At this time of year when ‘resolutions’ are being made for the days ahead, I felt it appropriate to begin here: One of our goals as believers should always be what Paul urged those in his care—to mature in the faith. In other words, we are in continual need of ‘growing up’ in the faith—growing closer to God through worship, through study, and through prayer and other spiritual disciplines (means of grace), that we might grow to be exactly what God created us to be. Our life of faith is to be about growth… So, how are we going to mature or grow in this New Year? Along those lines let me share this quote (from the ‘Women Who Do Too Much’ calendar)…
“Our lives are a process. We are a process. The only constant is change. Nothing is carved in stone.
Even stone decays. As we accept that all is process, our lives become so much easier.”
I would agree… In a national study done a couple of decades ago now, hundreds of people in Protestant churches were surveyed and this survey ended up discovering seven characteristics that are common to a mature faith. You may not agree with everything on their list, but it’s still very enlightening to look at these conclusions:
- Trusts in God’s saving grace and believes firmly in the humanity and divinity of Jesus.
- Experiences a sense of personal well-being, security, and peace.
- Integrates faith and life … seeing work, family, social relationships, and political choices as part of one’s religious life.
- Seeks spiritual growth through study, reflection, prayer, discussion with others.
- Seeks to be part of a community of believers who give witness to their faith and support and nourish one another.
- Holds life-affirming values, including commitment to racial and gender equality, affirmation of cultural diversity, and a personal sense of responsibility for the welfare of others.
- Serves humanity, consistently and passionately, through acts of love and justice.
As we begin this New Year together, it’s #5 on this list that has caught my attention: Seeks to be part of a community of believers who give witness to their faith… What does that mean? I think our scripture for today pretty well covers it; just listen to what Jesus had to say at the Last Supper, right after Judas walked out…
“As soon as Judas left the room, Jesus said, ‘The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. 32 And since God receives glory because of the Son, he will soon give glory to the Son. 33 Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going. 34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.’” – John 13:31-35 (NLT)
It’s the easiest thing to say, but one of the hardest things to do … isn’t it—to love one another? And yet, that’s the very thing that Christ commands us to do (i.e. not suggests, not recommends, etc.). And, it’s what mature Christians do—those who are serious about being followers of Jesus Christ … and it shows by the way they live their lives.
As we begin this New Year together, I also want to remind you of God’s vision for this particular congregation: “Love God, Love People, Serve God by Serving Others.” This is what God has given me to give to you. Here’s our purpose for existing. This is what we’re to be about—the process that we’re to be in as a ‘community of believers.’ It’s all about seeking to be a part of a community of believers who gives witness to their faith … by how they act—by how they treat one another…
But (and here’s the big question), IS THIS POSSIBLE? If you are thinking in terms of loving one another as God wants us to on our own, I would say that the answer is a resounding ‘NO!’ But, if you’re thinking of loving one another with the love of Christ that has been allowed to live in us, then the answer will be a great big … ‘YES!’
So, what’s Jesus up to here? What he mean telling us to ‘love one another?’ Well, simply put, Jesus is different, isn’t he? The one we claim to follow & worship is like no other on the face of this earth! And, what he’s asking us to do—how he’s asking us to act—is quite contrary to what the world expects. The real question now may be ‘how do we go about being this kind of community of faith in 2011?’ Well, this kind of LOVE is found throughout scripture (John 15:1-17, John 17:20-25, etc.), but let me give you this today:
LOVING JESUS’ WAY MEANS WE’LL EXPERIENCE UNITY IN THE BODY! There are so many local congregations (much less the larger church) that relationally-fractured today (and it kind of reminds you of some other families in our world). That’s not what Jesus wants at all; Jesus wants a family who will be bonded together by his Spirit of Love—in spite of differing opinions about things (and in the eternal scheme of things, most of what we disagree on is petty). When we mature as followers of Christ, the Body of Christ (all of us together) experiences UNITY (not uniformity, but unity)! So, what is UNITY going to look like when it happens around here?
Let me begin with this definition: Mature Christians are those who consistently live out God’s vision for their lives—personally & corporately. For us, that means we are to LOVE GOD, LOVE PEOPLE, and SERVE GOD BY SERVING OTHERS!
- We are to LOVE GOD – How can we come to love God more in 2011 than we’ve ever loved God before? Well, we need to come to know our need of God in our lives in a very powerful way: that happens primarily through worship & the study of God’s word. How are we going to be about those things in the New Year?
- We are to LOVE PEOPLE – What this means is that in 2011 there needs to be some serious transformation take place in our lives both personally & corporately. What this means is that in this New Year, Christ is calling us (commanding us) to love those who are unlovable in our lives (and you know who I’m talking about)!
- We are to take all of the LOVE that God has placed within us (by the power of his Spirit) and put it into action—SERVE GOD BY SERVING OTHERS. This, folks—even beyond the way we treat one another—is what it means to be a part of a community that witnesses to their faith! “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples (John 13:35, NLT).” These were Jesus’ next-to-last words to his disciples at that supper—very, very important. Just so you know, this is what happened on Christmas Eve this year—an incredible offering that is being given away, that others in this world might have life (in every way)…
Folks, ‘love one another’ means that we will experience this kind of UNITY in our church all year ‘round—a binding of souls together—like we’ve never experienced before. Instead of just words being thrown around casually, when we say that we are ‘brothers & sisters in Christ,’ it will take on a whole new meaning! ‘Love one another’ … Jesus way … means something quite different than we may have ever experienced before!
Here’s what else it means (if you need a ‘quick reference’ sometime)…
LOVING JESUS’ WAY ALSO MEANS ‘1 CORINTHIANS 13’ (4-8a)! This was the Apostle Paul’s description of LOVE … and if anyone should know what that love looks like (the way he was forgiven), Paul should. Love (is)…
- Patient and kind.
- Not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
- Does not demand its own way.
- Not irritable and keeps no record of wrongs.
- Does not celebrate injustice, but only truth.
- Never gives up, loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures … no matter what.
- Will last forever (along with faith & hope) and is the greatest!
I have told the leadership of this church more than one time in the past year, “We’re going to learn to love one another … if it kills us!” Truly, to say that we ‘love one another’ is the easiest thing to say, but sometimes it’s the hardest thing to do!
Have you ever been somewhat ashamed because you didn’t keep a New Year’s resolution that you were determined to keep? Along those same lines, Oswald Chambers says (My Utmost for His Highest): “We will all feel very much ashamed if we do not yield to Jesus the areas of our lives he has asked us to yield to Him.” I don’t want this to be that kind of a year for any of us, so…
- What is it that you are struggling with in your life right now?
- What is it in this past year that has disappointed you more than anything else about your walk with God?
Maybe it’s your relationship with a certain someone—even here in the Body of Christ—someone that’s been almost impossible to love … or so it seems. The GOOD NEWS is that we worship a God who is the God of the impossible! ‘Love one another?’ Yes, Jesus may sound crazy to a world that doesn’t understand the power behind that statement. But, for those of us who are called to be the church, we know it’s possible. Now, let’s live it in 2011! ‘Love one another.’ What an incredible year this is going to be!