Taking the path of craziness is easy… today’s scripture is about the path of health, the path of spiritual health. Physical health is important, but what is of even greater concern ~ spiritual health! Today’s scripture paves a path towards good health for individuals AND the body of Christ! A healthy church needs healthy people! And people need a spiritually healthy church!
The Pathway to spiritual health:
1. Examine yourself.
2. Trust other people.
3. Get involved.
The Church at Rome had problems. The leadership is limited in their idea of what it means to be a good healthy church, they don’t trust people who don’t meet their narrow standards. This is why in the early chapters Paul reminds them that we are all sinners and nobody is worthy. He reminds them that nobody has perfect understanding.
There are two extreme problems churches have: too exclusive ~ nobody can meet our standards and fit into what we are doing. Too open ~ if you are breathing you qualify. Paul says take time to honestly evaluate who you are… sober judgment. We often make decisions when we are foggy brained… impulsive, little rational thought, emotions ~ carefully consider who, what, when, where, why.
When it comes to my physical health, I am good at hiding my aches and pains, even from myself. we do the same with our spiritual health, masking our hurts, hiding our sins, excusing our sins, screaming at others to not judge but never judging ourselves either, asking hard questions. We can be lazy when it comes to our spiritual health, dying inside with a smile, sometime being too hard on ourselves.
Sober judgment. A few testimonies of Sobering up…, I got sober. I stopped killing myself with alcohol. I began to think: 'Wait a minute - if I can stop doing this, what are the possibilities?' And slowly it dawned on me that it was maybe worth the risk. ~ Craig Ferguson
My brother is one of my true heroes. Steady and sober where I am impulsive and emotional. ~ Mark McKinnon.
When I got sober, I thought giving [alcohol] up was saying goodbye to all the fun and all the sparkle, and it turned out to be just the opposite. That's when the sparkle started for me. ~ Mary Karr
Sober judgment, carefully consider. I’ve told 100 people over the years who are considering making SACC their church home, “Join us on a Sunday morning at least three times before you make a decision to determine if this is where you belong…” I want people to carefully consider where God is calling them… Sober Judgment is the beginning of the path of the sparkle of spiritual health. The path towards health starts with being realistic. “Know Thyself” ~ your strengths and weaknesses. what you can and can’t do. your temptations.
Rom. 12:3 ends with the phrase, “in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” Spiritual health does not mean you will attain spiritual health when you are a super spiritual, steady, all knowing, all wise, perfect person. The path towards the Lord is a path and the journey begins wherever you are. Whatever measure of faith you have. I like the way one person said it, “Happy is the man who knows what he can’t do!” Happy is the person who is sober.
The second step on the path of spiritual health: Trust others. READ Rom. 12:4-5. God has given people different gifts, abilities, passions, opportunities. One of the common problems in churches is secret boycotts. We may not say anything, but if a decision is made, or a ministry begun that we don’t understand or agree with, we silently withdraw. That almost always limits our active service in the name of Christ. If we don’t understand the choices other people make, where they put their energy/time we emotionally withdraw, we sit in a silent boycott. Or we stay away. If this describes an attitude you’ve had towards a ministry in or through the church, I’ll tell you what ~ you need to repent and go and encourage those folks. Ask sincere questions. If God is in the middle of it bless the other person even if you don’t understand! We are all different. Remember you are not the center of the universe and God uses other people’s passions and gifts….
Why do you think Paul includes the words of Rom. 12:4-5? He is reminding the leaders of the church at Rome who were becoming too nitpicky about who could belong that they need to appreciate God brings together people who are different from each others. The church is like a body. It has many parts with many functions yet they all serve a larger purpose. If you want to know what the church is like, stand in front of a mirror: Your body has many parts—visible and invisible. Every part is important. Every part depends on every other part. Your body has separate parts yet there is a wholeness. That’s the church.
At the end of Rom. 12:5 the scripture says, “each member belongs to all the others.” We need each other for spiritual wholeness. We must learn to appreciate others, bless others. Instead we boycott. Ignore. Rank what is most important. Get caught up in our own stuff. We think everyone is supposed to think like me, have the same passions, /patterns… We need other Christians for greater spiritual health. God designed us to be a team.
We’re not all alike. We have different functions, different gifts, backgrounds, and preferences. God didn’t cut us all from the same cloth. Some are like burlap, others like silk, camouflage, others a tie die t-shirt. In Rome Jews and Gentiles were struggling to find common ground inside the church. I think we need to think of our differences as privileges. Growing up in a small church I had a dozen mothers and grandmothers. Rich and poor have something to contribute, to learn from each other, and appreciate. I admire folks that are living in situations that are only a rumor to me ~ the survivors among us! Men and women, young and old. Those who have known nothing but computers could learn from those who don’t even own a computer! And the other way around. A healthy church is made up of many kinds of people with different backgrounds who unite together based on a common faith in Jesus Christ. We don’t have to share the same politics or like the same music or eat the same food or drive the same cars or even own a car. We only need to share a deep-seated love for Jesus Christ. Healthy churches are filled with people who work together and trust each other in spite of differences.
Trust, trust, trust, trust… the next verses list seven spiritual gifts. Notice two seemingly unimportant words written seven times. If taken to heart, these two words have the ability to transform a church and the world. Seven times after each spiritual gift the two words: LET HIM. If a man’s gift is prophesying, LET HIM use it… let him serve, let him, let him, let him, let him, let him…. I refuse to be a pastor of a church where my job is to twist people’s arms to fill roles because nobody else will do it. I want people who want to be contributing. I do not want people to reluctantly serve and secretly desire to retire. I want to see people so hungry to be a part of a growing healthy church that you are coming forth to be a part of the team. If the elders and the board and the heads of the commissions and the pastors are thought of as the gatekeepers of the church, then we need to be green lights letting people go forward in service to the Lord Jesus Christ. As much as possible, our desire is to be a permission giving church.
Some of the wonderful ministries going on today in this church are the brain child of people who had an idea, talked it over, received a blessing, and gone forward.
Obviously a healthy church is not about anything goes with everybody doing anything and everything they desire. We need discernment and wisdom. I remind you about step one and the beginning point of sober judgment. While we want to be a permission giving church with a green light mentality, there is a yield sign before you go through the green light: The yield sign is Sober judgment, careful consideration, because we need an honest assessment. We have to get to know you. We must consider if what you are proposing fits your gifts, the direction of the church.
The 3rd step on the path of spiritual maturity: Get involved. All Christian have a spiritual gift; you are called to use your gift not for your own personal benefit or joy, but for the benefit of the whole congregation. READ Rom. 12:6-8. Using your spiritual gift as part of the body of Christ is like sitting on the front row of God’s Kingdom work.
In other passages (1 Cor. 12, Eph. 4), Paul gives other lists. I don’t have time to go over each spiritual gift today ~ see the posting on the website…
Examine yourself with sober judgment, trust others, and add your own gift to the mix to help create a healthy church. That’s the pathway to a healthy you. Get involved in whatever it is that gets you excited, your passion. May our church grow spiritually! I want the churches down the road to do the same thing because that is the best for our community and world. As God blesses us with more and more people, I am so excited about having the new people be part of a healthy church so they can walk towards the path to become healthy Christians. The path to spiritual health for you and me: Examine yourself, trust others, get involved. The same path for the church... The church needs you to be spiritually healthy and you need a spiritually healthy church.
I’d like to end by looking briefly at the last word in today’s scripture: cheerfully. In the verse it is talking about being cheerful when those with the gift of mercy use their gift, but I will take the liberty of applying the word to the entire message today: the spiritual healthy church is a cheerful church. The word cheerful means, “With a smile on your face.” The healthy Christian, the healthy church has a joy, a smile. Enjoy the life the Lord has given you, honestly examine yourself, trust others so that you are part of a team, get involved using your spiritual gift ~ That’s the path of spiritual health.
How does a crazy person travel through the woods? A: They take the psycho path.
How does a Christian travel the path of spiritual health? A. They do it with a smile.
I so much wanted to include a paragraph in the sermon about how the Body of Christ imagery for the Church not only applies to the local church, but also to the world-wide church. I think in the actual sermon above I boiled that down to a line about wanting wholeness for the churches down the street because we are all in this together. But there is so much more. But I try hard not to make the sermons so complicated with extra ideas I felt it best to not say a lot about this particular idea. I was so tempted to include some insights I happen to receive from Chris, the director of International Christian Response, based in Lynden, a ministry to the persecuted church around the world. He speaks so well to how God wants us to care for all our brothers and sisters around the world:
Have you ever heard someone say, "Persecution has come here too. It's getting worse and worse!” Then when I say, “Persecution has always been here in the US”, there is a long pause… When I elaborate with: “If a knee hurts (In the Body of Christ) the elbow feels it as well.
Knee = Syrian, Egyptian, North Korean, Eritrean, Kenyan and many other Christians
Elbow = people in countries where they don’t face harsh persecution (here)
In clear words. If we recognize that Christians in Syria are suffering and are part of exactly the same body of Christ, then we should care according to 1 Cor. 12:25 “that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. ”Please keep the Persecuted in prayer...
I thought about actually spending time giving a brief description of each of the spiritual gifts in Rom. 12:6-8, but I quickly knew I would not have time. I always have to decide what is most important, asking God to help me make that determination. I found the following description of the gifts from a Pastor named Ray Pritchard. I would probably tweek several of the descriptions to put a different emphasis on some of them, but since I knew early I wasn't going to include a description of each gift I did not go to the work. I especially think tht the gift of prophecy for today's world is misunderstood by so many. Some day perhaps that will be a sermon by itself. ~ Pastor Carl
“First of all, he mentions prophecy. This gift is the ability to speak authoritative truth from God. In the first century, it probably referred to receiving direct messages from the Holy Spirit. Today it refers to those people who can take the Word of God and make it shine (the root meaning of the word).
Serving is a general term that means to “wait on tables.” People with this gift prefer to work behind the scenes. They don’t seek the limelight and they don’t want to be rewarded for their work. They quietly go about their business, finding ways to help others.
Teaching is one of the most important spiritual gifts, widely distributed in the body of Christ. Teachers have the ability to take the Word of God, explain it clearly, and apply it to the lives of the hearers. This gift may be exercised in many venues—on Sunday morning, in a small group, or in one-on-one discussion.
Encouragers are those Christians who instinctively gravitate to those folks who are struggling to stay in the race. They see a friend who is faltering and they reach out a helping hand. This gift has enabled many people to keep on going when they would otherwise have quit. Thank God for the encouragers who put courage into us (the literal meaning of the word) when we felt all hope was gone.
Did you know that giving can be a spiritual gift? All Christians are commanded to give generously, but some believers have been specially gifted by God in this area. These Christians may or may not be wealthy, but they find special joy in sharing their resources with others. Very often, these folks do their work anonymously, giving large sums secretly, neither wanting nor needing any public thanks. Paul says they should give “generously.” The word actually means “single-mindedly"-—referring to the fact that they should give “as unto the Lord"—not for any earthly reward.
Then there is the gift of leadership. The word means “to stand in front of a group.” This gift enables a person to take charge of a group or a meeting and lead that group in a positive, productive direction. People with this gift should do their work eagerly, gladly, with energy and full commitment.
Finally, Paul mentions showing mercy. This gift enables the believer to reach out to others who are hurting with the love of Christ. In England these people are often called “hospitallers” because their work carries them to the sickbed. What a crucial ministry this is. The challenge for mercy-givers is to do their work “cheerfully.” The word means “with a smile on your face.” One translation puts it this way: “If you come with sympathy to sorrow, bring God’s sunshine on your face.” A long face and a sour disposition are no recommendation for the Christian faith. We’ve all been visited by well-meaning sourpuss believers who made us feel better only because they finally left us. How much better to come with a smile and God’s love in our hearts. It will do so much more than being grumpy and unhappy.
That leads me to ask a penetrating question: What are you doing with the gift God gave you? Are you using it for his glory? Or are you letting it go to waste? Let me put the question another way: Suppose that everyone in the church were like you, what kind of church would we have? Would we still be able to staff our ministries? Would we still support missionaries around the world? Would we still reach people for Jesus Christ? Let that question sink into your soul. If it feels uncomfortable, perhaps the Holy Spirit wants you to do something about it.” ~ Ray Pritchard
I considered using an illustration from a Jackson Browne song "The Pretenders" to illustrate futile living in the section on "Sober Judgment." I listened to the Youtube Video a couple of times, but it just wasn't right to actually show during the worship service. So I scrapped the idea. It was too complex. The song has a couple of images I wasn't real thrilled about and some of the lyrics are kind of confusing. The video is also a bit too long for what I prefer during a worship service. I posted the song here for you to consider listening to.
The song is about the temptation to neglect our natural gifts and calling and just struggle “for the legal tender.” We start out so young and strong he writes; we could have been a contender. Before long, however, we are going through a daily routine and as time passes by we forget all about our dreams and God’s gift. In due time we are caught between the routine and the struggled for the legal tender and in short we become the happy idiot and a pretender. It is a harsh commentary on the life and affairs of us humans.
One of the other reasons I did not want to show the song is because to me, while the song is haunting, it is kind of hopeless in the end. That's not necessarily bad, because that is where a lot of people are. Sally listened to it and said it reminded her of the book of Ecclesiastes: "all is vanity." In any event, I still think the song does make us think about what is important and how we get caught up in a cycle that leads nowhere. Paul's call for "Sober Judgment" is a call for a reality check and to be honest with who we are and where the choices we make are leading us. ~ Pastor Carl