Monday, January 9, 2006

feet (a sermon)

Here's a sermon I gave last Saturday for the Oasis Madrid service. It's part of a series called "Body Parts". I hope it helps you in some way.


a sermon by Troy Cady

Imagine a world in which everyone was more like Jesus. What a wonderful world that would be.

The series we are in deals with that very issue. It’s based on four primary convictions:
1. The world needs more of Jesus.
2. The world will get more of Jesus when we become more like Jesus.
3. To become more like Jesus we need to offer ourselves to God.
4. It is better to offer yourself to God specifically, rather than generally.

Romans 6:13, our theme verse for our series, highlights this last principle by telling us to: “…offer the parts of your body to God as instruments of righteousness.”

So, with each session, we have been looking at a separate part of our body that we can and should offer to God.

In October, we looked at offering to God our heart. We noted that the heart is the most important part of our body to offer God. In November, we looked at the most difficult part to offer God: our sex parts. And in December, Kelly talked about offering to God our hands, to touch the untouchable.

This month, we’re looking at the specifics of offering to God our feet.

I mentioned earlier that offering to God our heart is the most important thing. Well, offering our feet comes in a very close second, if not tied for first.

I say that because there’s a connection between the volitional decisions of our heart and the physical manifestations of those decisions in our body. True faith results in truthful actions. When you decide to give your heart to God, that decision does not merely lay dormant, couched under the cloak of comfortable covers. The decision to give your heart to God is like deciding to marry God. It requires you to get out of bed, walk down the aisle and fulfill your vow to him as long as you shall live. Spiritual union with God results in a lifetime of commitment, a continuous lifestyle of walking in close companionship with the lover of our souls.

Being a Christian starts with a decision to give one’s heart to God, but it continues with a lifetime of following Jesus. That’s why I say offering to God our feet comes in a close second, if not a tie for first place, when compared to offering God our heart. Being a Christian means following Jesus.

Author Brian McLaren describes the process of following Jesus this way: Suppose I mark an X on a piece of paper to represent Christ. Now, suppose I represent a variety of people on this paper also. Some are close to Jesus and others are not as close. Some are very far away from Jesus. I can remember times in my own life when I was close to Jesus and other times when I was not so close and still other times when I was very far away. I’m sure you can too. What matters is this: At any moment, you can choose to walk towards Jesus or to walk further away from Jesus.

We certainly see this exemplified in the gospels. There were some, like James and John, who heard Jesus calling them and left everything to follow Jesus. Still others wanted to follow Jesus but didn’t, while others hated Jesus so much they killed him. The apostle Paul was one of those who hated Jesus (and Jesus’ followers) so much he resorted to brutal persecutions and executions.

The good news is this: at any point along life’s journey, Jesus continually gives us the chance to turn, change our stance towards him, and begin to follow him. This is what the Bible calls repentance, and it's the practical expression of faith. The apostle Paul, in the very midst of opposing Jesus, encountered Jesus, gave Jesus his heart and decided to follow Jesus. He was far away, but through faith expressing itself by repentance, he came close to Jesus.

The decision to be a Christian is the decision to follow Jesus. A Christian is one who follows Jesus.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Jesus is always on the move. The "X" on our imaginary piece of paper is not static. It moves, just like all the other points. The God of Christianity is not the God of Socrates and Plato. The Christian God is not the Unmoved Mover. God is active in human history. The life of Jesus proves that. And, through the Spirit of Jesus moving in our hearts now, we experience the move of God in our own time too. Jesus is constantly on the move, calling us to follow him.

And, in case you’re wondering, it has always been this way: God has always been on the move. Take, for example, the moment in history when God liberated the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt, the Exodus. After the Exodus, God led the Israelites with a pillar of cloud during the daytime and a pillar of fire at nighttime. We are told in the Torah the Israelites knew when to move from a particular location by simply looking at the pillar. That’s why fire became such an important thing for the Israelites. Not only was it useful for burning their offerings to God, but God Himself was associated with fire. When Moses received the Ten Commandments, he met with God in the midst of a mountain caught on fire and enveloped in smoke. That’s why, in Deuteronomy 4 God refers to himself as a consuming fire.

In the New Testament, the image of fire is attached to Jesus. The book of Hebrews refers to Jesus and the new kingdom, the new rule and reign he brings in our lives. In that context, we are reminded: “God is a consuming fire.” Then, in Revelation, Jesus is described in fiery terms: his eyes are like fire, his face is like the sun. Jesus, then, takes us back to the Exodus, the pillar of fire we are called to follow. When the fire moves, we move. And, by the way, the fire does move. That’s the wonder of it.

In that light, we come to understand some other basic, yet extremely important principles. The first principle we’ve already talked about: remember that God moves. He is not sedentary.

The second and third principles stem from this. The first of these corollaries is this: you cannot follow God and follow something or someone else at the same time. Either you’re following God or you’re not.

Sadly, some who say they believe in Jesus, don’t walk in the ways of Jesus. Biblically speaking, this, in fact, is not belief. It is mere intellectual assent and it has about as much substance and power to sustain us as carbon monoxide. This kind of belief is thin and it kills.

Listen to this story about a couple of people who try to follow God and follow their own compulsions at one and the same time. See where it leads:

“As I stood at the window of my house, looking out through the shutters,…I spotted a young man…[He arrived] at the corner of the street [where a certain lady lived]…, then [turned] up the path. It was dusk, the evening coming on, the darkness thickening into night. Just then, a woman met him... [She was] restless and roaming… She threw her arms around him and kissed him,…and said, ‘I've got all the makings for a feast--today I made my offerings, my vows are all paid…’ [With those words, she thought, ‘I’ve done my duty to God, I’m good with the Big Man.’ And she continued…] ‘…so now [I can do what I want]…I've come to find you, hoping to catch sight of your face--and here you are! …Come, let's make love… My husband's not home; he's away on business, and he won't be back for a month.’ Soon [he’s] eating out of her hand... Before you know it, he's trotting behind her… [But] listen to me…. Don't fool around with a woman [or a man] like that; don't even stroll through [that] neighborhood... Listen for GOD's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he's the one who will keep you on track... Run to GOD! Run from evil!” (excerpts from Prov 7:6-27 & Prov 3:5-7--The Message; the portions in italics are additions to the text).

Some of us have relationships that resemble those of the man and woman in the story. I recall a time when I had a relationship like this that needed to be put right. It was when I was a senior in high school. I had made a commitment to follow Jesus three years prior to this time. As part of that commitment, I surrendered my dating relationships to the authority of Christ throughout my first three years of following Christ. But, in my fourth year, I took back the control of my life and decided to follow my own way. It resulted in much hurt and confusion.

What happened was this: there was a girl named Bonnie. Bonnie sat across the aisle from me in anthropology class. It didn’t take long for her to become enamored with my rapier wit and rugged good looks. So, she started flirting with me. Now, I knew that Bonnie wasn’t a Christian, so I knew that the prospect of developing a continuously growing dating relationship with her would result in a dead end, in theory. See, I knew that Bonnie and I could grow closer together emotionally, socially, intellectually, and even physically. But the prospect of spiritual intimacy was severely hampered since I was passionate about following Jesus and she was not. I chose to ignore, however, the warnings of the Spirit of Jesus in my heart and pursued the relationship.

To be sure, we did grow closer together emotionally, we did enjoy each other’s company, and she enjoyed my intellect, while I enjoyed her lips and arms. But, as time wore on, something began to tear me apart inside. She did not know Jesus, nor did she care to. With each kiss I felt as though I was denying my God, giving my heart to someone other than Jesus.

Eventually, I had to break it off. At the time, life felt bleak and hopeless. Even after I broke it off, I felt a pang of despair. But it didn’t take long to experience the joy of freedom from that, and now, married to Heather, I’m so glad I did.

You cannot follow your own desires and follow Jesus at the same time. Either you’re following Jesus or you’re not.

Some of you can relate to this story. Some of you have relationships that need to be put right, that need to be placed under the authority and lordship of Jesus. These relationships may even be sexual in nature. Perhaps adultery isn’t the sin, but deep inside you know that God is asking you to follow him with your sexuality (and dating relationships) and you have yet to take the step God is asking you to take. If this is the case, let me urge you: run to God, flee from evil. It’s that simple. That’s not to say it’s easy. It’s not easy following Jesus. It’s hard. But remember: running away from God certainly leads to death, even though it may feel nice and right and easy at the time. But running towards God, even though it will feel difficult and painful at first, will certainly lead to life. You can count on it.

Now some of us may not have sexual issues we’re dealing with, but may have other kinds of relational issues such as a conflict with someone. This is to say: if God is calling you to make amends, by all means, follow God no matter how difficult it may seem. Resolving conflict is never easy, but it is absolutely essential. Often, we may feel like it’s easier to just remain frozen in an unforgiving state, but let me assure you:

It is impossible to follow Jesus and stay in the same place, frozen to your seat. That’s the next principle: not only is it impossible to follow someone else and follow Jesus at the same time, but it is also impossible to simply stay in the same place and follow Jesus. Remember, God moves, so if we’re going to follow Jesus, we’ve got to move too. You can’t stay where you are. You’ve got to move.

We see this in the experience of the Israelites of the Exodus. When the Israelites left Egypt, they were faced with many choices as to where to go next. We’ve noted that, because of this, God made his will known to the Israelites through leading them with the pillar of cloud and fire. We are told that sometimes the pillar would stay in one place for a while and sometimes it would move. This was God’s way of saying “stay here” or “move on.” Now, imagine you are an Israelite and the cloud moves. The community leaders instruct everyone to pack up and move out. You have three options:

1. You can go back to Egypt, going someplace else. That’s what we just looked at.
2. You can choose to go with God. or
3. You can choose to stay where you are.

You cannot do more than one thing. It is impossible to follow God and stay in the same place.

Jesus reiterated this when he said to someone once: “Follow me.” The person responded by saying, “Well, first let me take care of something and then I’ll come.” In that context Jesus reminded everyone, “You can’t stay where you are and follow me at the same time. You can only do one or the other.”

I recall the time when I felt Jesus calling me to give him my heart. At that moment, I had a choice. I could choose to remain where I was or I could choose to follow Jesus. I could not choose both. That’s the challenge of Jesus. That’s the adventure of the Christian faith.

As a church, we recently had an opportunity to seek God’s face through forty days of intentional prayer. Through that time, each of us was faced daily with a choice to follow God or not. Would we seek God’s face or would we remain indifferent? Fortunately, together, we sought God’s face. We opted to follow Jesus.

And over the years, we’ve had numerous instances where God made his desires for us as a community known, and, in so doing, challenged us to follow him.

About a year after the Christian Associates team set foot in Madrid, God was speaking to each of us individually about the importance of small groups in building deep Christian community. I recall that time well.

Kelly and April Crull were in Holland at the time on their training internship before moving to Madrid. As a part of their training, April was reading some materials pertaining to the features of healthy church communities. I was also doing some reading and reflecting on this same thing and Richard Wallace, the new lead pastor for Mountainview, was reflecting on small groups. Each of us was doing this separately. At one point, there came a decisive moment in the development of the church: each of us began to share convictions concerning the place of small groups in the broader life of the community of faith. As we shared these new convictions we began to sense that God was leading us to a unique sort of place. God was teaching us something new about leading healthy communities of faith.

Isaiah 30:20-21 talks about how God teaches us, how God leads us, when it says: “…he will be your Teacher. He won't hide himself anymore…You will hear your Teacher's voice behind you. You will hear it whether you turn to the right or the left. It will say, "Here is the path I want you to take. So walk on it." (NIRV)

Each of us sensed God was leading us in the direction of creating a church of community groups, not just a church with community groups. We talked about it and prayed about it a lot over the course of some months just to be certain of God’s leading. About 9 months later, we took the leap in following where God was leading.

I’m so happy we did, because, through that decision, many people have grown in their faith, others have decided to follow Jesus for the first time, still others have been baptized. Something truly vibrant has come out of it. In fact, we never could have imagined the result we are seeing today: two churches have been initiated in Madrid, instead of just one. Reproduction has been infused into the DNA of the church from the very beginning.

The exciting thing is: we can expect to see this kind of thing over and over again. That’s why we’re calling this church Oasis Madrid. Imagine one day other Oasis churches in other parts of Spain. There could be Oasis Toledo, Oasis Sevilla, Oasis Valencia, Oasis Malaga. As leaders are raised up and community groups established, the rule and reign of Jesus can spread across this land. As this sort of thing happens, people in Spain will have the opportunity to see more of Jesus.

And there is only one thing required of us: to offer God our feet, to follow Jesus into the unpredictable, yet exciting future. Be assured, each time this kind of reproductive birth happens concerning our faith community there will be deep questions to answer, there will be uncertainty and in some cases even pain (since birth never happens without pain), but if we will stick together as a community of faith and follow Jesus wherever he leads us, we will always be in a good place, just like the Israelites in the midst of the desert. God was their mobile oasis, and he can be ours, too.

But we must choose daily to follow Jesus. Together, let’s take seriously Jesus’ words to us: "No procrastination. No backward looks. You can't put God's kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day." (Luke 9:59-62--The Message)

Let’s follow Jesus. Let’s offer to him our feet.

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