Sometimes I find myself wondering how I am going to fit everything into my busy schedule. I imagine you have found yourself in situations where you weren't sure how you are going to fit everything into your busy schedule too. Jesus in Luke 4 teaches us that we are to serve God and worship him in everything that we do. The next time you aren't sure how you are going to fit everything into your already exploding calendar, ask yourself this question: 'In this moment, right now, am I trying to serve God and worship him?'
When we are trying to fit everything into our busy schedule, making sure we prioritise serving God is generally the best decision. Imagine if all of us at JPC began to model this kind of prioritisation in our schedules before our colleagues, friends and neighbours. They would see, wouldn't they, that serving God is a priority for us.
In our passage today Paul is concerned that the Roman Christians are not finding time for serving God in their busy schedules.
In Romans 12.2, Paul commands the Romans not to be conformed to this world. We are easily conformed to this world, aren't we? My son has been at a Geordie nursery for three months now. Two weeks ago he came to me and said, "Marm is daancing." He is conforming to the local Geordie accent.
Why is this? There is a Chinese idiom that says, tall trees face the wind. If we stand out from the others, we are going to face extra opposition and stress. Being different from the crowd means we will face the difficulties, the wind all by ourselves. It is far safer to be part of the crowd and fit in. The Roman Christians didn't want to be the tree that gets blown down, so they followed everyone else and went along with the conforming to the culture. It's not just a struggle that the Roman Christians faced, right?
The problem is though, the culture they lived in (1st century) was not a Christian culture and therefore the culture did not want to find time to serve God in their busy schedules. Following the culture will lead to not serving God - at all!
Paul wants the Roman Christians (1st and 21st century) Christians for that matter, not to be conformed to this world but (verse 2) to "be transformed by the renewal of our mind" (that is, remember that we are Christians and be prepared we need sometimes to be the tree that gets blown by the wind) so "that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." This means we will work out how to live a life that is not conformed to this world, but ("transformed by the renewal of our mind") to the will of God - following God's will for our lives. Which Paul says is good, acceptable and perfect. It's the right thing for Christians to do.
Why should we serve God and prioritise him in our busy schedules? Why should we take the risk of being different to the rest of the culture? Why should we risk facing the wind as the odd tree that stands out? Paul told the Roman Christians, and he tells us, it is because of the mercies of God…
1. Because of the Mercies of God…
Verse 1 starts with the word "therefore". It is pointing back to the first 11 chapters of Romans. So, I will try to briefly summarise Paul's argument from the first 11 chapters.
a. God's wrath is on man's unrighteousness (1:18-32)
b. We can only be justified (made right) before God by faith - God's mercy (chapters 2-4)
c. Paul then develops what this means to be a Christian in mercy (chapters 5-7)
d. in chapter 8 Paul speaks about how Christians can enjoy life and peace, freedom from sin and death with certain hope of glory now - God's mercy.
e. Then in chapters 9-11 Paul reminds us that God's mercy is available to all kinds of people.
f. Mercy. Mercy. Mercy. all the way through these 11 chapters.
That's what he says. Now, what does it mean for God to have mercy on us? That while we were far off, rejecting God as king and treating him as an enemy:
g. He had mercy on us and made us children of God.
h. Not only that, he put God the Holy Spirit in us. He gave us his very self. The Triune God, whom we worship has been poured out for us.
i. Jesus is now our brother.
j. Every Christian is a brother or a sister.
k. Heaven is our home - it is where we belong.
We, therefore, have great identity, we have immense value, we have honour and we have God living inside of us. These are the mercies of God, and they are available to all, Paul says, who have faith in God.
It is because of the mercies of God that we are to… find time in our busy schedules to serve God, or as Paul puts it: offer our bodies as a living sacrifice.
2. …Offer Your Body As A Living Sacrifice…
Lets think about what it means to serve God as a living sacrifice.
1). What type of sacrifice?
Sacrifices in the Bible are not always the same. Here Paul is speaking of the sacrifice of thanksgiving, not a sacrifice for sin. It is a response. Paul is not asking the Romans to offer a sacrifice for sin, but thanksgiving - a response to the mercies of God.
2). How can it be a living sacrifice?
Sacrifices are dead, or about to be! In Romans 6:13 Paul speaks of the Christians being brought from "death to life". Born-again Christians are supposed to offer their life to God. This sacrifice is a living sacrifice - Christians have been made alive.
3). What are we to offer?
Paul is not asking the Roman Christians to bring a sacrifice. He is not asking them to take our their denarius debit card and tap the contactless point being handed round at the church. He is not asking them to bring a thanksgiving sacrifice of crops. This sacrifice is their bodies. God is asking us for our bodies.
4). What does Paul mean by this sacrifice?
This sacrifice is everything that we are. Take away our bodies and we cannot hear, see, speak, walk, touch or act. Anyone here who does not have a body, please raise your hand. You can't. Therefore to offer our bodies is to offer everything that we are, all that we think or feel. Importantly all the influence we can exert over others, all the difference we can make in the world. It's our everything. Car. House. Phone. Wallet. Everything belongs to God.
5). Who owns the sacrifice?
When you give God a sacrifice, it passes from the givers ownership to God's ownership. The contracts have exchanged. We now belong to God. We should already know this, because God created us and so he owns us. But we are called to re-dedicate ourselves to God in this living sacrifice.
So present your body as a living sacrifice means a sacrifice of thanksgiving, where we present our bodies as a born-again Christian which means our everything. We now belong to God.
Is it actually possible for a Christian to say I can't fit serving God into my busy schedule? Once we understand the mercies of God and what he has done for us, making us his children, we cannot but then understand we owe everything to God and that we would want to give everything to him. Every moment of every day. Every penny of our finances. Every inch of our bodies. Every opportunity. Every potential influence. Our social media accounts, out internet presence, our careers, our families. Our everything.
Everything is for and belongs to God. Paul calls this our spiritual worship.
3. …Which is Your Spiritual Worship.
Worship can throw up a whole load of connotations for us, can't it? What is worship? What is spiritual worship? Is there non-spiritual worship? Paul is speaking about our bodies worshipping God. This cannot just mean public corporate worship, or time at church. Worship has turned mobile. Everywhere a Christian goes, home, work, university, on holiday to the Lake District, we are taking our worship with us. Christians are to be offering their bodies as sacrifices wherever they go. You are a mobile worshipping machine. Check you out.
But we often think worship is just at church. In some churches, there are special people called worship leaders, and I really think that misses the point and confuses the situation. We spend a tiny fraction of our time at church worshipping God, but whether we go, as a mobile worship machine - we are worshipping God.
If JPC is your church family, then you need to be serving your local church community. The reason we meet together publicly and corporately in worship each week is so that we can express our unity and diversity in Christ. In the book of Revelation, the eternal church is going to publicly and corporately gather around the throne of God for eternity and we are reflecting that eternal truth here and now.
The fact is, so many of us are serving God at JPC. There are some really obvious examples of people serving God
- Carols by candlelight
- Uniform groups - scouts
- Prayer-ers, bible readers, sidemen
There are some less obvious examples of people serving God:
- Those that signed up for the tea and coffee giveaways for the mission week and carol services
- Those that visit the sick in hospitals and further afield
- Those that follow up with Christians who have left JPC and moved away
- Those that send emails into the admin office and ask to serve for a few weeks while they are between jobs
I have only been here three months. I am sure there are many many more.
This may not be a danger for many, but its worth noting that we need a sustainable sacrifice. I often saw burnout on the mission field in Beijing when people go full on serving sacrificially that is not sustainable. If this is your tendency, make sure you have some accountability. Sometimes it is ok to say no.
For some of us, we may say to ourselves:
- I just need to get my next qualification, then I can really start serving God.
- I just need to get my next promotion, then I can really start serving God.
- I just need to get on the housing ladder, then I can really start serving God.
- I just need to get my kids into school/university, then I can really start serving God.
- I just need to, insert X, then I can really start serving God…
All of these decisions need to be part of serving God and worship. We belong to God now.
Self-introspection is good, but not too much, so I advise asking a close friend if they think you could be serving God more within or outside church. You might be caring for young or old and unable to help serve within the church, but that's because you at capacity serving God.
One action point for this sermon. I am always quite nervous when Christians do not want to be accountable. It's good to have an external audit and see what your trusted friends think. And don't compare. God gives different capacities and abilities.
Imagine if we were able to get our Audits done. We asked our close Christian friends to give us an audit. We would re-evaluate everything in light of what Paul has said in Romans 12. JPC would never have trouble finding people to serve again.
So, as we begin to say goodbye to 2018 and are preparing for 2019, let's remember that of course, as Christians, we are going to serve God in our busy schedules. Of course we are going to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. Why? Because of the mercies of God which he has lavishly poured on us. This serving God is our spiritual worship.