May 21, 2017 – Membership to Discipleship Conclusion – Witness

Acts 1:1-11

        There is a contemporary Christian song that has the singer looking at different situations around him and asking God, “Why don’t you do something?” The answer comes back to him, “I did – I created you.”  Today we conclude our sermon series based on Membership to Discipleship by Phil Maynard, by looking at our promise to support the church with our witness.  It is easy for any of us to look at all the difficulties surrounding us and ask the same questions of God – “Why don’t you do something? Why don’t you feed those hungry kids? Why don’t you help those folks with their addictions? Why don’t you help the homeless find a place to stay?”  Yet perhaps the same answer is returned to us – “I did, I created you.”

I bring this chart out again to remind all of us that to others, there is very little if any evidence of a change in behavior for believers and followers of Jesus Christ and those who consider themselves as non-believers.  What is the point of promoting the value of being a believer if we do not live this out in our daily lives? Why would anyone want to be a part of a local church if those who are a part of the church act no differently as a result of their encounter with Jesus Christ? Where is our witness?

The single most famous hymn of all times is Amazing Grace.  The author, John Newton, speaks of an encounter with Jesus Christ that forever changed his life. “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.” What were we blind to that we can now see? Do we suddenly notice the face behind the cardboard signs asking for help? Do we act grateful for God’s blessings to the point of wanting to share with others? Do we embrace the gifts of the Spirit given to us and put those gifts to good use for God and for others? If not, are we still blind but pretending to see?

I find it interesting that even John Newton delayed changing his behavior after his encounter with Jesus Christ.  In 1748, Newton was involved with the slave trade. He experienced a violent storm that battered his vessel off the coast of County Donegal, Ireland. This storm was so severe Newton called out to God for mercy, the moment he marks as his spiritual conversion. However, I find it interesting that he continued in the slave trade until 1754 when he ended his seafaring altogether and began studying Christian theology. Later he was ordained an Anglican priest. Perhaps Newton did not see his need to immediately turn away from the unjust institution of slavery.

At times it takes us a while to get the message as well, does it not? We claim forgiveness each time we sin but maybe it’s time for us to give up our sinful actions rather than simply coming back and asking forgiveness.  Perhaps we need to follow our ABC’s – change our attitude, change our behavior, change our character.  Time for confession – has anyone here ever told your kids they needed a change of attitude? If you survived your two-year olds and your teenagers this seems to be a given!  We too need an attitude adjustment. That begins with an encounter with Jesus Christ.  Jesus walked the road to the cross even for you and me. Jesus endured torture and ridicule even for you and me.  Jesus dared to call us to love God and love others regardless of political affiliation, gender, background, family status, or any other barrier we may try to build.  It starts with a change of attitude.

Attitude alone will only get us so far. Consider this chart – unless our behavior changes as a result of experiencing the only true love of Jesus Christ, we are simply giving lip-service. We are saying one thing but acting another.  Jesus defined folks who do this as hypocrites, and ironically enough, his criticism was directed at the religious leaders of his day. I would venture to say this chart would look the same for these folks as well, but we cannot look at this from a perspective of superiority.  It is highly likely that we all need to step up our behavior to match our attitude.  Change your attitude – change your behavior.

Finally let’s look at the last pillar – change your character. What is character? How do we define character? Webster defines character to mean ‘the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.’  People of good character are like magnets – we are drawn to them.  We say someone is of good character when they display virtues of kindness, compassion, caring for others.  These are the folks who see someone in need and automatically step in to help. My son witnessed our home church pastor in line at a Best Buy. He was way back in the line that was being held up by a young man who was quite upset. The pastor approached him and offered to help. The young man explained that the item he was buying was marked incorrectly and he was told by the department manager that it was $50 cheaper. Yet when the young man brought the item to check out, the cashier called the back only to find the department manager went to lunch and no one else knew about this. The young man was belligerent because he thought he was being cheated. The pastor listened to his story, spoke very calmly to him and noted that while he did not have $50, he could give him $40 to get the line moving.  Many other people were in that line. No one else stepped forward to try and make the entire situation better. That pastor displayed good character that impressed my non-religious son.

Do our actions matter? They can make the difference between someone actually believing that our relationship with Jesus Christ is real and makes a difference in our lives, or not.  When we are truly living out our calling as followers of Jesus Christ, striving to be more like Christ in every way, we can give a witness of Jesus’ love to us and to all even without saying a word.  On the flip side, if our words speak about love for all but our actions clearly note we are only looking out for ourselves, our words will never be heard or thought to be relevant.  We would be like the Pharisees whom Jesus called out for their practice of cleaning their food vessels before eating. They would do this with much ado and style so that EVERYONE would know they were holy – on the outside. But Jesus noted that it is what is on the inside that matters. If our actions do not reflect our words, then as the Apostle Paul put it, we are like banging gongs or clanging cymbals.  Our words are just another stream of sounds in the noise of chaos.

So what?  This chart makes it fairly clear that there are more church folks who prefer to sit on the sidelines rather than get in the game.  As followers of Jesus Christ these indicators as well as others should reflect a more positive, caring attitude.  So let’s make a point of changing this data.  Let us decide today whom we will serve. As noted in our scripture from last week, we cannot serve two Masters. We will either love one and hate one or follow one and turn away from the other.  Which Master will we choose to serve?  If in our hearts we choose to serve Jesus Christ but our actions do not reflect this choice, it is time to change our behaviors which will change our character – it’s time to get in the game.

In the lobby are a couple of lists of ways you can help share love with others. Can you step up and help? There is no shortage of opportunities, even if your gifts take you in a different direction. Two folks here are teaching quilting with the goal of making quilts to donate to those in need.  Our kids are in need of some adult supervision for Godly Play and VBS – can you take a week to be a role model for our children?  There is a mission trip opportunity in Mid-August – a week in Virginia Beach. Can you donate your time and talent to go and help those who were devastated by storms?  Will you continue to support the church through the summer months when a lot of folks are away on vacation?

For the next two weeks we will have some special events here. Next weekend is Memorial Day weekend and we are choosing to honor our military, all who served their country and have since died.  If you have memorabilia to share, we want to remember those who gave all in service to their country. Please invite friends and family to join us.  On June 4 we are renewing our vows as Christ’s followers and as members and friends of Mayo United Methodist Church. We will be welcoming new members that day – so far there are 5 folks who will either be transferring their membership or joining.  Will you come and support them?  Will you be the church that God is calling us to be? Others will notice as our words and our actions align with the message of hope, peace, joy, and love in Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

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