We are working our way towards the end of this series on a Brief Biography of God. So far we’ve talked about the God of the Living, the God who will NOT answer, the God who surprises – I saw you checking out the bulletin this morning – you were wondering if it was going to be a bit wacky once again. And last week we looked at the God who Commissions. When you put these messages together – in a sense they add up to today’s characteristic – for our God is the God of Commitment – that our God when you look at him, if there is nothing else that is clear to us about who God is – it is that our God is committed to us and he asks that in return we be committed to Him.
It has been said that Christianity is the only religion in which God seeks out people first – instead of people seeking God first. In other words – of all the world’s great religions – Christianity stands alone as the only religion whose followers speak of God coming to us – and seeking us out. In all the other great religions of the world – people are seeking to find something – they seek to find purpose or meaning or contentment or fulfillment or maybe even god – but in the Christian faith we believe that God has spoken first – and that He has acted first – that He is the One who has opened the doors of communication.
So in a particular sense — when we talk about the Christian faith – we are no longer talking so much about “religion”– but rather, we have begun to talk about “relationship.” Here is what I mean — Christianity at its core is not so much a belief system – though there are important beliefs that are part of the Christian faith – that define the boundaries of what it means to be a Christian believer — nor is it simply a listing of appropriate behaviors – do this and don’t do that – although we do have certain behaviors that bring blessing and other behaviors that bring curse – yet at its heart, the Christian faith is primarily about a relationship – a relationship with Jesus Christ – a personal relationship, individual and intimate, a relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord that overshadows everything else in life.
This is what we ask people about when they desire to join – to become a member a local church. Almost every church of every denomination inquires in some way for a public answer to the question: Who is your Lord and Savior? And the words we are looking for in response are: Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior – this is at the very heart of what it means to be Christian – and thus a part of the Body of Christ, His Church – an affirmation that one has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Now most of us understand that true relationships are built on commitment – we know this to be true experientially, i.e. out of our everyday living. Take friendship or marriage for example – if these sorts of relationships are built only on feelings – then they come and they go – they are up and down and all around – but without commitment at the core – those sort of relationships are doomed.
At a wedding we don’t ask the bride and groom – “Do you love each other?” Love is a word that people define in a host of different ways. What we ask the couple as individuals – before pronouncing them to be husband and wife – to be married – “before God and these witnesses” – is this: Are you going to be committed to each other? Not only – do you love each other? – but what we also want to know in the midst of a wedding ceremony is whether or not your love is the kind of love that means that you are committed to each other; committed to the best for each other.
We should understand this concept of commitment because much of what we do in life is based on commitment. No doubt we have all been at one time or another where we have made the commitment of a rental agreement, or a mortgage, or a car loan. If you have or have had a job it is the same thing – you have made a commitment – to do a certain amount and kind of work – and your employer has made a commitment to pay you a certain amount of compensation for your work. Now you may disagree with the level of compensation for that particular amount of work – but that is a different matter. The commitment is – I do this work – I get this pay.
Some of you may be or previously have been employers – you made a commitment to your employees – as to their work environment and expectations and compensation – and your “hiring” of them is simply another way of saying that both sides in the employer/employee relationship have made some sort of commitment to that relationship. It’s the same in business, it’s the same in school, it’s the same in family and friendships – it is the same in most aspects of our lives. We understand what the word commitment means.
The fact is that God has also made commitments to His people. God is committed to us – the number one image used to describe God in the Scripture is the declaration that God is “faithful.”
Notice the quote at the top of our worship sheet this morning from the Book of Lamentations: ”Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-24)
And He is faithful to us here and now just as throughout history He has been faithful to his people – this does not change. However, in contrast, the image most often used in the Scripture to describe us – the word used most often to define “us” – that is, God’s people – is not the word “faithful” but the word “unfaithful.”
Historically, our side of the commitment has not been there – like God’s side has been. In fact, the rather amazing thing is that God has not cast us off – thrown us aside – again and again and again and again – God has acted to bring us to Himself – and we see the depth of God’s commitment most deeply in His act of sending the Son not only into our world – but also to the Cross.
Now on our side of this relationship – we’re very good at part of it – we especially like the part that says “Jesus Christ is our Savior” – we like very much that He is the One who deals with all our sin – that He save us from the full consequence of our sin – we are more than willing to make that commitment — to Jesus as our Savior.
But we’re not nearly so good when it comes to committing ourselves to Jesus Christ as our Lord. It is an interesting fact that when you read the Scripture there is not one place where Jesus is described the Bible as our “Savior and Lord” – it is always the other way around – He is always described as Jesus Christ our “Lord and Savior.” This ought to serve as a reminder of how important it is not just to know him as Savior but to also experience Him – to follow Him – to live in relationship with us — daily as Lord.
We like to dwell on the love and the grace and the mercy of God – that’s the Savior part – yet too much we flaunt his call for us to know him as Lord, as the Ruler of our lives. I think perhaps the most important question we Christians need to struggle with is simply this – assuming that Jesus Christ is our Savior – are we willing to amend our lives and our lifestyles to bring them into agreement with how He tells us we ought to live?
Some years ago a list was published of the “10 Most Dangerous People in America.” This particular list was rather fascinating because as it turned out every name on this list was a Church/Christian leader – at the top of the list were a couple of names that might be familiar to you – Billy Graham – I know you know who that is — and Lloyd John Ogilvie – who is a Presbyterian minister – and who served for a number of years as the Pastor of the Hollywood Presbyterian Church and then as the Chaplain of the United States Senate – he was the Chaplain of the Senate on that fateful day of September 11, 2001 and led the Senate in prayer the next day. Right at the top of this list of “the 10 most dangerous People in America” were these two Christian men and church leaders.
At the time the list was not particularly well received – primarily because the man who put it together really put together a list of all those with whom he disagreed regarding how the Christian church ought to function and what it was supposed to be about.
Ogilvie wrote about how his inclusion on this list caused him to ponder long and hard as to why he was included on the list. And as he was doing so he came up with another question which he thought would be an important question for God’s people to deal with. The question is this: who are the most dangerous people in the church? Who are the most dangerous people in Christ’s church?
Lloyd Ogilvie’s answer to this question might surprise us – because our name might just be one of the names he would include. Let me explain — Ogilvie finds that there are two kinds of people in the church—and I want to see if I can help you visualize this.
He describes two big intersecting circles. One of these circles is the church – that is this circle which represents the group of people who are members of or who are actively involved in the life of a local church. Then he says that there is a second group of people – and this second circle represents people who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ (we might call this circle the people of “faith.”)
Now we sometimes pretend that these two circles completely overlap each other – but we know better don’t we? In fact, the way these two circles of people overlap actually divides up into three distinct groups. The first group – way over here are we can describe as insiders regarding faith – but outsiders concerning church.
The next group of people, on the opposite side, are the insiders concerning church – but outsiders concerning faith.
And the group in the middle we might call the insider-insiders.
What Ogilvie says is that the folks who are in the second group (the ones who are in regarding church but out regarding faith) are the most dangerous people in the church. They are people who perhaps have been very actively involved in the life of the church – but they have never come to the point of having a personal faith relationship with Jesus Christ. They are on the inside and yet they are on outside at the same time.
Ogilvie describes them as being not just dangerous but he says that they are “Very Dangerous.” They may believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world, but they have never come to know him as the Lord of their life. And they are very dangerous because there has never been a time of complete commitment to Jesus Christ of all that they are – and although they want to proclaim that church is an important and powerful institution – they have never experienced the real power of the Christian life day to day – through the specific surrender of the needs and the challenges and the problems and opportunities of life to Jesus as Lord.
The insider – outsider in this second group – is inside the church but outside of an intimate, compelling, indwelling experience of Jesus Christ as Lord.
There was fellow one day who was at a party with a group of folks from his church – and he wanted to share the delight of a recent experience that he had – and as he talked about this experience – it was rather disturbing to some other folks who were at the party. He said to them, “I’ve been a Presbyterian for years – last week I found out what it is all about to be a Christian. I’ve always believed that Christ was Savior but for the first time in my life I now know that he is my Savior. It is alarming to think of all the joy that I missed being an uncommitted church member. Now I know Christ as the Lord of all my relationships – and all my responsibilities.”
Now the folks who were at the party listening to this found this to be rather disturbing – partly because this man had been a church officer, a very generous giver, a leader in the church and the community – he really seemed to be one of those pillar types. But more than that – what disturbed them was that it made them begin to wonder if maybe they weren’t missing something themselves.
No longer did he desire to run his own life – instead he was now committed to Jesus Christ as the Lord of all his life – Christ has taken charge as Lord and Savior. Previously Jesus Christ and the church had been two of the many loyalties and concerns that he had in a very busy life – but he was always the one in control – his own wisdom and strength were the source of his life. His plans were always kept within the limits of his own power and ability. The decisions he made in church office were always marked by caution – and by a concern on human dependence and ability. To be honest, he couldn’t understand why his children did not adopt his bland mixture of moralism and regulations.
As long as he remained the lord of his own life – he continued to struggle – to have problems and to be a problem. He was one of the most dangerous people in his church – because his pretentious facsimile looked like the real thing – but his goal was to keep his church locked on dead center rather than helping it and the people in it to grow in their faith.
One of the criticisms that Billy Graham often got about his crusades over the years was that a great number of the people who came forward at the end of the night were already members of a church. But maybe this said more about the church than it did about Billy Graham. How many of these folks were insider-outsiders – who finally found in those crusades the personal faith that allowed them to move to the center – to being an insider-insider – who now live their life with a personal faith in Jesus Christ?
Ogilvie tells about a time he was doing a series of services at a church in Arkansas and on the last night he asked those who wanted to surrender control of their life for the first time to Jesus Christ to stand up. He was amazed at the number of people who did so. One man said, “I have been waiting 66 years to hear what you are saying about commitment tonight – and to respond – thank you for not taking us for granted.”
The church of Jesus Christ needs more of this – more of those who are on the outside to move to the inside – to the heart of faith where one knows Christ not only as Savior but also as Lord – for it is there that the power and peace and triumph of the Christian life becomes available to us — when we allow Christ to sit on the throne of our lives – as ruler – as Lord.
All this leads us to this parable that we read a few minutes ago – it is one of Jesus most disturbing parables. You see Jesus had in the throngs that followed him both insider-insiders and insider-outsiders. In the crowd that swirled around him were people who looked and acted like faith disciples but something was missing in their lives. They had not surrendered themselves and their loyalties and their priorities to Jesus as the Lord of their lives. So they became vulnerable to a host of things – particularly to other influences.
The problem was – as Jesus looked at their faces – that they all looked and acted like His disciples. And he wanted them to understand what was going on and so he sat down with them in very realistic way and told them this parable – because he knew that not everyone who cries out “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of God.
The parable is based on a very real and scary experience in the agricultural life of Palestine – it is still true in much of the world – the greatest threat to a farmer is that someone might – after he has sowed his field with the wheat crop – come and in the midst of his wheat sow weeds.
In fact in Biblical times one of the most fearsome threats you could make was “Watch out, or I’ll plant darnel in your wheat field.”
Darnel was a nasty, nasty weed. It was a noxious, poisonous weed that would grow like crazy – right in the middle of the wheat – and you couldn’t tell it from the wheat until it was almost the time for the harvest. That’s why the parable says that when the crop was nearing harvest time – the servants came and said to their master – what are we going to do? Someone must have thrown weed seeds in the middle of the wheat field.
His answer – was very clever – he said, “Let it grow, if you weed it out now, if you pull it out by the roots you are liable to pull out the wheat as well. Leave it alone – when the harvest comes that’s when we will separate it. And the weeds we’ll burn – but the harvest of wheat will go into the barn.”
This is driving the disciples crazy – so when they get Jesus alone they ask him to explain what this parable is all about. So he clarified it for them even more. The field is the world – the world that he had come to save – the owner of the field is God himself. The sower of the seed is Jesus – the enemy is the devil – and this is where the plot now thickens – the good seeds are the true children of God – the weeds are the children of the evil one – and Jesus tells his disciples about this parable because he wants them to look in the mirror.
He wants them to focus on the question – which kind of seed/plant are you? Which one – are you a weed or are you part of the wheat? How is it that you are here?
Are you an insider-insider – or are you an insider-outsider?? We all know people who are really a part of the group of insider-outsiders – when you look close you discover that their value system is completely dominated by non-Biblical understandings. What they believe in is more controlled by what the culture around them has to say than by the Scripture has to say. And it can be absolutely devastating – it holds them back – it can hold back their family – and it holds back the church – because they really cannot experience the power that God has for them until they make that commitment of faith to Jesus Christ as the Lord of their life.
The wondrous thing about this parable is that it offers hope – it’s not just about the burning of the weeds. As Jesus tells the parable — it is not yet time for the harvest. Notice that we are not called upon to do the harvesting – that is God’s role – and it is not yet time – the weeds and the wheat are both growing together – and in effect Jesus is looking at those who follow him and he is saying: I am calling you to be wheat – now will you respond?
A weed – in control of your own life – setting all your own priorities based on your own world view – or – part of the wheat – those who have made the commitment of faith to Jesus Christ – not simply to receive him as Savior – but to follow him as Lord.
It is my hope that we can begin to raid the ranks of the most dangerous people in the church – and to celebrate as something miraculous happens — the weed becomes wheat – though the power of God.
We’re going to close our time of worship this morning with the singing of “I have decided to Follow Jesus.”
This song has fallen somewhat out of favor in today’s church – for whatever reason. However it has a most fascinating story behind it. It comes to us from India and is based on the last words of a man named Nokseng who along with his family chose to follow Jesus in the mid-19th century through the efforts of an American missionary.
The chief of his village called upon them to renounce their faith – there is one tradition that suggests that this tribe had a history of being head-hunters. First they threatened the life of his two children – to which Nokseng responded “I have decided to follow Jesus.” So they killed his children. Next they threatened his wife, and he responded, “Though none go with me, still I will follow.” So thy killed his wife. Given one last opportunity to renounce his faith, the tradition goes that he was executed while singing, “The cross before me, the world behind me.” It was later reported that his witness led to the conversion of the chief and others in the tribe.
We sing this song to remember the importance of commitment to Jesus Christ in our lives – of the impact that commitment can have in the lives of others – and of our need to live out that commitment in each and every day. I hope that as we sing that you will not simply see this as the last part of the service – so that you can get on to brunch – but rather that it will might be the prayer that is in your heart.
I have decided to follow Jesus – no turning back –no turning back.