Sermon begins at the 2:04 mark after the music
Lay Reader = Romans 12:1-5
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. 3For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.
We are nearing the end of our series looking at the words to remember – the Bible verses that are worth memorizing or otherwise writing on your heart. We still have the handouts sitting around the church if you want to remind yourself of the important Bible verses we have covered in this series.
Last week we asked, “Where is God when I’m hurting.” And we were reminded that there is another in the fire – Jesus is with us at all times. And we also were reminded that God uses us to help restore other people’s joy when they’ve been through the wringer.
This week we are wondering how our lives should be different as a result of our faith in Jesus. Let me illustrate. Did you know that your body’s intestines can be 20-25 feet long? Interesting! But is that knowledge going to change anything about your day? Probably not. Or maybe you’re slightly less hungry for lunch now.
By contrast, what if God revealed the upcoming winning lottery numbers, and I shared it with you. Would that change your day? You’d probably go grab a ticket, right?
Or on a snow day, if you hear there have been thirty-seven wrecks across Littleton, and you don’t technically need to go out that day, does that knowledge affect your day? Hopefully you’ll stay home!
So is our faith in Jesus more like knowing the length of our intestines – interesting but superfluous to our decisions throughout the day? Or is our faith more like knowing the condition of the roads or knowing the winning lotto numbers ahead of time – it changes what we do and how we act?
1 Timothy 1:1-7
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, 2To Timothy, my loyal child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. 3I urge you, as I did when I was on my way to Macedonia, to remain in Ephesus so that you may instruct certain people not to teach any different doctrine, 4and not to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies that promote speculations rather than the divine training that is known by faith. 5But the aim of such instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith. 6Some people have deviated from these and turned to meaningless talk, 7desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions.
9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
I think the term “friend” is undergoing some change in its meaning. For instance, I pretty much only use Facebook to post my sermons, books, and songs, and to see the pictures my mom posts after we see them. I do not initiate friend requests on Facebook. I accept if someone I actually know sends me a friend request. And despite those limitations, I have 652 “friends” on Facebook. Now, I do actually know those people, and many more.
When we talk about meaningful, rooted relationships here at the church, we say that we want people to know how to pray for you specifically this month. So if I apply that Rooted Relationships definition to my Facebook friend list, it shrinks down a bit. That would drop down to less than ten who could pray for me specifically this month. And maybe a few dozen who could pray for me generally.
How about you? Who are your meaningful friends? Who could pray for you generally? And who could pray for you specifically right now?
So here’s another Bible trivia opportunity. In the entire Old Testament, how many people do you think are called “friends of God?” Any guesses? Two! Moses and Abraham. That’s it! God wasn’t keen on running up his Facebook friend count, apparently.
So imagine how shocked Jesus’ disciples were when he told them, “I have called you friends.” No longer servants or slaves, but “friends.” In the same category as Moses and Abraham. That’s surprising, right? That’s good!
But there’s a catch. This friendship comes with a hope and an expectation. Jesus says, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Friendship with Jesus is not defined by knowing about Jesus. It’s not defined by your relatives or your blood line. It’s not defined by your knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. “You are my friends if you do what I command you,” Jesus says.
And in case you’re wondering what Jesus commands, Jesus lays it out pretty plainly, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” That’s a rather high bar, to love others just as Jesus loves. I don’t think I’ll ever get there. But perhaps, over time, I can grow closer to that standard.
Here’s another way to think about this. Of those 652 Facebook friends, I said there were probably less than ten who could pray for me specifically right now. But there are quite a few others who could have prayed for me specifically at some point in my life. Of my high school friends, I only stay in close contact with one. Of my young professional friends, I only stay in close contact with a couple. Of my seminary friends, I only stay in close contact with one. The close friends have stayed close friends because of regular contact.
And the same is true of our friendship with Jesus. It’s hard to do what Jesus commands if we aren’t in regular contact. It’s hard to love like Jesus loves if we aren’t in regular contact. It’s hard to be friends with Jesus without regular contact.
So how do you stay in regular contact with Jesus? How good of a friend are you being with Jesus? If you’re a parent, how are you helping your children stay in regular contact with Jesus? Do they see you staying in regular contact with Jesus?
I saw some research a couple of weeks ago that only 20% of churchgoers do something to take in the Bible on a daily basis. Only one in five churchgoers are staying in regular contact with Jesus. Only one in five churchgoers are doing the most important thing that friends of Jesus do – staying in regular contact.
How about you? Are you staying in regular contact with Jesus? Are you being a friend of Jesus, or a distant acquaintance? Are you the kind of friend with Jesus that just calls to chat? Or are you the pesky neighbor who only shows up when they need something? What kind of friend are you being with Jesus?
I mean, I think I’m a pretty good friend with John Elway. Did you know we have a friendship? It’s true! I’ve watched him on TV. I’ve cheered him on. I know many of his stats. I’ve even read his Wikipedia page. And his name’s on the dealership when I get my car serviced. We’re practically besties! No, we’ve never met. No, I don’t have his cell phone. No, he’s not one of my 652 Facebook friends. But still – I know a lot about him, and I’ve watched him on TV, so I think we’re good friends.
Obviously I’m kidding, but I think that’s what we do with our relationship with Jesus sometimes. We show up to worship, so we sing about Jesus sometimes. We hear someone else talking about Jesus. Maybe we learn some info about Jesus at a Bible study or Sunday school class on occasion. But are we friends with Jesus. Are we chatting with Jesus? Are we in regular contact? Is Jesus an integral part of our lives? As a result of that relationship with Jesus, are we increasing in our love – just as Jesus loved?
Friendship isn’t just about accumulating knowledge. In our text from Romans, Paul said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” As one of my ministry compatriots used to say, “it’s about transformation, not information.”
Or in Paul’s letter to Timothy that we read, Paul encourages Timothy to have sound doctrine. But he reminds him, “But the aim of such instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith.” Not just knowledge – love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith. Transformation, not information. Friendship, not knowing someone by reputation or their Wikipedia page.
Developing a Friendship with Jesus
But maybe we should back up a bit. Maybe you’re not sure that you want a friendship with Jesus. Is it worth your time to stay in regular contact with Jesus? I don’t stay in regular contact with everyone – only when we mutually value that regular contact. So is Jesus worth your time on a regular basis – not just one hour on Sunday morning? I mean, we had a pretty rough week in my family. Charlie had three visits to the ER last week. Don’t worry – he’s OK now. But I guarantee you my brain was whispering to me, “You’ve had a rough day. You’re tired. You don’t have the energy to do your spiritual journal tonight. Just do something mindless. There’s a new Star Wars novel!” Other than that part about the Star Wars novel, has your brain ever whispered to you like that?
What can we say back to that little voice? Well Jesus himself says what he’s offering. “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” So when I’m exhausted and I don’t want to spend the five to fifteen minutes it takes to do my spiritual journal, I remind myself that my heart is filled with joy by staying in regular contact with Jesus. No novel can do that beyond the time I’m reading it. No TV show, no video game, no movie can fill my heart with joy no matter what life throws at me. Only a friendship with Jesus can do that. GK Chesterton called this kind of joy, “the gigantic secret of the Christian.” That’s our ace in the hole. You can’t get that elsewhere.
Another thing I tell that little voice that tempts me to do something – anything – other than my spiritual journal? I tell that little voice that I waste a lot more time than it takes to stay in regular contact with Jesus. Picture a close friend or a relative with whom you’re in regular contact. If you called them on the phone every day for five to fifteen minutes, would they know what’s going on in your life? Would you know what’s going on in their life? It doesn’t take all that long if you’re doing it frequently.
So in five to fifteen minutes, I can read some of the Bible – the Word of God – I can ask Jesus for some advice to help me be more like him in my life, and I can pray for the Holy Spirit to help me actually do what Jesus is telling me. It doesn’t take a lot of time. Jesus wants to chat with you! The Holy Spirit wants to help you! You don’t have to beg God to speak to you. You don’t have to say some magical fomulaic prayer to get Jesus’ attention. Just seek him intentionally and regularly. Be a good friend with Jesus.
So when that little voice tells you that you don’t really need to connect with Jesus today, remember that it’s incredibly valuable and it takes very little time. There’s no real excuse, even though we all let that little voice win plenty of times.
Sisters and brothers, if you have a way that you can intentionally and regularly stay in contact with Jesus, I’m encouraging you to commit to it more regularly. You don’t lose by doing that – you win.
If you don’t know where to start and you want to, I just added a section to our church’s website that trains you to use the same method I use. It’s not magical – it works for me and a lot of other people, but it might not work for you. But if you just want somewhere to start, head over to fpcl.org/bible. It’s in your insert as well. And I ordered several of the journals as well, and I want to give the journal to you if it helps you get started. I hope we can be a church where far more than 20% of the people regularly connect with Jesus by reflecting on Scripture and praying for guidance.
And if that doesn’t work for you and you’re still stuck, let me know. I’m happy to grab coffee or lunch and help you figure out another idea. Don’t just slide away from your friendship with Jesus! Take me up on that offer!
Is Jesus an acquaintance or a friend? He says you’re his friend. Are you willing to invest a little time to be a good friend in return? Amen.