24/6/01 10.45 a.m. Romans 12:1-8
Three ministers were discussing the problem of bats nesting in the belfrey of their churches. Minister 1: "I thought I'd get rid of them by sneaking up on them and catching them in my fishing net. I took them out into the woods a few miles away and let them go. Sadly, they were back in church before I could get back there.
Minister 2: "I put a cat up there with them, thinking it would frighten them away. But when I went back to check, the cat had disappeared and the bats were still there.
Minister 3: "I solved the problem. I went up there and baptized and confirmed them and I haven't seen them since." Copyright 1999 Gibson Productions
Today's reading is about how we are to live our lives as Christians. We will be looking at this using four headings : A Dedicated Life; A Transformed Life; A United Life; and A Diverse Life.
A Dedicated Life.
What should we do ? to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship.
In the Old Testament and heathen religions sacrifices were used. There are three things you could say about these sacrifices : they were wholly committed to their task ; they had no choice in their vocation ; and they were dead.
The Christian is to offer his/her body as a living sacrifice. The use of the word 'body' refers to our whole being which is to be dedicated to God. Our thoughts ,words, deeds, possessions, relationships, morals and so on.
Living doesn't just refer to the fact that we are breathing, in contrast to the dead Old Testament sacrifices. It also means that we have a life lived in a right relationship with God the Father by the death of Jesus that has resulted in faith through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Our lives should be holy and pleasing to God. In the Old Testament animals that were sacrificed had to be prefect and without blemish. The Priests had to make themselves ceremonially clean before they could offer a sacrifice.
Holy means set apart for God and carries with it the concept of moral purity. So our sacrifice should involve a conscious commitment to dedicating ourselves to God combined with obedience to his will.
We live in a world that puts pleasure above everything. People seek pleasure through sex, alcohol and other drugs, relationships without commitment, and quick money through gambling. As Christians we should not live to please ourselves, but to please God, as verse 1 says. Living in this way is a spiritual or reasonable act of worship. Our worship of God has to be more than a service on a Sunday, although it should, of course include regular Sunday worship. Our worship should be expressed in lives dedicated to God every day.
Why should we do this ? 1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy,
In heathen religions you sacrificed a dead animal to earn God's mercy. With Christianity we receive God's undeserved mercy through the self-sacrifice of his Son. Our response to God's mercy is to be the sacrifice of our lives back to him in gratitude for what he has done for us.
( A Dedicated Life; and ) A Transformed Life;
A man was giving his testimony at an open-air street meetings. As he was testifying, a heckler in the crowd yelled, "Why don't you shut up and sit down? You're just dreaming." Immediately that heckler felt a tug on his coat. He looked down to see a little girl, who said. "Sir, may I speak to you? That man who is talking up there is my daddy. Daddy used to be a drunkard. He used to spend all of the money he made on whiskey. My mother was very sad and would cry most of the time. "Sometimes when my daddy would come home, he would hit my mother. I didn't have shoes or a nice dress to wear to school. But look at my shoes. And see this pretty dress? My daddy bought these for me."
The little girl continued, "See my mother over there? She's the one with the bright smile on her face. She's happy now. She sings even when she's doing the ironing." Then the little girl said, "Mister, if my daddy is dreaming, please don't wake him up. Copyright 1999 Gibson Productions
2 Do not conform any longer 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.
Public figures who have been alcoholics have said that continuing to stay sober is an ongoing battle of saying 'No' again and again.
The Christian life is a continuing transformation of saying 'No' the way of the world to 'Yes' to the way of God. 'World' here represents those things that are opposed to God. Transformation, the same word is used of Jesus' Transfiguration, is a process, not an event. It is a two stage process of renunciation and renewal. The first step is to not to follow the way of the world, to reject our selfish desires and not to copy what is done by those who are not of God. The second step is to have our minds renewed. To make a new start in our thinking, inspired by the Holy Spirit, fed by the Bible, nurtured in prayer, dedicated to knowing what God's will is and, also doing it. This can be inspired by the realisation that because it is God's will, who loves everyone, and is good, pleasing, and perfect it is best for everybody.
God doesn't call people to follow his ways his ways because he is a spoilsport but because he wants everyone to have an abundant life ( John 10:10 ).
( A Dedicated Life; A Transformed Life; and ) A United Life;
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,
Paul is encouraging his readers to humility which leads to unity.
He uses the illustration of the body and addresses the situation where a Christian thinks they are more important than another. He is saying, don't think too much of yourselves because you are saved by faith which is a gift from God. It has been said that humble people do not think less of themselves, they just think about themselves less. This is very true isn't it ? Everyone is of equal importance to God and He has shown us how important we are by sending his only Son to die in our place on the cross. So humility does not mean that we are to think of ourselves as worthless or less important than others, even though we may do different things within the church. It is having a balanced view of ourselves, realising that we are unique precious and of equal value.
5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
In the late 1980's Melanie and myself went on holiday to Northern Cyprus which is the Turkish part of this island. The South is occupied by the Greeks and, as we were travelling near the border one day we met and had a good chat with a Welsh Guard who was patrolling the border. We were aware of the tensions because the Greeks in the South controlled the electricity supply for the island and, every time consumption peaked they cut off power to the North, so we had regular power cuts !
Greek Christians from Southern Cyprus have recently suggested that the next meeting of the European Evangelical Alliance be held in Turkey. This shows how Christian unity can and should override any and all worldly barriers.
Christians are united with one another in a deep way that transcends any superficial differences. This is why we meet regularly with our Baptist and Methodist brothers and sisters. We are one body and we are called to work and worship together.
Again and again in his letters Paul refers to being 'in Christ'. What does this mean ? It refers to being united with Jesus. This is achieved by dying to our old life of sin and death and rising to a new life of righteousness. Once this has happened God doesn't see us, but Jesus in us, and, as we saw earlier we should be being transformed. Transformed into what ? The likeness of Jesus.
We cannot do this on our own. We need the Holy Spirit. We need our brothers and sisters in Christ to be his body on earth. Just as the physical body of Jesus went about on earth 2,000 years ago ministering in God's name so we are called to do the same. This leads onto our final point...
( A Dedicated Life; A Transformed Life; A United Life; and ) A Diverse Life.
The parts of the body need to be different in order that they can work together properly. We are all different, with various gifts that can contribute to the life of the church. Verse 3, For by the grace given me I say to every one of you. Paul is saying that every Christian has a part to play in the life of the church. Every Christian has at least one gift from God to be used for the building up of the church. Because these are gifts there is no status in having a particular gift, with no room for pride or jealousy.
The list of gifts here is not exhaustive. Some of the gifts such as leadership clearly are part of the organised life of the church. Yet some, such as contributing to the needs of others and showing mercy, which is about ministering to the sick and needy, may be unseen by many in the church.
At a recent P.C.C. meeting we were thinking about what we would like St. Martin's to be like in five years time and how, with God's help we could work towards this vision. One of the pressing needs that was recognised was to identify, develop and use the spiritual gifts that God has given to us to help to build up the body of Christ here in Talke.
What we must decide is how we are valuable, not how valuable we are.
The question that we all need to ask ourselves individually is, 'What gift has God given to me ?' We can approach this prayerfully, asking God to show us. We can approach this corporately, by asking one or two Christians who know us well what gift or gifts they think that we have. We should approach this forgivingly, willing to take risks and allow people to make mistakes as they test their gifting.
Can I encourage every church member to follow these suggestions and, if you feel God might have gifted you in a certain area, please do not hesitate to contact me. If you think God has gifted someone else tell them, and encourage them to test this out. As you heard earlier, one of the areas we need someone to minister is as a Governor at St. Saviour's School. Please do not hesitate to talk to Dave Howe or myself about this. Linda Daniels joined the governors relatively recently and has enjoyed her contact with the school and made a valuable contribution to it.
There are many other areas where we could do with more people being involved. Christian service and commitment has got to flow from being living sacrifices.
A Nashville newspaper carried a tongue-in-cheek story about Mrs. Lila Craig who hasn't missed attending church in 1,040 Sundays although she is in her eighties. The editor commented: "It makes one wonder, what's the matter with Mrs. Craig? Doesn't it ever rain or snow in her town on Sunday? Doesn't she ever have unexpected company? How is it that she never goes anywhere on Saturday night so that she's too tired to attend the worship service the next morning? Doesn't she ever 'beg off' to attend picnics or family reunions, or have headaches, colds, nervous spells, or tired feelings? Doesn't she ever oversleep or need time to read her Sunday newspaper? Hasn't she ever become angry at the minister or had her feelings hurt by someone and felt justified in staying home to hear a good sermon on the radio or TV? WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH MRS. CRAIG ANYWAY?
Of course, we can deduce from this that Mrs. Craig made a priority out of the church and that serving and worshipping God were the most important thing to her.
Perhaps C.T.Studd summarised her attitude when he wrote, "If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for Him." - Copyright 1999 Gibson Productions
"Give us, O Lord, steadfast hearts that cannot be dragged down by false loves; give us courageous hearts that cannot be worn down by trouble; give us righteous hearts that cannot be sidetracked by unholy or unworthy goals. Give to us also, our Lord and God, understanding to know You, wisdom to recognize You, and a faithfulness that will bring us to see You face to face." -Thomas A Kempis, 14th-15th Century A.D. Copyright 1999 Gibson Productions