Sunday, November 26, 2006

Living with Christ our King!

[This message was shared with the people of Friendship Lutheran Church during worship celebrations on November 25 and 26, 2006.]

John 18:33-37
This is Christ the King weekend. But what exactly does it mean to call Jesus our King? We get an idea from the last words in our Bible lesson for today, words spoken by Jesus to the Roman governor Pilate on the day before His execution: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Part of what Jesus says here is easy for me to understand. Sometimes when we’re in worship, a baby starts to cry in the nursery. Most of us in the sanctuary have no idea which of the children it is. But there are usually two people who know immediately: the parents. With the first whelp, at least one of them is out of their seat to see if anything is wrong. Elsewhere, Jesus says that He is the Good Shepherd to us, His sheep, and that we know His voice when we hear it. When we’re part of Jesus’ Kingdom, when we’ve come to believe in Him, His voice can be heard above the din of our own selfishness and sin and the temptations that surround us.

So it’s easy to get part of what Jesus means when He says: “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” But what does it mean to “belong to the truth”?

To us, that’s a strange turn of phrase. When you and I talk about the truth, we’re usually referring to the factual. “I had toast, jelly, and orange juice for breakfast this morning.” “My wife and I were married on August 2, 1974.” “The sky is blue.” These are statements of fact that are either true or not. And, of course, God wants us to tell the truth. The Eighth Commandment tells us to not bear false witness against our neighbor. And the New Testament tells us to “speak the truth in love.”

But sticking to the facts isn’t what Jesus means when He says that those who worship Him as King “belong to the truth.” For Jesus, the truth boils down to something simple and stunning. He puts it plainly at another place in John’s Gospel when He says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.”

Jesus Himself is the truth, the strong foundation on Whom we can build our lives. In another of the Gospel books, Jesus says that wise people build their houses--their lives--on the rock. Jesus is the true rock. To base our lives on anyone or anything other than Him is a lie that leads to death and separation from God. According to Jesus, He is the true and only way to life with God that lasts forever.

When we’re in Jesus’ kingdom, we hear His voice...
  • Every time we read the Bible or spend time in worship.
  • Every time we pray together or alone.
  • Each time we receive Holy Communion.
  • And whenever we serve in His Name.
This connectedness to Him is what the Bible calls abiding in Jesus.

But what does all of this mean for you and me as we live from day to day?

What might it mean for our congregation to live with Jesus as our King every moment of every day?

The vision for Friendship Lutheran Church has always been about sharing and living in intimate fellowship with Jesus, the King. I’ve said that Friendship is the most Lutheran congregation in the world because like Martin Luther and the other reformers in the sixteenth century, we work to tear down all those barriers that so often prevent people from gaining access to Jesus, His forgiveness, His life, and His Kingdom.

So, as the old Church Year closes and we begin a new one next weekend, it’s a good time to renew that vision. I want to suggest where Friendship needs to be headed in 2007. This Friendship Vision 2007 boils down to four essential elements.

First: Exalt the Lord. When we exalt someone or something, we give our praise or honor. Another term for it would be worship. People who want to hear Jesus’ voice in their everyday lives, seek to honor Him not just on Saturdays or Sundays, but all the time.

I once heard about a talented football player who went to a top Division 1 college team, but turned out to be a total bust. This kid everyone had expected to be among the best quarterbacks in the country, maybe a Heisman Trophy winner, rode the bench for four years. As it developed, he proved to be indifferent to his coaches’ instructions, spent little time looking at the playbook, and had little to do with his teammates. Without those connections, his playing career died, the victim of what I call, “permanent potential.” Sadly, that seems to be the same condition from which most Christians and most churches suffer, never becoming what God has in mind for us when He calls us to follow Christ our King.

You and I may look at some Christians and see them exhibit joy in the midst of hardship or purpose in the midst of chaos and wonder how it’s possible. It’s simple: They’ve maintained contact with Christ. They’ve adopted the habit of exalting the Lord.

And make no mistake about it: You cannot continue in a strong relationship with Jesus Christ unless you trigger this pattern of exalting Him. You trigger the habit of worshiping Christ with your whole life by regularly attending worship with your Christian family, the church.

Some of you have heard the story of the Scottish pastor who visited a member who hadn’t been in worship for a long time. The parishioner expected that the pastor was going to give him a tougue-lashing. But nothing of the sort happened.

By a roaring fire in the parishioner’s living room, the pastor just had a friendly conversation with the man. Without interrupting their talk, at one point he stood up, picked up the tongs by the fireplace, grabbed a red-hot ember, and plunked it down on the stone floor in front of the fireplace. As the conversation went on, the parishioner watched the ember’s once-bright color turn to gray as the flame that once illuminated it died out. The parishioner said, “I understand. I’ll be in worship this coming Sunday, Pastor.”

Without regular worship with the Church, the flame of our faith dies out. For us to exalt the Lord on Mondays, we need to exalt Him together on Saturdays or Sundays.

This place should be packed every weekend! When just one of us is missing, we can’t give each other the mutual encouragement to daily exalting God the church is meant to provide to us.

We need to challenge one another to be in weekend worship together at least three times a month. And you don’t need my permission to call up the people you haven’t seen in worship for awhile. Pick up your phones and call them!

Second: Each one reach one. Anyone attentive to the voice of Jesus knows how desperate He is for us to reach out to others with the Good News of Jesus Christ. If each of us prayerfully committed ourselves to heeding Jesus’ call to make disciples by bringing a spiritually disconnected person into relationship with Christ through our congregation, we would double in size by next December. The more members, the bigger Christ’s Kingdom and the more of Christ’s work we can do together. We should be doubling in size every year!

Early next year I’ll be offering you practical help with how to share your faith in Christ with others. But you don’t need Mark’s program. Jesus Christ lives in you. The Holy Spirit is with you. All you need to do is tell your friends about your best friend, Jesus Christ, and about this incredible fellowship of Christians of which we’re a part, Friendship Lutheran Church.

When it comes to witnessing for your faith, you can’t go wrong if you’ll simply speak from your experience and your heart. Take the advice of the Nike people: “Just do it!”

Before you go to bed tonight, talk with the Lord. Ask Him to tell you who you will reach in 2007.

If each one will reach one in 2007, we will all have the satisfaction of knowing that God has used us to bring another person to heaven.

Exalt the Lord. Each one reach one. That brings a third element of the Friendship Vision for 2007, as I see it: Engage in service. In our mission statement, which I hope all of you know by heart, we say that:
Friendship Church is a welcoming and caring people who seek to share the kindness of God so that all metropolitan Cincinnati may grow in the faith, hope, and love of the living Jesus Christ!
People made confident and hopeful by the love of God given to us through Christ serve others as Jesus has served us. That’s why I’m so excited about all that the Outreach/Servanthood team is doing and has planned for us. I’m proud of all the service I see you doing in Jesus’ Name. One of the great developments in the life of Friendship in 2006 is that servanthood has been wired into the DNA of our life together. Keep it up!

Exalt the Lord. Each one reach one. Engage in service. One more: Expand your vision. The state of Ohio isn’t the only entity that should have Jesus’ words--”With God, all things are possible”--as its motto. Expand your vision for Friendship. Dream big dreams for what our congregation can do in service to God and our neighbors!

But hear this warning: When you bring your vision before our Church Council and they affirm your vision as something Friendship should do, your role can’t end there. Backseat driving is no more attractive in the church than it is in your car!

Back in Old Testament times, some of God’s people, the Jews, who had been living in exile, were allowed to return home. But one of them, Nehemiah, still living away from his homeland, learned that the city of Jerusalem had not yet been rebuilt. Its walls had crumbled and until they were put back up, the city was subject to marauding bands of thieves and thugs. Though he had no experience with building or leading work crews, Nehemiah felt the force of a dream to rebuild those walls. And with God’s help and empowerment, God used Nehemiah to accomplish that dream.

When God plants an idea in your mind and soul for a new ministry, you, like Nehemiah, also must be willing to roll up your sleeves and take the lead in bringing the vision into being. Christianity isn’t a spectator sport. Everybody needs to get into the game.

The coming year promises to be a great one at Friendship. The youth mission trip in June is just one of many things God may have in store for us. I look forward to our growth in faith, in discipleship, in vision, in numbers. As people connected to Jesus Christ, our King, let’s commit ourselves to what I call Vision 2007:
  • Exalt the Lord: Every member in worship regularly and each of us checking on those we haven’t seen there for awhile.
  • Each one reach one, our congregation doubling in size by December, 2007.
  • Engage in service, every member with a ministry.
  • Expand the vision, each of us daring to make God-honoring dreams realities at Friendship.
The time to get on board with what God has in mind for us is now. Christ our King awaits our response.

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