Other prayers

Where are you in the game?

1 Corinthians 2: 1 – 16 and Matthew 28: 16 – 20

A couple of weeks ago I spoke about Jesus’ claim to be ‘the Way, the Truth, and the Life’. That was the message Paul brought to the Christians at Corinth, and then reminded them of in the portion of his letter we have just heard. It was, it is, a message which centres on ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’.

That second part, ‘and him crucified’, is a sobering reminder to us of the great cost of his love – his unique and life-changing love for us and for everyone in the world. It also reminds us of the primary focus of the Christian message, our message, and the challenge it presents to people. It reminds us that our message to the world must never be anything less than ‘Christ crucified’. We are not at liberty either to change it, water it down, or leave out the uncomfortable side of it, the side that reminds us that Jesus DIED for the sins of the whole world, a most uncomfortable challenge to human pride in ourselves, in our foolish ideas that we do not need Jesus nor to be forgiven, and in the delusion that we are just fine as we are.

People come to church for different reasons; people are at different stages in their journeys in or into faith; but until a person embarks on the road of discipleship, of active commitment to Jesus and to unashamedly being known as a ‘Christian’ – and that is becoming even in this country increasingly difficult and dangerous – however else people think of themselves as being ‘Christian’, it is something very much less than how Jesus explained and commanded it.

As far as Jesus and the New Testament writers are concerned, to be a Christian is to be a disciple. And if we consider his parting words in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 28, read a moment ago, we discover what it means to be a disciple.

First of all, Jesus assures us that the authority we have for our task as disciples comes from him; from him to whom (v 18) ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given.’ That is to say, there is no higher authority: no-one, however high their authority on earth, can tell you or me that we cannot do what Jesus has commanded. They may think they can, they may persecute or kill us and often do so: but our authority is from God himself. So, let’s be quite clear here: we do not offer opinions or advice; we speak with authority, his.

Secondly, to be a disciple of Jesus means to be publicly committed to him and wholeheartedly engaged in carrying out the mission he has given us, a mission in which EVERY Christian has a part to play. Specifically – and when local churches these days are being asked to draw up mission statements, and mission plans, and mission whatever the buzz word or trendy topic happens to be today – it must be focussed on, contain, and be nothing less than what Jesus told his disciples, for all times and all countries, in verses 19 and 20.

‘Therefore go, and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them everything I have commanded you.’

Now I think that’s pretty clear: and so when you hear other Christians or churches or church leaders suggesting anything different, be warned! But thirdly - and this is so encouraging, so heart-warming when we’re feeling feeble or futile or fearful as disciples, faced perhaps with a tricky situation at home or at work – we have his presence with us every step of the way. (v 20 again) He has promised his Holy Spirit to provide us with whatever we need to be effective disciples – even the very words we speak to proclaim his truth. And it is this third aspect or condition of being a disciple that Paul so very much relies on in explaining himself and his mission to the Christians at Corinth.

Let me just pick out a few of the vital things we need to know, things that will help us understand about the mission to which each of us has been called. Taking the passage as a whole, these things are clear and ought to give all of us every confidence and encouragement to be disciples of Jesus. The key word here is ‘simple’. First, the role of disciple requires simple people, ordinary people, people who won’t let their egos get in the way of the message entrusted to them. (verses 1, 4, 13) Secondly, our message needs to be simply presented (verse 1, 4, 13 again) Thirdly, the message itself is a simple one, that is, a plain and straightforward one (v2)

Fourthly, in everything we can rely on God and on the power of his Spirit in us, in our very words, and in their effect on others. When you and I simply and faithfully speak to others of ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’, it is the Spirit of God who will be at work in the minds and in the hearts of those listening: and to those, to anyone, who is genuinely and humbly seeking the truth, our words will register. That is to say that those whose minds are genuinely open will then be in a position to make an informed decision about Jesus Christ. In everyday life we will find ourselves battling, on their behalf, against all kinds of myths and misunderstandings people hold about Christ and Christianity; against ignorance, against pride, against the temptations of and often slavery to other gods – to wealth, to success, to popularity, to self. But to the humble in heart and sincere, the message of ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’ will be not the ‘foolishness’ the world’s ‘wisdom’ claims it is, but the ‘Good News’ of (v9) ’the things God has prepared for those who love him.’

Like Paul then we go to others not as philosophers, politicians, or salesmen but as ambassadors: and here Paul describes the simplicity of what that means and involves, and the great power that is at work in those who will work with Jesus.

The wisdom of the world rejects Christianity as ‘myths’ or ‘unscientific’. But the wisdom of the world cannot answer the questions only Christ and Christianity can. Myths and science by their very nature cannot explain who made us, why we exist, how we should live, what happens when we die. Only the one who created the world and us can explain these things - and so much more.

We need to have (v 16) ‘the mind of Christ’ to understand and to proclaim these truths. And, says Paul, those who belong to Christ, those who have started on the road of discipleship, do have his mind, that is to say, his wisdom. The question remains then for each of us, ‘Where am I on that road?’

So let me leave you with this thought; something to consider and pray about this week. Where are you on your faith journey and have you yet committed to the road of discipleship? It might help if I use a footballing analogy and ask, Where are you in the game? Perhaps you are already in the forward line, taking on the opposition and keen to score goals against the world, the flesh, and the Devil? Or perhaps you are in defence, providing a wall for your team against shots at goal aimed at defeating God’s word or his people? Perhaps you are in midfield acting as a vital link between the two, supporting both attack and defence with your gifts of encouragement, discernment, prayer, and whatever other gifts God has given you to get you to play an active and useful part in the game? Or are you perhaps still somewhere in the stands, watching your team play, supportive, but playing no active part yourself? I can only guess that because you are actually here today, you havn’t entirely lost interest in the game and left before the final whistle!

The words here of Jesus and of Paul set out very clearly what it means and requires of those who call themselves ‘Christians’: that each one of us is called to discipleship, a calling in which we know what our mission is; we know on whose authority we have it; and we know that we are never on our own because ‘Remember, surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’

‘Where and how to find the cure for worry’ – Matt 6: 25-34

Three things I have learnt over the years from close personal experience. The first, that there is all the difference in the world between being concerned about an issue and worrying about it. The second, that a worried soldier or a worried Christian will not be an effective one. And the third, that what the secular atheist world which informs and dominates so many people’s thinking today about what is permissible practice and acceptable behaviour is often the very opposite of what Jesus and his first followers considered permissible and acceptable in the Kingdom Jesus revealed and invited us to enter. I would like you to bear those three thoughts in mind as we consider this portion of his teaching from his Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus is teaching those listening to him and who want to follow him that ‘worry’ or ‘anxiety’ is illogical, wasteful of time and energy, and, most importantly, a very real obstacle to spiritual well-being and effective discipleship. What he says here is that those natural human tendencies of ours to get distracted and become preoccupied with the things the world considers important, touted as vital even to our very existence no less, prevent us from enjoying the blessings and benefits of his Kingdom. Jesus understood human nature perfectly, and so warned that becoming preoccupied – which inevitably, if we are honest, leads to anxiety and worry – with what we eat, what we wear, and how we look, will prevent us from not only enjoying the peace and the joy of knowing him – a peace and joy the world can never give us – but also from growing as Christians in his service and becoming effective disciples.

Some commentators on this passage suggest that Jesus has in mind only those things beyond our basic needs; but in the light of his teaching as a whole, I think he really does intend his listeners to understand this as including even the basics of life. I do not mean that he is saying that Christians should act irresponsibly in these respects; but what he is saying is that if your faithfulness leads you to serve him, then you can rely on his faithfulness to you – whatever happens to you. And, frankly, there are just too many stories of Christians who have left or given up much, sometimes almost everything, to serve him in times and places where finding even the basic necessities of life has been a real issue; who tell how food, clothing, housing, etc just turned up either from Christian friends or organisations or from ‘we didn’t know where!’ Or again, Western Christians visiting their Christian brothers and sisters in rural Africa, for example, return overwhelmed, on the one hand by their lack of basic necessities, but on the other by their contentment, peace, and joy.

But perhaps for most of us here it is a warning not to be taken in by what the world says makes for the best life. There does though seem to be a strong conditional element to his promise to provide for us; and that comes in his very clear directing us to ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God.’ We must remember what he said about trying to ‘serve two masters’ - God and the world: it won’t work; we will only disappoint or deceive ourselves.

And it’s a complete canard to say that the rich don’t worry or that they worry less than the poor: in my experience it’s so often quite the reverse!

At the very least, regardless of the obstruction worry poses to spiritual well being and effectiveness, worry has been shown from medical research to mess with your heart and its circuitry and to decrease brain size. What worry can do and what worry can’t are both entirely negative; but not to be confused with ‘concern’. Worry is inactive; concern is active. If my son cannot swim, my worry keeps him away from enjoying the sea or the pool; but my concern about his not being able to swim prompts me to get him swimming lessons. I’m sure you can think of many examples. And what we worry about is never as great in substance as the emotional energy we spend to maintain our level of……distrust of Jesus’ promise.

The cure for worry, for anxiety, is simply but logically stated in Matthew 6:33. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Those who do not know God spend their time being preoccupied with seeking after food, drink, and clothing. Those who know God are to be preoccupied with God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness. If we seek after these first, then, says Jesus, God will supply the other things we have need of. The cure for anxiety then is simply to seek after what God wants and let Him take care of you. You can then rest in His loving care, assured that He will provide for you. If your mind is occupied with Him, then it will be less and less occupied with the things of the world.

This is simple in theory but it can be very difficult to do: this is primarily because of the pressure the world tries to place on us. We look around us and see people with a higher standard of living than our own, and we feel the pressure to try to achieve the same. We look for ways to make more money so that we can get the things other people have. When we do not have our focus on the Lord, then we succumb to that pressure and go in pursuit of what we covet, we work longer hours, take on high pressure jobs, spend less time with family and friends, and are sorely tempted to lower our standard of business ethics. (I know this because people have admitted it to me.) We want people to be impressed with what we have and how we look including the house we live in, the car we drive, the kind of dinner parties we hold, and the clothes we wear. Our minds become preoccupied with the things of this world and we start…. becoming anxious. And once a standard of living is achieved, we do not want it to drop, so the same cycle starts all over again. We then do whatever is necessary to maintain our lifestyle, and it takes us over and begins to destroy not only our faith but our friendships and our families. What a difference if I obey God and then rest on His promises! If I keep my focus and seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness first, then God’s promise is that He will take care of my needs. I need not fear the future; I have no anxiety because my treasure is in heaven; God is my security for the present and the future.

That is what Matthew 6:34 is speaking about – the future. “Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself, Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Worry is preoccupation in the present with the fear of what may take place in the future. But there is nothing wrong with concern; concern, that is, that issues in contingency plans and practical actions to meet those genuine concerns. Of course we need to plan ahead, but we must not become preoccupied and fearful of the future. The future is in the hands of God - and we may never make it there anyway! We need to live for God in the present and not live for ourselves, fearing the future. Seeking first God’s Kingdom and his righteousness, this is the secret, this is the cure for worry.

But God’s promise to take care of us is conditional. We must seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. If we are not doing that, then there is no promise and we will have good reason to fear the future. So the question that still must be addressed is, “What does it mean to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness? ”Well, It means that at every point in my life I will view things in light of what my actions will do to expand his kingdom and reflect his perfect righteousness. The pre-occupations of my mind are to be the things of God’s kingdom, not mine. The world says this is foolishness; Jesus assures us this is true wisdom!

Let me give you a few areas to consider. What is your standard of living and why is it at that level? Remember, Scripture is not against having material possessions, for many of the righteous (Job, Abraham, David, etc.), were very rich. Scripture is against loving or worshipping those possessions more than God and spending more time on them than on him and his Kingdom. What are you doing to maintain that standard of living? How do those demands fit in with or promote the kingdom of God? Are they reflective of God’s righteousness? Let me be more candid. Our society is going increasingly to longer working hours; not primarily because we must, but in order to keep our standard of living high. But what sacrifices are made and what are their effects on the kingdom of God – NOT TO MENTION OUR OWN HEALTH AND OUR OWN CHILDREN AND CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS? Is the spiritual welfare of the family compromised? Not just the children, but the husband-wife relationship as well? Do you have time left to use your spiritual gifts? Some can handle the pressure better than others, but all of us need to think through the issue of seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness verses maintaining or bettering our standard of living. ‘You don’t know what the pressure’s like, Campbell’. ‘Oh yes I do; and I have seen and had to pastor the casualties.’ Don’t be conned by the world, the Devil, or your own pride or envy.’ Seek first his Kingdom and its growth. Do you give sacrificially to meet the needs and the growing of God’s kingdom? Or just what’s left over at the end of the month or year? Another area of ‘issue’ for some might be entertainment. Does it motivate us toward holiness and service of others or does it stain and spoil our minds? We all need to think through this issue, especially, I would strongly suggest, the ‘world view’ behind some things on the TV. Another related issue is personal morality. Not only must we practice righteousness ourselves, but are we willing to speak up for Christ and for justice - nationally and internationally? We should be concerned about the moral condition of our nation and we should not be afraid to speak up about it. Abortion – where the child’s or the mother’s health is not in danger - and euthanasia are wrong because they violate God’s clear commands about murder. The gay ‘lifestyle’, when all the pretence and lies about it are stripped away, is not an acceptable ‘alternative’ for the Christian. I know this increasingly is not a popular or politically correct view: but I have had to pastor some of its casualties and I can assure you that its propaganda is just that, and science and medicine do not support it. We have not in the last 20 years or so suddenly discovered that Jesus and the Apostles were wrong about this: people have simply changed who or what their moral authority is.

Seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness means that the most important issue in every decision I make and in everything I do is to consider God’s revealed wisdom. I ask myself, ‘What is most pleasing to God? What will best further his kingdom? What will best reflect his righteousness? The answer to those questions then determines my actions. Jesus tells us in this wonderful passage that God does not want our minds preoccupied by the things of this world. He wants our minds centred on his kingdom and his righteousness so that we may be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in and to the world. Jesus makes a wonderful promise here that if we will seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, then he will provide for all our needs. Therefore I have no reason to be anxious, no reason to fear the future. Is that not a wonderful way to live?