Series: The Power of a Committed Life
#4 "Fully Engaged In My Community"
Feb 14, 2010
In our series of the Power of a Committed Life we are looking at what it looks like to live a life that is fully engaged in the things that matter most. The most important commitment is to be fully engaged in our relationship with Jesus. Our foundational verse is 2 Chronicles 16:9, “The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” First and foremost God wants us to be fully engaged with Him and when we are, He promises to give us strength.
The overarching question for us in this series is what will we be fully engaged in. In reality people are all fully engaged in something. It may be our careers, our families, our children, our financial success, our hobbies, recreational activities, travel, and whatever. Yet Jesus teaches us in Matthew 6 that these are all of lesser importance than our walk with God. The irony of the gospel is that if we are fully engaged in these things, we end up losing them all. But if we seek first God’s kingdom, then we not only get eternal life, we also get all these other things as well. So, being fully engaged with God is a win-win situation.
Flowing out of this relationship with God naturally flows being fully engaged with God’s people, the church, which is our family of God. Out of that connection then flows being fully engaged with our friends. And finally the circle widens to be fully engaged in our community, and that is our focus this morning.
What and who is our community? While our name is Sicklerville UMC, God has given us a much wider sphere of influence—larger even than Winslow Township. How many of you live here in Sicklerville proper? In Winslow Township? In Williamstown/Monroe Township? In Gloucester Township? Atco/Waterford? Berlin? Washington Township? Where else? Those in the know tell us that our ministry as a church extends about a 15-minute drive in all directions from our church location. So our community is probably much larger than we imagined.
Our Scripture is set in the city of Jerusalem, the city of peace, the city of God. God’s people loved and still love to this day the city of Jerusalem as it holds a special place in their hearts. Jesus so loved the people of this city that He wept over it. His heart was torn and broken over the ways in which this city had rejected God’s love and promises, had killed the prophets, and chosen the gods of this world over the true and living God. Some of the most forlorn words in the entire Bible are these of Jesus, “How I wanted to gather you as a hen gathers her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.” Jesus loved Jerusalem so much that he wept over her. When was the last time you wept over Sicklerville or Winslow or South Jersey? Does your heart ever break over what you see going on in our community around us? The poverty, the violence, the broken families, single moms, drugs, lack of respect and discipline, the attitudes of kids and adults alike. Do you ever get angry at what’s happening to our society?
First, to be fully engaged in our community, we must see that God has a purpose for me in my community. It is no accident that we live here. Some of you were born in this area and some of us are transplants who never in our wildest imaginations ever thought that we would live in Sicklerville or this area of South Jersey. What is God’s desire for your life? Here it is: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.” This is known as the Great Commandment. God has put us here for a reason and that is to BE His people, to be the salt and light of this community, and to do His good works.
Look at how Paul describes us as God’s people in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus so that we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.” God wants to use you right here in our community. He designed each of us for great things and has given us the power and the abilities to accomplish great things for Him. As we grow in Christ we understand more and more the difference between success and significance. The world wants us to be successful, but God wants us to be significant. You can be successful as the world describes it and we have examples: Howard Hughes, Elvis, Michael Jackson, Barry Bonds, Mark McQwire, Mark Sanford, Elliot Spitzer and the list goes on. Jesus told us not to worry about the things of this world because God will take care of these things just as he takes care of the sparrows. Instead we are to seek first God’s Kingdom and when we do God will take care of everything else. Success as the world defines it is temporary but significance is eternal. To be fully engaged in my community, I must see that God has a purpose for me being right here where He has planted me.
Second, I must see that my community is people. The Courier Post is again this year running the campaign to vote for “The Best of in South Jersey. The best beauty shop, the best pizza parlor, the best auto mechanic, doctor, drugstore, gym, etc. The businesses proudly display their “Best of” plaques in their stores. Every so often we read of a study done concerning the best places to live. The criteria used are based upon shopping, hospitals, schools, transportation, taxes, etc. They never use the criteria of ‘great and wonderful people’ or even ‘messed up and lousy’ people. While all this is good, the bottom line is that the community is made up of people and Jesus has called us who claim His name to be in the business of God’s Kingdom and that is a people-oriented business. How many of us live in a beautiful neighborhood but don’t know our neighbors?
Sometimes we see people as annoyances not as opportunities. We feel inconvenience rather than feeling compassion. I know I do at 5:15 when I am trying to go home and have to sit at Church Rd waiting for all the traffic to pass by so I can get out! I don’t like crowds except in church! Jesus never saw a crowd. He always saw people. In Mark 6 Jesus had just learned that John the Baptizer had been killed by King Herod. A crowd of people gathered around Jesus. He was teaching them and hadn’t taken time to eat. Jesus and the disciples went by boat to a quiet place to rest, but the crowds followed them. Verse 34 reports, “Jesus had compassion on them for they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he taught them many things.” Jesus didn’t feel annoyed or aggravated. He had compassion and loved them and even fed the 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish.
It is easy to become callus toward people, to grow indifferent, to dehumanize people and treat them like chattel. And it certainly doesn’t help when they act like jerks and Philistines! Yet God has called us to love people and to care about them. “They will know that we are Christians by our love.” There’s an old Christian song that reminds us the Jesus “looks beyond our faults and sees our need.” As followers of Jesus, that is what you and I are called to do. It isn’t easy and some people make it really, really difficult to love and help them, but we are called to be obedient and do the right thing and then leave the consequences in God’s hands.
What is the Great Commandment? “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” It is a lot easier to love God than our neighbor! Yet Jesus equates loving our neighbor on the same level as loving God. You can’t love your neighbor until you first see your neighbor. And this leads right into the final thing we must see to be fully engaged in our community.
Third, we must see God-given opportunities to act. Obviously you can’t ‘save the world’ so to speak. However, when God reveals a need in someone’ life and touches your heart by that need, that is God inviting you to be Jesus to that person or family, and to do something about that need. Are you open and tender to God’s Spirit moving you to respond to a need in someone’s life? Paul instructs us in Colossians 4:5, “Live wisely among those who are not yet Christians. Make the most of every opportunity.” Do you know how many New Jerseyans are unchurched? About 2/3rds. There are some 8,700,000 residents of New Jersey. That means that 5,829,000 people don’t attend church, let alone have a personal relationship with Jesus. And that means they are living their lives without the promises of God, the peace of Jesus as they struggle through life with God’s presence, power and strength and that is not to mention headed for a Godless eternity.
The challenge for us isn’t living among Christians. That is easy. The challenge is to live a Christ-like life among non-believers. Listen to what the Apostle Paul says in Acts 20:24, “But my life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus. The work of telling others the good news about God’s wonderful kindness and love.” Did you get that? He says that his life is worthless if he is not helping people find God. That’s pretty strong language. All this means is that our number one task and priority as Christians is to share God’s love with others. That is your primary task as a Christian and our primary task as a church. Yes, worship, teaching, fellowship, serving, helping the poor, are all-important but not as important as leading people to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. That is your number one job and if you aren’t doing this, the Bible says you are wasting your life!
Now you will connect with people that I will never connect with, and I will connect with people you won’t even come close to. God brings us together so that we can reach all kinds of people for Jesus. If we as a church get fat and happy with ourselves, we are doomed. If we become inward focused, i.e. focusing on ourselves—our money, time, energy and ministries, then as a church we are dying and are terminal.
God sent His Son into the world. Jesus sent out His disciples to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit sends us out into our community—our neighborhoods, our work places, to friends and family, to all of South Jersey to show them what Jesus looks like with Jesus is alive and working in us so that they will come to know this Jesus that we have experienced and know as Savior and Friend. John Wesley emphasized in the early Methodist movement in England that we as followers of Jesus have nothing to do but save souls.
People who know the power of a committed life see and understand God’s purpose for their lives, see their community as people in need of Jesus, and look for God-given opportunities to live out God’s love to those around them.
So on a scale of 1 to 10 where is your engagement level
- with God,
- in our church,
- with your friends and
- in your community?