“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)
For the next few weeks, I would like for us to consider this well known verse from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Most of us here, or reading this message, claim to be a Christian. According to Jesus, that means that we’ve been born a second time. Paul understood that—and he was a living testament to it. He was not the same man he was before he encountered Jesus—and neither should anyone who is a member of this church or claims to be a Christian be.
Of course, unlike Paul, you and I have been brought up after 2000 years of Christian culture, history and teaching. Churches and Christian ministries can be found on nearly every street of every town in the USA. It would be rare, at least in this part of the country, to deal with anyone other than a Christian when you go into almost any store, or hire a professional to mow your grass or even when speak to a stranger on the street. Christians are ubiquitous—everywhere.
And most of us were raised by Christian parents. We have probably never not known who Jesus is, what the church stands for, and an understanding of right and wrong.
But in some ways, our culture and the repetitious statements of Christianity makes the following question more difficult to take to heart. “Are you really “in Christ”?” Since you came to know Him as your Savior, are you a new creature—i.e., “Is what you are now different and better than what you were before?”—and do you see yourself being transformed into something more like Him, day by day, or at least, year by year?
Are the “old things passing away”—i.e. are things that once tempted you being replaced by new hopes, dreams and goals that really don’t fit the world’s idea of the ideal life? Do you find yourself focused less about how much you receive, and are you deliberately giving away far more than you once did? As a childish example, are you more excited about what you give at Christmas than what you receive?!
Are things new—i.e. are you still willing to be taught and learn? There is no one on earth more frustrating than a Christian whose mind and spirit likened unto a full cup. This is the kind of soul that no one can add anymore into, because he’s “been there, done that”, and the whole time you’re trying to share and help, you can tell all he’s doing is waiting for his chance to correct you and tell you how things really are! But a disciple of Jesus is always a student. He really believes that everyone on the face of this planet is in someway his superior—he trusts that all people know a bit more, about something, than he does. A disciple of Christ does not get puffed up with knowledge or experience, but is happy to let someone else teach him something new! Do you yearn to let Him teach you new things through the lowest most uninspiring teenager you come across? Do you yearn to be with Jesus and to allow Him to teach you those new things, through any child, through any arrogant boss or friend or member of your family? Do you really hope to have His approval of the new things you are learning and doing in your life, or, quite sadly, are you ashamed of what your eyes are seeing or reading?
But the really scary question to ask yourself is this: “What are we to say if we’re the same, right now, as we were when we first came to Christ? And, more frightening, “What if we’re actually less like Jesus now, than we were when we first became a Christian?” If either of these things are true in my life, or yours, it means one of three things:
1. We’ve not been born again. We’re just actors…. and we might not even realize it! We are able to wear a type of “Christian make-up” at church or mass, but then we take off the mask and get back to “reality” when we leave a place of worship. He’s not Lord of our life, but it’s sometimes convenient, or it’s expected for us to get along in life, to claim to that He is.
2. We’re like the seed that got choked and died in the parable of the sower. Our roots were never deep, we got distracted, we’ve drifted away, we’re not sure of heaven and hell, so we play it safe by going through the motions of being a follower of Jesus, and we take time from our busy schedules to help work in the church, or serve on committees, but we complain the whole time and we’re in a foul mood for having to serve…. we’re luke-warm followers, at best.
3. It’s all a lie. We secretly admit to ourselves that there never was a re-birth experience and never will be. We tried it and it did not work. It’s just a bunch of malarkey that weak-minded people take on and try to make themselves believe. We’re no different now than we are now as we were when we were baptized, because there’s probably not a Divine Being, and even if there is a God, and if there is a Son of God, those divine beings have not brought any “change”, new direction or holy drive to us that has led us to be any different than we were before.
There’s a fight that goes on each day—it’s going on right now in this room, in your car, at your home—unseen by our mortal eyes. The forces of darkness are against the forces of God Almighty. God’s powers are encouraging us to let go and allow Him to make our lives shine in a world desperate for light! While the Prince of Darkness tries to lure us into holding onto our sense of self-reliance; he whispers to us to look after ourselves first. If Satan succeeds, we will become more cautious, more greedy and tightfisted, more focused on preserving ourselves. The devil will tempt us to not seek God and His Kingdom first—let alone abandon our lives to God. Instead Satan tempts us to put family first, or even established institution of worship—like this church—or a Christian ministry, like the camp. The last thing the Prince of darkness wants is for us to trust God and allow ourselves to be emptied, spilled and 100% sold out for God and those that are lost in the world first. The enemy tempts us with good things so that we never get a vision or a taste of the best thing.
But today, our first in a series of messages like this, I ask you to examine your own soul, as well as the focus and plans of this church, when it comes to this remark said by Jesus to His disciples: “…Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matthew 10:8, NIV). That’s supposed to be the way a new person in Christ, and a spirit-fill church, lives and uses the things God gives. We’re supposed to be lving a new life without an attachment to our wallets, material things, investments, and even the very gifts God has given us. And please don’t think that I am talking to the rich people this morning. I am talking to each one of us in this room. You don’t have to be a millionaire to be greedy, hoard, or refuse to share what God’s given you. In fact, some folks of most limited means are more inattentive to the needs of others and the weak than the affluent!
David put it this way: “Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the LORD delivers him in times of trouble. The LORD will protect him and preserve his life; he will bless him in the land and not surrender him to the desire of his foes. The LORD will sustain him on his sickbed and restore him from his bed of illness.” Psalm 41:1, NIV. Is it possible that God is not blessing you—or perhaps even this church—for not having more regard for those in need? And don’t assume that we’re not surrounded by folks with need. You don’t have to go very far from this building to find folks in need. And to be quite direct, people need money, even in our nation and with all the handouts our government provides. Youth and children in particular need help—most of the kids that come to this church and to my camp come from broken families.
And if you look at the world beyond our borders think about this: Three billion people lack access to the Gospel. It’s hard to imagine that so many souls, across our globe still can’t read a Bible or hear the gospel. Here’s a staggering figure: It would cost $408 to start a church in a foreign land, desperate for the gospel. That’s it! Do you realize that this church, Brim’s Grove, has the capacity, unless there’s some sort of restriction on how we spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars that have been willed to this church— to fund at least 800 new churches this year?! If each church of those churches only brought one soul to Christ, we would have had a hand in the salvation of 800 souls! Now which would you like to report to your Master, one day when you’re asked to account for what He did with the resources given to this church: “Look, you gave us $350,000 and we invested in so wisely that today, back on the earth, it’s worth $700,000 and it’s still earning interest in our money market account with Paul Schwab.” Or, “Look, we might have had to do without a lot of things others churches had for their members, but we have brought 800…. or 8000….or 80,000 souls to Christ because of how we used that investment you tasked us with properly investing into foreign missions.
Jesus said, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.…” Matthew 6:19-20, NIV. Are we teaching this to our children? Are we living this way in our own lives in what we buy, how we use those little plastic card and where we invest our surplus? Does the way this church handle its endowments, offerings, investments along with the property and possessions we steward at this church prove that we believe this?
I would be the first to tell you that money seems to slip through my hands …. I don’t want to be on the finance committee, write checks or have anything to do with what’s collected or given—not pastor should! It’s not my job to handle money and certainly not my strong suit or fortè. Greg and Linda can attest to this. When people give me a gift of cash at the camp, I am guilty of giving it away to the first person that comes to me with a need—God knows this and seems to send people in need to seek me out the first time I have cash in my pocket! I really don’t like to hold onto to money. I want to give the gift to someone else, or use it for Kingdom work as quick as I can. I have to ask Greg to deposit cash so I don’t give it away, and I must ask Linda to write the checks. We have retained a tax attorney and CPA to ask questions about where the money goes! Again, its not the pastor’s task to handle finances—in fact, it’s best that he keep out of it! Money and tangible resources can corrupt. Do you know who handled the finances of Jesus and the 12 disciples, right? It was not Jesus, or Peter or John—it was Judas.
So, here’s my point as the shepherd of this little church: Do you see what you have as yours—or something that He has loaned to you for His purposes? Do you see the assets, facilities and resources of this church as ours—or as something He has entrusted to us to further His Kingdom? Are we letting finances and resources flow through us, or are we holding those things and these buildings too tightly? Are we, as a church and as families, the Sea of Galilee—a vibrant sea, full of fish and life—one into which the Jordan river flows in and out? Or are we the Dead Sea—a lifeless sea where water flows in, from the Sea of Galilee, but never out. The Dead Sea takes and takes, but gives nothing back.
Think about what Jesus said to a church called Laodicea in the book of Revelation: “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” (Revelation 3:14-18, NIV)
You might think that it’s a strength, but one of the challenges of this church is that we really don’t need help from anyone. If a financial emergency comes our way, we don’t need to pray about it, or make sacrificial gifts to help out, or ask folks to dig into their pockets and help; no, this church, and others like it in just a few miles from here, have a small fortune set aside for our own little emergencies. But are we trusting in our investments….or our Savior? If our focus the streets of Madison and Avenue and Wall Street, or the future streets of gold. There’s a certain trade off when you, as a man, family or ministry become self-sufficient, or you’ve set aside enough money to cover any possible emergency or need that might come along. You become like this church in Revelation…. self sufficient…. rather than God dependent.
As a church, and as individual Christian men and women, we have to beware of the enemy’s attempt to get our eyes off Jesus. Just as he tempted Peter when he walked on water, Satan wants us to look down at how dark, deep and scary the inky water of life is below our feet. Beware of hoarding, keeping too much, sharing too little, and adoring things instead of loving God and the unsaved. “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:42 NIV)
If you have much….if you are depending upon what you have for your purpose and protection and position in life, I leave you with the very words of Jesus: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”(Matthew 19:21, NIV)