October 1, 2000
Two men riding on a bicycle built for two came to a long steep hill. It took a great deal of struggle for the men to complete what proved to be a very stiff climb. When they got to the top, the man in front turned to the other fellow and said, “Boy, that sure was a hard climb.” The fellow in back replied, “Yes, and if I hadn’t kept the brakes on all the way, we would have certainly have rolled back down that hill.”
I don’t know about you, but I would ask the guy in the back, “Whose side are you on anyway?”
This is the fourth of a five Sunday series during which we have been looking at keys to improve our ability to see and hear God and allow Him to have His way in our lives.
So far we have studied the keys of focusing on God the father, the reality of our fallen human condition, the truth that is revealed both in Christ and in the Bible, the importance of prayer in pursuing God and His will for our lives, and the need to let go of habits that keep us from seeing and hearing God clearly. Each of these keys have one thing in common –all deal with the inner, the personal, aspects of seeing and hearing God.
For the final two Sundays we now move to the outer, the corporate aspects of seeing and hearing God and what we have and have not done with the inner, the personal aspects will definitely impact the outer corporate ones.
In our church’s history we have stressed two major themes – unity and holiness. DS Warner, considered by many to be the founder of our church, believed that all of the denominationalism that existed at that point in history was wrong and he believed that he had been given a vision of the church that was holy and unified in Christ and made it his calling to make that vision a reality.
Now, we live in a different age, a different time than when our church’s founding fathers were alive over 100 years ago. Many of the societal values that we widely held back then are not help today. But, the human condition has not changed. We are still in need of a transformation that is only made possible by Christ.
One of the many value of this day and age that seems to be lacking is loyalty. “It seems that people today do not have the loyalty that they once had,” people say. Why?
One of the reasons is that personal choice has become a preferred value over loyalty. Take your local grocery store for instance. Think back even 30 years ago – 1970. Can you recall the grocery store you or your family shopped at? Now think about today’s grocery store.
Take TV. Not too long ago, you basically had CBS, NBC, ABC, and PBS. Today you have Fox, ESPN, TNN, CMT, A and E, Disney, BET, HBO, HBO 2, ESPN 2, Nickelodion, TV Land, just to name a few.
Choice is a part of our social landscape and there is little we can do about it. Besides, we like our choices, too.
Loyalty and Unity are two keys to improving our ability to see and hear God clearly in this day and age. And they are tied into the church and its Biblical, not institutional nor organizational, reasons for its existence.
As I reflect on the opening story about the two bicyclists, I wonder what each of them was loyal to. One seemed to be loyal to the goal of moving forward. The other to the goal of staying safe. And these two conflicting loyalties caused them to work against, not with, one another and thus a strained unity developed.
What is loyalty? Here is a suggested working definition: it is a current commitment that is rooted in the promise of something from the future.
We are loyal to a lot of things. Sports teams. The Church. Our Family. In this day and age – ourselves. But, how loyal are we to Christ? And how loyal are we really to the church?
Why do we need to gather together on a regular basis in a building we call the church with a group of people we also call the church?
Here are some reasons: Because it is the socially acceptable thing to do. Because a person does it out of habit or tradition. Because we want to see one another.
But, what is the Biblical reason we need and must gather together on a regular basis so that a loyalty is built and sustained down through the years? One, which is, sustained on a basis other than personal preference.
A key passage to help us understand and practice the Biblical reason for loyalty is found in Hebrews 10:23-25. (READ THE PASSAGE)
We gather together on a regular basis so that:
- We can hold on to the hope that we say we have – rooted in God’s promise of forgiveness, hope, and grace. The church is a place of grace, of hopefulness. It is a place of encouragement and care.
- To think and practice, within and without the church, ways of expression God’s love and care. The church is a training ground for ministry. It makes ministry possible ‘out there.’ It is where we learn how to apply scripture and make it real in the workplace, neighborhood, school, and home.
- To reflect on the reality of life in light of the reality of eternity. It is the business, the mission, and the purpose, of the church to help people understand that life will not always be this way. We will face a final judgment that is based on how we have lived our lives in response to God.
And all three of these reasons are of course; ways of helping us see and hear God more clearly.
One of the phrases that the Church of God has used down through the years is ‘we extend our hand in fellowship to every blood washed one.’
Language changes and this phrase may seem strange to your hearing, what does it mean? It means that we are Christians not because of our church affiliation but because of our Christ affiliation. Membership in the church is not based on parental involvement or church tradition or family history. Membership in the church in based on the saving work of Jesus Christ. We when ask Christ to forgive us of the wrong, the sin, in our lives and accept that forgiveness, we are members of the Church.
Now, we have some responsibilities to accept in light of that decision, one of which is that we must be come a responsible and maturing member of a local congregation of God’s church. And two important elements of this responsible and maturing life is loyalty and unity to Christ and one another.
Unity has been a major theme of our tradition and heritage. But, it is more than that. We speak of its value because it is a desire of God’s heart and we read in John 17 of that desire as expressed by Jesus in His prayer before His arrest and crucifixion.
In verses 22 and 23 of that chapter Jesus prays, “I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are- I in them and you in me, all being perfected into one. Then the world will know that you sent me and will understand that you love them as much as you love me.”
What is unity? Here is another working definition: a future goal that is rooted in the present state of loyalty.
Jesus prayed for unity because He knew that the disciples who remained were loyal to Him and would continue to be so in the future.
Christian unity is a fragile thing. It is a process, a goal that is never fully reached. But, why is it so important?
It is important because it is a visible sign to those who are looking at us and thinking, ‘Is it true?’ ‘Does it really work like you say it does?’
Jesus makes clear in this passage that being in unity with one another and with God, is a powerful witness to the world. In fact, it makes it easier for those who have yet to experience God’s forgiveness to consider doing so because they SEE Christianity at work in real and credible ways in our lives.
Two more questions this morning. They are hard questions to ask, but they are important ones, if we want to see and hear God clearly in our lives and fulfill His purpose and mission that He has for us. They do not include the words ‘loyalty’ and ‘unity’ but they are very much there:
- How are you contributing positively to God’s family?
- How are you helping the church be a team?
The Cincinnati Bengals, according to ESPN, have the worst record in all of the four major league sports –football, baseball, hockey, and basketball– during the past decade. They have won only 29% of their games in the past 10 seasons.
Last week, they lost 37-0 to the Baltimore Ravens. Their leading running back took himself out of the game at one point even though the coach yelled at him to get back in. The coach later refused to shake the Baltimore coach’s hand because he felt that the score had been run up.
Monday, the Coach resigned and new one was named.
The Bengals have been outscored 74-7 in just three games. They are a team in disorder. Before they can turnaround they are going to have make a decision about what they are loyal to and make the decision to become a unified team.
I am not suggesting that we are like the Bengals, although you may have felt that way in the past. Our purpose is far more important than football. We are in a battle for people who have names and faces and hopes and dreams and fears. But, it is not just our mission. It is God’s mission. And to ‘win’ we must be loyal to God and to one another. To win, we must be unified as we submit to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to make us one.
We are on the winning side!!!