Hey Oak City Church. I just want you to know that I think that 2014 was a great year. Jesus did lots of great things through our church. We learned how to pray together. We learned how to worship together. We studied the book of Job (WOW!) We baptized people. Marriages were saved and are being saved. People who did not know Christ as their savior came to know Him at our church. And we did it all in a new building!
We also saw some trying times as a church in 2014. Reminders that the world is still stained by sin cause us to wait with great anticipation the day that Christ will return and complete is work of making all things new. And on that day He will rid us of the presence of sin completely.
But the year 2014 is gone and the older I get the faster the years seem to go. Today is the first day of 2015 but I realize that soon 2015 will be gone too and that 2016 will be here before we know it. So it makes me wonder, what do we want to accomplish as a church in 2015? Where do we want to be when this year is over? I could answer that question in lots of different ways (lets get coffee…I’ll tell you all about it 🙂 But there has consistently been one verse that has come to mind when I think about 2015 and Oak City Church –
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. – Matthew 16:24-25
In this scene, Jesus has just finished telling His disciples that He is going to be killed and will rise from the dead. And He tells those who are following Him that if they want to truly “come after” Him that they have to “take up their crosses” and die too. And this “dying” is the only way for this disciples to truly find life.
The same thing is true in the year 2015 for disciples of Christ at Oak City Church.
We say often that the business of the church is to make and grow disciples. So what, according to Jesus, do disciples do? They take up their crosses, die to themselves and follow Him and, in that, they truly find life. This is true for us at Oak City Church as much as it was true to the disciples of Christ who audibly heard Jesus say these words 2,000 years ago.
See, our temptation is to be selfish. To seek our own good. To trust our own abilities to decide what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong for ourselves. The call to follow Christ can feel demanding at times. It can seem like an imposition on our normal lives and it can feel like following Him is costing us more and more of ourselves (..and our time and our talents and our money…and our lives). And so our temptation is to stop, and hold back and “save our lives” by holding onto things that we believe can bring us life.
So when the call comes to give money so we can provide clean food and water for 6 year olds in Nicaragua or India we say “no” because we need that money to go to Bojangles.
Or when the call comes to give up a night in our own beds so that we can provide a place to stay for a single mom and her 2 kids who would otherwise be on the street we say “no” because it’s a pain in the butt to sleep on a cot in our sanctuary for one night.
Or when the email goes out stating that no one has stepped up to teach at homegroup on a particular night we read that email and just hit “delete” because it might take an hour to prepare for that teaching and we would rather spend it watching Law and Order.
Or when God, in His sovereignty, brings us into contact with the same person every couple of days and we feel the Holy Spirit telling us to engage that person and invite him or her to our homegroup or one of our Sunday Morning Gatherings we say “no” because we would rather not make things awkward.
I get it. All of those things genuinely require something of us. They require us to give more. Or expend more energy. Or step out in faith that God will come through in some way and do something we don’t think He can. Or be willing to make an otherwise comfortable relationship somewhat awkward. It makes sense to us in those situations to just do what we want, trust our own wisdom and “save our own lives.”
And the truth is those things CAN be tiring and patience-testing and expensive. But if you are trying to work for the kingdom of God and follow Jesus under your own power and using your own strength while you neglect spending time with the Lord, reading and praying and meeting with other members of the body of Christ on Sunday mornings or homegroups and journey groups to be filled with His Spirit and refreshed, then you will indeed be exhausted and will feel the need to back off of following Jesus then, you think, you will be able to “save your own life.”
But Jesus says the opposite is true. When God calls us to do something and we say “no” to God’s call because we are trying to save our own lives, we are actually losing our lives. Only by saying “yes” to the calls that God puts on our lives, demanding as they may seem, will we actually find our lives.
If you try to save your life you will lose it. But if you are willing to lose your life, for the sake of following Christ, then you will truly find it.
That’s what disciples do. They take up their crosses. They die to themselves. And they follow Christ. And what they get for that is a life that is better and more fulfilling and more purposeful and more impactful than they could ever have imagined or come up with on their own.
God has done so many great things in and through our church. It has been exciting to see. But I believe that He wants to do so much more. I don’t think we have even scratched the surface of what God will do through Oak City Church for His glory if we will die to ourselves completely; if we will die more to our own dreams, our own goals and ambitions, our own sense of entitlement, our own selfishness, our own schedules, our own wisdom, our own sense that we belong to ourselves instead of to the God who has purchased us at the cost of His own life. And we will truly take up our crosses and follow Him. If we will say “yes” immediately to whatever His Spirit leads us to do. If we will think less of ourselves and more about Him.
We see in the gospel how God has shown us so much undeserved love and grace. It’s incredible. He wants to use us to share that love and grace and the good news of the gospel with others. This is mission that He sent us on before He ascended to heaven. How do you get yourself on that mission? It starts with daily “dying to yourself,” taking up your cross and following Him.
We no longer live but Christ lives in us.
He must increase and we must decrease.
Let 2015 be a year that our church looks back on and says, “We have given up so much for the sake of following Christ. And look at the incredible things He did. THIS is what life is really about. It was all worth it.”
BECAUSE IT WILL ALL BE WORTH IT.
One my greatest hopes for Oak City Church in 2015 is that we would die.