Thrust Statement: Christians are to bear witness that Jesus is God’s way of reconciliation.
Scripture Reading: John 4:1-26, 39-42; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21
As one approaches the New Year (2002), this is a time in which Christians should reevaluate their spiritual walk with God. Christians who use computers are alert to viruses that can infect one’s computer and destroy all data. Yet, today, many Christians are infected with a very contagious virus in their own lives—“don’t care-ism.” There appears to be a great deal of depression and dryness within the company of the redeemed. The romantic burning of the glow of love has faded almost into oblivion. Many disciples of Jesus are no longer growing in grace that Peter speaks of in his second epistle (2 Peter 3:18). In order for growth to exist in one’s life, there must be commitment. Many believers have never made the commitment that Jesus demands: “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15).
Once upon a time—no this is not a fairy tale—for one to be a member of the church meant something. Today, to say that one is a member of the church carries no great weight. Membership is largely “paper” membership. It is, in once sense, fiction. Thousands today have lost their “salt” and “light.” Many Christians today want to live their lives in isolation from other believers. May Christians today want to live their lives without adherence to the ethical instructions from the Holy Spirit. Numerous believers seldom attend the gatherings of the saints on the Lord’s Day and Wednesday evening studies. They have no fellowship to sustain them in their times of troubles. But occasionally they do attend a Sunday morning service; yet, this gathering appears to be just going through the motions. In other words, the Gospel is to them like a record that is worn smooth with much playing. They themselves are played out! They have lost their zeal; they are neither “cold” nor “hot.” They have no sense of the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They have lost their sense of mission.
As one thinks back upon the year 2001, one should ask himself/herself this question: Was my faith a reality or was it just a delusion? Did I play the role of a spectator or did I play the role of participant in reaching out to the lost? Did I just occupy a seat in the synagogue or was there a serious attempt on my part to practice a radical Christianity? Is my Christianity my profession or is it my vocation? If Christianity is just a profession, then one assumes no responsibility. If Christianity is one’s vocation, then one assumes responsibility and is a participator. One objective of this message is to help individuals examine themselves as to whether or not they have withered away or are in the process of withering away.
What is your spiritual temperature! Is it hot or is it cold or is it lukewarm? Just where do you stand in your relationship to God? Are you like “plankton” in the sea? Plankton is microscopic plant and animal organisms that float or drift in great numbers in fresh or salt water. Plankton is a Greek word meaning “wandering” or “drifting.” Plankton drifts far out into the sea to provide food for the creatures of the sea. Now, having said this, plankton has no power of its own; it just drifts with the currents of the sea without its own destiny.
Many Christians are just like this. They drift with the current of the world—“don’t care-ism.” Are you drifting far from the shores of God? Are you like the waves of the sea that are tossed about? Are you hollow inside? Has your inner life withered away? Are you like individuals who have lost their souls? Or are you like a tree planted by the rivers of water? Are you rooted and grounded and settled in the faith? Do you have commitment to the cause of Christ? What does commitment mean to you? How do you define commitment? The word commitment involves the following descriptive terms: dedication, loyalty, devotion, steadfastness, allegiance, and faithfulness. What is the opposite of these definitions? There is one word that adequately describes a conflicting mind-set: indifference.
One of the greatest challenges facing the church today is its loss of mission. The church no longer has a sense of mission. More and more, one witnesses the culture of the world creeping into the church. To a great extent, one can hear an echo of Paul’s words to Timothy: “Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:9). Robert Raines correctly says, “The church has accommodated herself to the cultural climate. The church is no longer changing culture, but is being changed by culture.” In other words, many Christians have ceased to be “salt” and “light” to the world. As one glances over the number of members in this congregation, one cannot help but notice that many members are still living without a purpose. Just a casual observation reveals that many members have no sense of individual mission in reaching out to the lost. They have lost their burning zeal to meet with the people of God on Sundays. They have lost the concept that all Christians are ministers of the redeemed society—the community of the concerned ones.
Many have not lost their zeal to meet with the people of God on Sundays, but, at the same time, it appears that many still “think of Sunday morning religion as the heart of Christianity, which it emphatically is not,” writes Elton Trueblood. This statement is not cited to take away the importance of the Sunday gatherings, but rather, to call attention to fact that Christianity involves more than just the Sunday morning services. There is a sense in which churchgoing is a sign of weakness, not strength. This statement is true if one thinks that Christianity is just churchgoing. Strictly speaking, one does not go to church; the church does the going. Many view the church today as the Jews viewed the Temple. The church, or it members, can never be loyal to Christ by just simply meeting on Sunday mornings. Christians are called in order that they might become the fellowship of penetration. Jesus’ says: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). One cannot be a Christian by just observing a performance, unless watching singers sing about the things of God and preachers preach about the unsearchable riches of Christ serve to make one’s Christianity more real in the market place.
What is your sense of responsibility in God’s kingdom? Do you feel any responsibility for the congregation here at Oakwood Hills in its struggles to reach out to the lost? Do you feel any responsibility for the congregation here at Oakwood Hills in its struggles to encourage and strengthen its members? Do you feel any responsibility to conduct Bible studies during the week? Do you meet regularly with the saints at Oakwood Hills? Or do you allow the least incident in life to keep you away from corporate worship? Do you spend your Sundays as a day to visit relatives? Do you spend your Sundays as a day to go fishing? Do you spend your Sundays as a day to go golfing? Do you spend your Sundays as a day to lounge around? Do you spend your Sundays as a day to -----------------(you fill in the blank)? Do you have Sunday morning sickness, which is undoubtedly extremely devastating to some Christians, especially between 9:30 am and 12:15 pm? When you do occasionally attend, can you with a good conscious sing: “O, How I Love Jesus!”? Or what about: “To Christ Be Loyal and Be True” or, “Work, for the Night Is Coming.”
If one is nonchalant in his/her attitude toward spiritual things, then one wonders how one can be involved in soul winning. When Christians do not stand in awe of salvation, then it is not a wonder as to why so many are lax in their concern about sharing the good news of God’s way of salvation by faith in Jesus. Loyalty to Christ involves far more than just orthodox theology. Christianity is a way of life twenty-four hours a day. Every Christian is a priest of God. If someone were to ask you if you are a priest of God, how would you respond? How do you feel about the words of Peter in his first epistle about Christians being priests? Listen to Peter as he captures the very essence of the redemptive society:
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us (1 Peter 2:9-12).
Do you comprehend the wonderful truth that you are a part of the chosen people of God? Do you really understand that you are a priest of God? Do you fathom the truth that you are a part of God’s holy people? Do you grasp the significance of the reality that you belong to God? If you do not understand that God has chosen you to be a holy people, then you are not going to be mission minded. Many Christians do not believe they are chosen to be salt, to be light, or to be leaven in the world. They do not believe that they are chosen to be Christ’s witnesses. How do you react to these words by Jesus: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last” (John 15:16). Is Jesus concerned about whether or not you “bear fruit” to the glory of God? Listen to Jesus as He rebukes the religious leaders for their rejection of God’s kingdom: “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit (Matthew 21:43).
Many Christians have no idea that they are called as agents of God’s reconciliation. Paul understood his mission in life, and so should we:
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:16-21).
Hopefully, this new year (2002) will be a year in which the members of Christ’s body at Oakwood Hills will take their calling with a great deal of trepidation as they step, as it were, into the presence of God and actively pursue their other vocation in Christ as of paramount importance. Hopefully, every member of the Oakwood Hills congregation will take to heart the words of Paul to the Philippians:
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. 14 Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe 16 as you hold out the word of life (Philippians 2:12-16).
Do you “shine like stars in the universe”? Do you “hold out the word of life”? Do you “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”? Are you conscious that your Christian calling is a vocation? Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, reminds the believers of their responsibilities in Christ: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1). Do you seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness or do you seek first your own pleasures in life? In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he cautioned His disciples to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:32). What does this mean to you?
I know of individuals in this congregation who have not been to the assembly in six months or longer because of their jobs. I know of others that come about once every three months because of their jobs. If one’s work prevents them from serving God, then it would seem that one should seek another means of employment. Someone might say, well I have got to take care of my physical needs. Well, that is true. Did Jesus mean that one should seek to take care of his/her physical needs and then seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness if time permits? Listen to Jesus as He addresses this issue of material needs:
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:28-34).
Do you want to be used by God in His reconciling work? Are you caught up in the purposelessness of this day and age? Are you being strangled by the love of the world with all of its vested interest? Are you struggling in vain to deliver yourself from this body of death? Is this church at Oakwood Hills dry bones? Are you a dry bone? Are you using sickness as an excuse for not meeting with the people of God on Sundays? If so, one wonders about your habits during the week. Are you able to go shopping during the week, are you able to work in your garden during the week, are you able to run errands during the week, are you able to go to work on Monday, and so on? If so, one wonders why it is that on Sunday mornings that one allows his/her sickness to prevent church attendance, but, at the same time, this sickness never interferes with one’s own desires. Is it that you are not interested in the things about Christ? Paul, in writing to the Philippians, reveals the character of Timothy as he sends him to the Philippians:
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. 20 I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. 21 For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:19-21).
I am praying that this year each believer at Oakwood Hills will take an inventory of his/her own spiritual life and see if he/she is looking after his/her own self-interest rather than the interest of Jesus Christ. To look after the interests of Jesus Christ is to put Him first in your life. Are you doing this? Is Jesus really first in your life? Is your own well-being strangling you? Are you changing your colors like a chameleon to blend in with the ways of the world? The church means nothing to the world. Does the church, which cost Jesus His life, mean anything to you? What one frequently witnesses within the local congregation is the “segregation of concern.” What does this mean? It simply means that about 90% of the congregation generally loses its responsibility in the corporate concept of the church. In other words, the congregation is saturated with corporate irresponsibility.
Sinners have been released from bondage to life: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Yet, many Christians labor under the impression that this release from darkness to light is a release without a mission. Are you a minister of reconciliation? Paul, as cited above, writes:
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (5:18-21).
Have you lost your sense of mission? If one expects the body of Christ to grow, then there must be real change in the outlook of many concerning corporate and individual responsibility toward the lost and toward the saved. The church today is loaded with nominal members. For many, church membership is simply an external symbol without an internal commitment. The church of Jesus needs to recapture the idea that it is supposed to be leaven, not a lump. Every believer is called by God to be a faithful priest. Have you taken up your cross daily to follow Jesus?
Do you want God to use you as He did John the Baptist—to prepare a people for the coming of Jesus? Do you have a John the Baptist ministry? In conclusion, one cannot help but wonder how the words of Paul fit in with your lifestyle? Is the Word of God at work within your life? Listen to Paul as he described the influence the Gospel of Christ had in the lives of the Thessalonians and listen to John as he, too, described the influence that the woman of Samaria had on her own hometown:
And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. 14 For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own countrymen the same things those churches suffered from the Jews, 15 who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to all men 16 in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last (1 Thessalonians 2:13-16).
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers. 42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world” (John 4:39-42).
 All Scripture citations are from The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984, unless stated otherwise.
 Robert A. Raines, New Life in the Church (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), 14. I am indebted to this excellent author for the genesis of this message. His book is as timely today as it was forty-one years ago.
 Elton Trueblood, The Company of the Committed (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1961), 109. This book has recently been republished by Family Christian Stores. For information on how to purchase this book, access their website: www.familychristian.com or call 1-800-887-6555.