Last year I ran in my first half marathon. It was the Marine Corp Historic Half Marathon in Fredricksburg, VA.
I was anxious but I was ready, but being ready didn’t just mean waking up early that morning and riding the bus to the start. Begin ready started five years earlier when got up from my couch one afternoon because I realized I needed to get moving. Only being active 2 weeks out of the year when I was on vacation was not going to keep me healthy so I got up, went outside and tried to run 1 mile. It wasn’t pretty – but it was a start.
My first goal was a 5k (which is 3.2 miles), which I did about 3 months later, and then over the course of the next few years I begin to think about doing a 10K and then thought maybe I could do a half marathon which is 13.1 miles. I could see myself doing it and so I kept the vision alive. I kept telling myself, I could do this, I could run that far. While the right attitude got me off the couch and I had a vision of running a half marathon, nothing would have happened if at some point I didn’t get out the door and actually run. There had to be some action. That morning in Fredricksburg I was ready to run, but the reason I was ready was because of an attitude that motivated me, a vision that kept me focused and action that pulled it all together. To be ready for anything in life, marriage, a job, starting school or walking in faith we need the right attitude, the right vision and the right actions.
Now let’s turn to the Bible. If there is one thing that Jesus makes clear it is that some day He is going to return. The day and hour are not known, it has already been over 2000 years and who knows it could be 2000 more, but the Bible is clear that Christ is going to return and when he does we will have to give an account of how we chose to live our lives. On that day, we will all stand before God and he is going to ask us if we were faithful. Are we ready to answer that question? If we want to be ready to say, Yes God, we were faithful, then what Jesus tells us is that we need the right attitude, the right vision and the right actions.
It all starts with having the right attitude and what I mean by that is it all starts by building our lives on the absolute truth that God loves us. The right attitude, Jesus tells us, is knowing that God loves us and that God wants to give us all that he has. Look at Luke 12:32. The attitude that needs to drive us in life should be the knowledge that God loves us and that God wants to give us the fullness of his kingdom. Think about that for a moment. God wants to give us everything he has and all that he is. God wants to give us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. God wants to give us deep and lasting relationships of love and trust. God wants to gives us laughter and freedom. God wants to gives us the power of transformation and forgiveness. God wants to give us everything he has – his kingdom, and knowing God wants us to have all this needs to be the attitude that gives shape and form to everything in our lives.
Being ready for the return of Jesus isn’t about doing all the right things, it is first and foremost about trusting in God’s love for us. Our faith and all the faithful actions God calls for don’t flow from a list God has for us to do, it flows from the heart God has for us, it flows from God’s love for us. The right attitude comes when we accept God’s love for us. It’s knowing and trusting that God is for us and God’s deep desire, his good pleasure, is to give us the fullness of his life which is his kingdom.
This attitude starts the process, but to be ready for Christ also requires the right vision and Jesus tells us that vision comes when we keep our eyes on the things of God. Look at Luke 12:33-34. Jesus is not only calling us to look beyond the things of this world, he is also calling us to look beyond our own needs. When we make a purse for ourselves we are not only storing up treasure on earth but most of the time we are storing it up treasure for ourselves and this is not God’s vision. God’s vision is always thinking about the other person first, it is always giving to meet the needs of the other person first. Think about John 3:16, for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. God wasn’t thinking about himself, he gave himself away for us and this selfless vision needs to be part of our vision.
Last week the Bishop of Sierra Leone was visiting and he stayed with me at the parsonage. On Saturday night we drove into the garage and he said to me, I love your garage. I wasn’t really sure what he meant by that, but then he said what he liked was that it wasn’t full of stuff. People here accumulate too much stuff, he said. He then went on to say that he only has two pairs of shoes. I don’t need any more than 2, he said, and when I get a new pair I give my old pair to one of my pastors who is so happy to get a new pair of shoes. Suddenly I began to see things a little differently. My vision changed. First of all, I realized just how much stuff I really do have and how blessed I am that as a pastor I have more than one pair of shoes and clothes to wear and a home to live in and a car to drive. The reality is that many of my colleagues around the world don’t have any of those things.
Suddenly what became important to me, my vision, wasn’t trying to get more for me here and now, it wasn’t about filing a purse to help me feel safe and secure, it was how I could start sharing what I had with others. I think this is what Jesus means when he says make purses that do not wear out. We shouldn’t try to gather up stuff here – we should find ways to love and care for others because those acts of kindness and grace are the true gifts and treasures and they aren’t just treasures to those who receive them, they are treasure in heaven to us and they are the things that will last.
So how do we cultivate this kind of vision? I’m not sure this vision of caring for others first and not finding security and pleasure in things here comes natural to us, so how do we keep our focus on the things of God? I’ll be honest, I don’t know because this is something I struggle with as well, but I have 2 thoughts. The first is that if we want to keep our eyes on the things of God we need to keep our eyes on God. Anything that helps us think about and see God will help us focus on the kingdom of God. This is why worship, prayer and Bible study are so important. These things all help us keep the right perspective. So if our treasure is going to be in heaven we have to look to heaven and keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.
The second thing that can help us keep the right vision is to stop looking at ourselves and start looking at others. Let me say that again, we have to stop looking at ourselves and start looking at the needs and lives of others. This is what Bishop Yamabsu helped me to do. When he mentioned giving shoes to his pastors I suddenly stopped thinking about what I might want or need and I began to see a brother or sister who would be excited just to get a new pair of shoes. At the Global Leadership Summit this week we heard about children being sold into slavery, children being mutilated as part of witch doctor’s rituals. We heard about pastor’s risking their lives to preach the gospel and people struggling just to survive. Seeing someone else’s situation can change our vision. We spend way too much time thinking about ourselves. We spend way too much time thinking about what we deserve, what we need, what we want and how we should have all those things everyone else has and how unfair it is that we don’t. As long as our eyes are fixed on us in any way shape or form – we can’t see God. But when we stop looking at ourselves and start looking at others we actually start seeing God. Isn’t that what Jesus said?
Jesus said that when we see someone who is hungry and needs food, we see Jesus. He said when we see someone naked and needing clothes, we see Jesus. Jesus said when we see someone thirsty and we give them water, we see Jesus. Anytime we see the needs in someone else, whether those needs or physical, emotional or spiritual, we are seeing Jesus and that helps keep our eyes on the things of God and this is the right vision. To keep moving forward in our faith and to be ready means having the right vision and this vision is seeing the things of God and the kingdom of God.
So attitude get’s us started and vision keeps us going but the thing that brings it all together is action. In fact, let me say it this way, attitude and vision without action is dead. That’s what James said, faith without works is dead. We need action and Jesus says this too, look at Luke 12:35-37. In Jesus day one of the greatest celebrations any community could have was a wedding and a wedding banquet could go on for days. So the picture Jesus gives us here is of the household servants who want to be ready when the master returns from a wedding banquet but they don’t know when that might be. It could be today. It could be tomorrow or days away. And the master could return early morning or in the middle of the night. The servants had no idea when the master would return so they had to be ready all the time and being ready required some actions. They had to be dressed and ready to serve and they had to have their lamps lit.
So what kind of actions do we need to engage in if we want to be ready? For the servants in Jesus illustration, being dressed and ready to serve and having lamps lit was just part of their jobs. It was a normal every day activity which tells us that the actions we need to focus on aren’t things that are unique and special, they are the everyday ordinary actions of our life and faith. Here at Faith Church we have tried to define these actions in our core values of connect, serve and grow.
To be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ means that we connect with God through worship, prayer and Bible study, but it also means that we connect with the people God has placed in our lives. We learned last week that in order to stand strong we need to stand together which means we need to connect with the people of God. If you are feeling disconnected these days then do something about it. Don’t wait for someone else to act – act yourself. Step up and get connected to a small group or ministry team. Step up and reach out to others who might also feel disconnected – form a small group or ministry team. Sign up today to help with the blessing of the backpacks.
Following Jesus also means that we serve and we serve God by working for the things God desires and God tells us what he desires, look at James 1:27 and Micah 6:8. Want to know how to serve God? How about meeting the needs of widows and orphans? What about working for justice in our community or around the world? There are all kinds of causes we can join if we want to – from animal cruelty to child slavery, we just have to step up to the plate and act. There is no right way to serve because God lays different passions on each of our hearts, but we have to be willing to listen to our hearts and stop looking at what we need and start looking at what others need.
To be disciples of Jesus also means that we need to grow deeper in our faith and this doesn’t just happen – it happens when we give ourselves radically to God. The times I have grown most in my faith were when I stepped out and did things I never thought I could do. It was when I got on bus and headed to Yellowstone National Park for a summer to work and serve God. It happened when I gave up my job and went to seminary. It happened when I finally agreed to serve a local church and showed up at my first appointment in Altoona.
We grow most when we push ourselves beyond what is comfortable for us and step out to do those things we don’t think we can do. It’s when we step out in faith and commit to tithing the full 10% of our income to God. It’s when we show up at that first small group meeting when we have never studied the Bible in our lives or walk into a room full of strangers in a new Sunday School class. It’s showing up at the Faith Centre to help hand out food or agreeing to serve on a mission team or even go on a mission trip. We grow the most when we stretch ourselves beyond what is comfortable and simply say YES to God.
The only way I was able to run 13.1 miles last May was because I pushed myself beyond what I thought I could do. It happened the first day I got off the couch and tried to run a mile, and then continued the next day when I went out to run again. It happened when I came back after injuries and when I ran on those days I didn’t feel like running. Being ready for that race didn’t require me to do anything spectacular, I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. And that’s what it means for us to be ready in our faith. It means we stay faithful in worship and continue on in prayer. It means we give and serve in ways we never thought possible for us. It means reaching out to love others because we have experienced the power of God’s love for us. When we do this, we are ready and when the day comes and we stand before Jesus, he will delight in giving us his kingdom.
Are you ready?
Many times Jesus said, “Do not be afraid.”
· What things cause you to be afraid and anxious?
· How can God’s love for you help ease those fears?
· How can God’s love bring your strength & courage?
Recall the ways God has provided for you in the past and use this list to remind you of the ways God will be there for you in the future.
Keeping our eyes on the kingdom of God requires us to look at Jesus and others.
· Take time this week to look to Jesus. Devote time to prayer and read the parables Jesus told about the Kingdom of God: Matthew 13,18:23-35, 20:1-16, 22:2-14, 25:1-30.
· Take time to look at the needs of the people around you? What practical steps can you take to meet those needs?
Being a disciple of Jesus means connecting to God and one another, serving Christ and growing deeper in our faith. What specific actions can you take this month to
· Serve ____________________________________