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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The ABC of How to Be a Christian - Guest Blogger David Crawford

Well here we are, the Sunday after Easter.  What a trip we’ve been on since our Ash Wednesday Service a little over 45 days ago.  I hope the season of Lent, Holy Week and Easter have strengthened your relationship with God.  I hope that you have taken time to pray and meditate on the sacrifice our Lord and Savior made on our behalf.  I hope you are ready to rise up to the challenge of being a follower of Christ.  A Christian.
Now more than ever, after the Lent and Easter season, you shouldn’t have to think too hard to figure out why 2.2 billion people have decided to follow Christ and strive to live life the way He did.  He fed us, He healed us, He taught us, He entertained us, water into wine, that’s pretty entertaining, but the best reason of all is that He loved us; enough to die for us.  So it is no wonder we feel an allegiance to Christ.  But how do we honor Him and our calling to follow Him.  How do we BE Christians?   
God answers prayer in the strangest ways.  When Chris asked me to speak, the first thing I did to prepare for the message was to pray for a topic.  Two days went by, and on my way to church Wednesday night I heard The Jackson Five singing ABC.  I was singing along with Michael and the rest of the family when it dawned on me, that was it, the ABCs of being a Christian.  
Many of you may have heard of the ABC of becoming a Christian.  A - Admit you are a sinner.  B - Believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He died for your sins.  And C - Confess your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.  Has anyone heard that before?  If you were at VBS a couple of years ago I know you heard it, because we sang a song that was almost word for word the same.  Anyway, I was thinking that most of us here have already admitted that we are sinners, if you haven’t, well, you are, and so am I.  Most of us believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for our sins in order to save us.  And most of us have confessed our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  So, I didn’t want to go over all that again.  Of course if there is someone here today that would like to know more about how to become a christian, please see me following the service.  But what I wanted to talk about today is how to BE a christian, not how to BECOME a christian.  Thus the A, B, Cs of being a Christian, and we begin with the letter A.

Letter A: Attend Church Regularly
When you became a Christian, you began an authentic personal relationship with Jesus. However, it is important to also have authentic connections with other Christians.
In a fireplace, many logs burn together creating heat and energy, but a log by itself quickly dies out.  Most of us have been in a place where we desire or need encouragement and support, what better place to find it than in the family of believers.  To take the fire metaphor one step further, to keep a fire going we rely on logs and coals already lit to light the logs that are not yet on fire. Sometimes you coming to church isn’t about keeping you on fire for God, but rather helping start a fire in someone else.  You might be the hot spot that sets someone else ablaze.   Don’t miss out on the blessing that comes from being used by God because you failed to show up.  And, one last spark from the fire symbol, do you know how much easier it is to keep a fire going versus starting a brand new one?  Well I can tell you it’s 73.9% easier to keep a fire going than start a new one.  Of course 33.7% of statistics are made up on the spot.  It takes a lot of work to get to a point where you are living the life a Christian is expected to live.  Finding time to pray, to study God’s word, to act on your faith, and to help others is not easy.  And if you start giving up time and replacing it with something else, it will be even harder to reclaim that time.  Acknowledge that all days belong to God, but especially Sunday.   He only lets us borrow the time we have anyway.  It’s not like the days are ours, I mean, we don’t even belong to ourselves. We need the fellowship of other believers to keep our faith vibrant and growing, and other believers need you and me to keep their faith vibrant and growing.  
Proverbs 27:17  As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.  We need each other to stay sharp, and remain useful to each other and for the purpose of God’s work.
So “A” Attend Church Regularly
Letter BBe Of Service To Others:
            So how do we serve others?  Helping serve food at a shelter?  Dropping some change in a bucket outside the drive thru at McDonald’s?  Taking your old, but gently worn items to the Salvation Army?  Yes, yes, and yes.  But the goal we strive for as Christians is that our service be motivated by our love for each other.  And this is not always easy. God’s actions were motivated by love when He sent His Son Jesus to us.  Jesus’ actions were motivated by love as He walked among us and eventually carried a cross for us.  We strive to be like Jesus, to walk His walk and talk His talk, therefore our actions of service should also be motivated by love.  But what are some other motivators that might cause us to serve if not out of love?
How about guilt?  I have been motivated to action before because I felt guilty about my lack of action in the past.  Because I didn’t do lunch for the elementary schools, family promise, clean up day, walk to Emmaus, or whatever it was last time, I guess it’s my turn, so I’ll do it just so I won’t feel guilty about it.  I have acted out of guilt before, and I bet I’m not alone.  But guilt is not good for you.  Guilt weighs heavy on you, and God doesn’t want us weighed down with guilt.  Jesus even offered to carry our load, whether it’s grief, worry, guilt or whatever.  Come unto me all ye who labor and I will give you rest.  Serving others out of guilt is a temporary fix for an aching Christian soul.  Serving out of guilt is not the same as serving out of love.  
How about peer expectations?  If I don’t show up I’ll hear about it next time I see “so and so”.  Or, it’s my job, so I better be there.  I’m the chairperson of the committee, I have to be there.  If I don’t show up, how will that look?  If this is the motivation for service then we’ve acted out of expectations from my peers, not love.  While it’s true we need to support, motivate, and challenge each other, we are not here to impress each other.   The expectations we should be  trying to meet are those set by our Lord and Savior, because by meeting those expectations we are serving God.  Serving out of peer expectations is not the same as serving out of love.
How about the eternal scorecard?  If I do this and this and this and that and that and that then I’ll build up a bunch of points for my Heavenly Gate Score Card.  Even though we know this isn’t how it works, sometimes we are motivated because we think we’re banking bonus points in the heavenly grade book.  That’s not love.
How about love?  Here’s when I think I’ve acted out of love.  When I want to do something that will make me happy, but I hear or see someone else needs something, and I realize that me helping them will make them happy, so I do it for them without begrudging the time or experience I deny myself.  For example:  On a Sunday evening, when I would like to be replacing my camper’s city water connector, but I know that there is a congregation at Providence Ministries that would like to hear music at their evening service, I realize that the excitement and happiness, and joy of hearing music will enhance their worship experience, so instead of repairing my camper, I go, out of love.  Because of my selfish human nature I cannot go out of true love on my own.  I can go solely out of love only because God first loved me.  I can go out of love because God so loved the world He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, that I might not die but have life eternal.  I can go out of love only because the Holy Spirit can work within me and create within me the capacity to deny my selfish nature and act out of love.  
Does this happen often?  Not as often as I wish it would, but it seems to happen more often as I practice my faith and as my church family challenges me, inspires me, encourages me and holds me accountable to the choice I made when I accepted Christ as my Savior.  And the craziest thing about acting out of love, is when I do get around to working on my camper, it is even more rewarding because I remember the experience of sharing God’s love, and I find myself more relaxed, more focused and at peace.

Letter C - Converse with God
            Today we take the word converse to mean something along the lines of “engage in conversation”.  And it does mean that.  But it came from the French word converser (cone-vehr-say) meaning to: “live among, and be familiar with”.  And that came from the Latin conversari (cone-where-suh-ree) meaning “to keep company with”.  I have discovered the more I pray, the more I converse with God, the less it becomes about spending a specific time set aside for talking to and listening to God, and the more it becomes about keeping company with God, and being familiar with God.
    Now I’m not saying that you should do away with your set aside special prayer time.  I need that time, you need that time, I think God enjoys spending that specific special time with us.  But conversing with God also implies keeping company with God, and because God is always with us:
Joshua 1: 9  Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
1 Corinthians 3:16  Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you?

            I would think it strange, rude and awkward if we just ignored God except for our special time of prayer.  Can you imagine how awkward it would be if I followed you everywhere you went through every moment of your day and you never said a word to me?  If I never spoke to you?  Don’t you think God might have a few words of wisdom for you throughout your day that might make things go a little more smoothly, more nicely, more, oh I don’t know Godly?  We are keeping company with God because we are Christians.  Here’s an example of how I like to think I keep company with God.  I know a person, no, it’s no one here, no they’ve never gone here, you don’t know them and I’m not answering clues about who they are, so there.  And this person is a beautiful person, but their personality and my personality don’t mix well.  It is not as easy for me to be around this person as some other people.  When I see this person coming, though I might be tempted to duck down and retreat, I am keeping company with God.  And God says, “Now David, you go over there and say hi to this person.  You look them in the eye and give them your attention for a few minutes, this person is my child, and I love this person.”  And then I say to God, “But I don’t think they saw me, it’s good, I can just go over here and…...oh yeah, I know what you’re going to say, “Remember Jonah”, and yes I do, alright, thanks God, here I go”.  And I go, and I’m always glad I did.
Another really cool part of the french meaning is, “to be familiar with”.  So to converse with God is to be familiar with God.  But I want to look at it not as  being familiar by getting to know God better, but rather being familiar meaning being yourself around God.  Just doing what you do, being who and whose you are and at the same time acknowledging God’s presence by conversing with Him.  You might be alone washing dishes, guess what, God has experience cleaning dirty vessels.  You might be working in your shop, guess what, God has some experience with building materials.  You might be driving alone down the road, God has traveled more miles than we can imagine.  You can be you, just doing what you do, and God wants to be there with you; smiling when you have small successes, laughing with you when you make silly mistakes, directing you so you don’t make the same silly mistakes as often,  holding you when your eyes fill with tears, and strengthening you when your body is weak.  
Now, I know I started this with how to be a Christian, and I have talked a lot about God.  But what Jesus wanted for us more than anything was for us to love our heavenly Father, as Jesus loved His heavenly Father.  That is what following Christ will do, it will take us on the path to eternal life with God.  Being a Christian is about trying to live our life the way Christ lived His.  And if we A-Attend Church Regularly...B-Be of Service to others….and C-Converse with God, then we are moving in the right direction.  

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