This is Rev. Graham Crawford’s Sermon for 14 June 2015:
Have you ever wondered why you are still here?
After all, Jesus said that our lives would be full of trials and temptations; that people would curse us for our faith and persecute us for believing in his name.
So why are we still here?
Would it not make sense, once we have committed our lives to Christ, for God to just lift us to heaven so that we could enjoy him forever and be away from all that would do us harm?
There are some who say that we remain in order to be witnesses: in order to draw others to Christ. But, I would imagine that, if I was to ask for a show of hands here this morning of the people who have actually led someone to Christ, very few hands would be raised. None of us, sincere and faithful Christians though we might be, are Billy Grahams or Luis Palaus! We might know a few people who we have influenced along the way but certainly there has been no revival here in the last 12 years.
So why are we here? Is it simply because God wants us to make this world a better place by our presence?
Growing into the likeness of Christ
The New Testament is quite clear as to the reason we are here and yet, until relatively recently in my spiritual journey, I had never realised this. It was only about 15 years ago that I was awakened to the number of times the New Testament refers to
- growing into the likeness of Christ,
- developing Christ-like convictions,
- developing Christ-like character,
- developing Christ-like conduct.
In other words: thinking, feeling and acting like Jesus.
This is what Jesus himself was talking about in Mark 4: 26 – 34 where we hear:
The parable of the growing seed
26 He also said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces corn – first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.29 As soon as the corn is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.’
The parable of the mustard seed
30 Again he said, ‘What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.’
33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
Spiritual growth as a continual process
This parable about the Kingdom of God reveals that spiritual growth is a continual process. We can compare our spiritual growth to the slow, certain growth of a plant. While we may feel alone, we are part of a great worldwide movement and, in cooperation with others, we can accomplish great things. Jesus goes on to explain that even although Christianity had very small beginnings, it would grow into a worldwide community of believers. This is important for all of us to remember: that when we feel alone in our stand for Christ and his kingdom, we need to remember that Christ is building his kingdom all over the world. The church is growing rapidly in Africa and Asia. As a result of the decisions made by mainline denominations in America there are new groups: bible-believing, evangelical groups which have started and are growing in leaps and bounds.
Jesus Christ has faithful followers all over the world and your faith and my faith – no matter how small – can join with that of others to accomplish great things.
After all as the psalmist wrote (Psalm 20)
May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
2 May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
3 May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.
4 May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
5 May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.
May the Lord grant all your requests.
6 Now this I know:
the Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
8 They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
9 Lord, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!
Only God’s power will last for ever
King David knew what we all should know. Empires and nations, Kings and Queens, rise and fall but God will reign for ever. His power will never fail and it is the greatest weapon of all. David is encouraging all of us to put our trust in that power, the power of God, knowing that other things, even political correctness, are transitory. This psalm is such a great encouragement for us in our spiritual growth.
Ezekiel confirms this in chapter 17 where he wrote:-
22 ‘“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. 24 All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.
‘“I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.”’
I know so many people who despair at this time. They despair at the direction the church is taking They despair at the callousness and selfishness of those in positions of power. They feel like crying to God along with the psalmist: “How long O God, how long?”
And yet the Bible is clear: we are not to know the timing of things. We are to focus on our own faithfulness – our own spiritual growth – knowing that these other things are but temporary and that God and his kingdom will last for ever.
He will make the dry tree flourish. He will make the church, his church, the body of Christ, a powerful voice for his kingdom.
But, for now, what do we do? What do you do after leaving this building? What do you do in the week to come, the month to come, the year to come?
Listen to what is written in 1st Samuel:-
But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’
This was when God was looking for a successor to King Saul and he had Samuel go to Bethlehem and spend time with Jesse. When Samuel saw Eliab, the oldest of Jesse’s sons he was like most of us. He saw this tall, strong handsome lad and thought: “Now here is a regal-looking chap! Here is someone who looks the part of a king.”
Men judge by outward appearance; God looks at the heart
But God says to Samuel that men look at the outward appearance, but he looks at the heart.
Society has not yet grasped this great truth. Walk into any supermarket and see the beauty products for sale, go into WH Smith and see the fashion magazines for both men and women. Walk along: Princes Street in Edinburgh; Buchanan Street in Glasgow; Oxford Street, London; 5th Avenue, New York; or Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles. We spend an inordinate amount of time and money on our outward appearance. I’ve heard of people taking time off work in order to get their hair, make-up and clothing just right because they had a big date or a party to go to.
Yet how much time, how much effort, how much money do they spend to get their heart right?
Getting the heart right
If the most important thing we do in life is to grow into the likeness of Christ, isn’t time spent in Bible study, in discipleship, in spiritual growth, one of the most important things that we can set our heart to? Many of us would not think twice about spending money on a fashion accessory or cosmetics, both men and women. But how many of us have an encyclopaedia of the Bible in our house, a Bible dictionary, a concordance or a set of Bible commentaries? Do you spend as much money getting your heart right as your fashion? Do you spend as much time getting your heart right to go out at night as you do shining your shoes or doing your hair? Where are our priorities?
God judges by faith and character. Most people spend hours each week trying to look nice on the outside. They should do more to develop their character. Only you and God know what your heart is like. What steps are you taking to improve what your heart looks like? What steps are you taking to grow into the likeness of Christ? Going to church on a Sunday is like walking through the perfumery department of a major store, or the Duty Free at the airport. You might get a wee squirt of this perfume or that cologne, but it really does little to improve your overall appearance or your sanitation if you haven’t bathed recently. So going to church may help you smell a wee bit sweeter to God. You might leave here feeling a little encouraged, a little more emboldened to take on the injustice in society. You may leave here with more charitable thoughts, but it will not last. They will soon become overwhelmed by the world.
It may be a careless driver on your way home who cuts you off and you blast your horn angrily at them. It may be a thoughtless word from your spouse or your children that makes you lose your temper. It may be a temptation you face during the week which you find yourself struggling to resist because you have just not got the inner will, the inner strength, the inner faith and trust to say “Get behind me, Satan”.
There is not one of us who does not need to work on our faith and character. There is not one of us that can say that, if they were side by side with Christ, we could tell them apart. We all have a distance to go. We all have progress to be made.
Water the seed of your faith, feed it, help it to grow. Spend a little time, a little money and buy the resources you need to help your heart become like Jesus Christ. I am starting a class next Sunday, at 9.30am in the Session Room to help you do just this. I am going to give you the tools so that, if I was run down by a bus the next day, you would still be able to grow spiritually, to develop Christ-like convictions, character and conduct.
God is looking at your heart right now. What does he see?