’ve accomplished for us on the cross and from the empty tomb; and we know that Your goal for us is to live lives worthy of You. Now, God, we ask You to help us to want what You want for our lives. Give us the power to grow in our pursuit of these seven habits. Make them the highways by which You help us to grow and mature as Your people. Help us to move beyond mediocrity and in the coming year, make the most of the life You give to us. In Your Name we pray. Amen!

[I appreciate the inspiration provided by Pastor Foss' sermon for this Sunday. His congregation, like Friendship had its annual Commitment Sunday today.]


Andrew said...

I'm trying to locate the text in which Luther says or is quoted as saying "conversion of the wallet." Lots of folks reference the quote, but no one sites it! Any thoughts?

Mark Daniels said...

The thoughts, variously represented in English, are, in every source I have before me right now, simply attributed to Luther without sourcing. Likely, he said it during one of his table talks, those dinner conversations which various students set down and were later collected in several books.

By the way, he uses the term "pockebook," rather than wallet. But wallet seemed appropriate to me for putting the idea in everyday vernacular.