Living the Christian Life

given on Sunday, March 22, 2009

Who would have thought that a week off from school could provide a real life experience in Christian living, but I think today’s sermon came from sharing ideas and keeping life simple.  Trying to get the starting words of a sermon is not always easy, but today I probably have to thank my daughter-in-law Haven.
As I was sharing my thoughts for today’s sermon and explaining about the eight life-enriching practices, I was telling her how much simpler life is when we follow these practices.  I said it really is “keep it simple, sinner” or just “looking at the world through God’s eyes.”  She immediately told me about the Amy Grant song, “Father’s Eyes.”  She even pulled off the lyrics for me to go over.
Let’s look at these words from the chorus of that song:
Eyes that find the good in things,
When good is not around;
Eyes that find the source of help,
When help just can’t be found;
Eyes full of compassion,
Seeing every pain;
Knowing what you’re going through
And feeling it the same.
Just like my Father’s eyes,
Granted these words might not originally been used to refer to God, our Father, but an earthly father.  Still the words speak volumes and Amy Grant is known for her faith-based songs, so consider those words as advice on living the Christian lifestyle, which is Harold Knight’s sixth life-enriching practice.
Months ago I used this same practice by discussing the KISS principle—you know, keep it simple, Sinner.  Well, that is primarily what living the Christian lifestyle is:  keeping it simple.  I have also talked about looking at things through God’s eyes, which was from a mini-sermon given by Rev. Emmanuel Clever, III.  The question is how do we make it work.
First, if we begin looking at this great big world through the eyes of God, our lives will be enriched by not dwelling on the negative and it will make it much easier to listen to the news, deal with unhappy customers, avoid the emotional drain of road rage.  Look at the words of the song again:  look for the good in all things.  When the news reports the latest murder, look for the good:  How did the neighbors handle it?  Did the community rally around the family?  Did the experience bring about a change that was long overdue?
What about all those times when something bad happens to good people (pardon the cliché)?  Look at how an illness in the community creates an instant bonding.  When Mom began her battle with the cancer, we heard that question a great deal—why does bad things happen to good people.  Mom’s answer was always why not; she was just like any other person so why should she not have to fight cancer.  Still, her year and a half battle with cancer turned into a testimony of how to maintain your faith even when challenged by a major issue.
I am convinced that it is so much simpler to live our lives without dwelling on the bad and looking for the good, that I just cannot imagine living a life filled with constant drama.  The students always think I am a little loony when some small little thing just makes me laugh or all wound up.  It really is looking at life with all the typical clichés we hear over and over:  looking at life through rose-colored glasses, the glass is half full rather than half empty, or when life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.  It all makes sense to look at life through God’s eyes.  He does see the good before seeing the bad.  The words in the song say it all:
When help just can’t be found;
Eyes full of compassion,
Seeing every pain;
Knowing what you’re going through
And feeling it the same.
Living the Christian lifestyle guides us in making decisions.  It creates a standard by which we make our decisions.  We also develop a level of empathy for others.  We have compassion, we know when others have pain and we do whatever we can to help.  The concept of living a simpler, happier, Christian life becomes our operating system and the repairs are seldom needed.
Now, what about the other guidelines that Knight adds under the Christian lifestyle?  There are the financial issues of Christian lifestyle and this is the hardest topic for any of us, especially in today’s economic crisis.  While at the class last weekend, Rev. Luetjen shared that everybody needs a PLAN.  He felt it was even important to have a plan for finances was important and the Ramsey’s course, “Financial Peace,” really works.  (In Warrensburg, the Church of Nazarene frequently sponsers that a new class will begin.)
The Plan begins with the first step of tithing.  The first 10% goes to the church.  Now I am sure that each of you is groaning inside.  I am not here to begin a stewardship campaign, but I am just sharing how Ramsey’s Plan for Financial Peace allows some to simplify budgeting decisions, which also can simplify one’s lifestyle because consumerism is kept in balance.  This is one area in my life that is complicated, but I am working to keep it in balance.
Trying to maintain a Christian lifestyle might sound impossible today.  We are living in such diverse communities with so many issues and demands and values, that keeping God as our center focus seems to put us at a disadvantage.  Or does it?  Nicodemus was a scholar, a respected teacher of the Jewish people.  He was living in an old community, following what was the expected lifestyle for a Jewish follower.  He was even in charge of teaching others the law.  If there was one role model in the community that the other Jewish believers watched, Nicodemus was that role model.  Yet Nicodemus met Jesus, he watched as the crowds gathered around him, he listened to the message that Jesus shared, and he questioned whether Jesus was the fulfillment of the scriptures he was responsible for teaching others.
Nicodemus had questions and we see into his quandary by looking at the story in John 3:
1-2 There was a man of the Pharisee sect, Nicodemus, a prominent leader among the Jews. Late one night he visited Jesus and said, “Rabbi, we all know you’re a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the God-pointing, God-revealing acts you do if God weren’t in on it.”
Can you imagine the fear, the confusion, even the anxiety that Nicodemus must have been experiencing?  He was so confused that he asked Jesus for a private meeting in the night, in secret, in an effort to completely understand who he was.  Jesus answered:
3Jesus said, “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s kingdom.”
The direct answer was right there, but Jesus was talking to a Pharisee and the answer almost reads like a riddle as he continues to explain that it is through each person’s own acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior that we are “born” into God’s kingdom.
Jesus’ answer to Nicodemus must have seemed confusing in one way, but it was also so simple.  All it takes to get reach God’s kingdom is to believe in Jesus, to believe:
16-18″This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it.
God tried to make our lives simple.  All you have to do is believe that God loved the world even with all the bad.  He tried to make faith simple by wiping out all the knit-picky laws that the Jewish people had developed by taking it down to one law:  love one another.
The Christian lifestyle does not have to be difficult.  It does not have to be a lifestyle that puts us at odds with the world around us.  It does not have to be a lifestyle that makes it easy to break the law.  It does not have to be hard to make decisions.  It does not have to isolate us from our communities.
Our Christian lifestyle should make it so much easier to manage in the diverse, secular world we live in today.  Our Christian lifestyle should make decisions easier.  It should make it possible to get along with all the people around us regardless of their beliefs and their actions.  It should make it easier to decide how to use our money despite the commercials, the neighbors, and even our own wishes.
The concern we have is how do we keep our Christian lifestyle.  It is simple but we need a plan, Knight shares it with us:
∑ Step 1:  Pray.
∑ Step 2:  Read the Bible.
∑ Step 3:  Worship.
∑ Step 4:  Participate in renewal and healing services.
∑ Step 5:  Remain in Christian community by meeting in small groups to study and worship.
∑ Step 6:  Live the Christian lifestyle that Jesus taught us (Keep it simple, Sinner).
Knight has two more steps, but we will stop with these today.  We need time to think and absorb these steps in the plan.  We need to talk about them.  We need to practice them.  We need to accept the fact that our lifestyle provides us the key to God’s kingdom.
John tells us how Jesus answered Nicodemus:
19-21″This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is.”
Amy Grant shares her faith, can we?  Let’s remember that living as Christians we are models of how that lifestyle enriches our lives and those around us.  Let us truly practice looking at this world around us with …
Eyes that find the good in things,
When good is not around;
Eyes that find the source of help,
When help just can’t be found;
Eyes full of compassion,
Seeing every pain;
Knowing what you’re going through
And feeling it the same.
Just like my Father’s eye …

Dear Watchful Father,
Help us live the lifestyle you have given us.  Help us develop a plan to keep our life simple and God-centered.  Help us to see this world through your eyes so that we can love one another.  And thank you so much for all the words of wisdom you have for us, for all the models of Christianity we have in our communities, and for letting us talk things over with you whenever we need your ear.  Thank you, too, for loving us so much that you gave us Jesus.      –Amen

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