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The Living Church

28 April 2022

The Living Church

 

Readings

OT: Genesis 1:11-12 and verses 20-31

NT: John 15:1-17

 

Sermon Notes

Have you ever had a ‘Mountain Top’ revelation from God?  This is where there’s a message that you feel is given to you either for your personal benefit or to share or both.

 

God has never spoken to me in an audible voice, but I believe He has inspired me time and time again – bringing His Word or a message to ‘life’ with an authority and conviction that demands attention and a response.

 

One message that has stayed with me for years is how relevant the seven characteristics of a Living Organism are to helping each one of us experience a Life to the Full – just as Jesus promised.  And what works for us as the Branches also works for the whole Vine; what works for us as individual Christians works for us as a Church.

 

Let me take you back to the days of studying Biology for ‘O’ level.

 

I was taught how to remember the seven characteristics of any living organism through this saying, “Many Naughty Rabbits Eat Green Radish Shoots!”

 

Hidden behind this phrase is the secret to all Life on Earth.  It is a recipe where every ingredient must be present for Life to exist.  This means that when God said, “Life be!” all these seven aspects were wrapped up in His Creative Word.

 

Let’s explore them together one-by-one.

 

Many = Movement

The magnificent seven begin with ‘Many’ which stands for ‘Movement’.

Those of us who have ever had our movement restricted through back pain or arthritis or any other block to full mobility, have experienced at the deepest level how important movement is.

 

Pam Ayres may have famously said, “Oh, I wish I’d looked after me teef,” but I think, “I wish I’d looked after me knees,” is equally important.

 

All living organisms are on the move.  Even daisies fold up their flowers at night.  To enjoy Life to the Full, we must be moving towards something or away from something.

 

  • What do you want more of in your life?
  • What do we want more of in our church?
  • What should we be moving towards?

 

  • What do you want less of in your life?
  • What do we want less of in our church?
  • What should we be moving away from?

 

Paul expresses this well in Philippians 3:13-14

Brothers, I don’t regard myself as yet having taken hold, but one thing I do: forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

 

Individually, and as a church, we need to be known for what we are pressing on toward.

This is something that would be great to discuss and explore in our home groups, and over coffee at 112, and at Church Meetings.

 

Naughty = Nutrition

The health of any organism comes down to the quality and quantity of its food.  I have a small-scale hydroponics experiment going on.  The system tells me when the plants need more food.  When we feel weak in our walk with God – we need more Divine Sustenance.

 

As you can see in the Vestibule, Ann has done a far better job of feeding my Peace Lilies than I had.  God, too, watches over us and knows what we need.

 

Our nutrition gives us energy.  What is the best food for the Christian and for the Church?  Top of the list must be His Word.  He sustains all Life by the power of His Word (see Hebrews 1:3)

 

How’s your quantity of intake when it comes to the Word?  Are you getting your three square spiritual meals a day?  Is it time for more Word?  We have daily readings, Bible Study, Home Groups, and the Services all dishing up delicious insights into the heart of God.

 

Some would add prayer, worship, and fellowship to the list of sources that energise them.

 

Of course, there’s such a thing as junk food.  Junk food brings its own energy rush and temporary satisfaction.  My favourite is a combination of gossip with a side order of Netflix.  Talking about other people behind their backs is delicious, but fattening.  It’s also sin – bad for us.  Let’s feed on the good stuff instead.

 

Our thoughts also feed us.  Paul said,

“Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honourable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report: if there is any virtue and if there is any praise, think about these things.”

Philippians 4:8

 

Rabbits = Reproduction

One form of reproduction the Church must be known for is making disciples.  As Jesus’ last words declare before the Ascension:

 

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

Matthew 28:19-20

 

Teaching is a wonderful way to reproduce excellence.  Each one of us has skills to teach one another.  Those of us who love knitting or sewing had to learn those skills from someone else.  Paul’s next verse in Philippians 4 says this,

“The things which you learned, received, heard, and saw in me: do these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

 

What is the best in you that you could disciple in someone else?  ‘Disciple’ means “one who engages in learning through instruction from another.”  It is the root of the word Maths – and no one learns mathematics without some help!

 

The Christian Life is both simple and complex – and we all need someone further along the path in certain disciplines to help reproduce their level of excellence in us.  They don’t have to be perfect, just further along the path.

 

Eat = Excretion

If there’s one major lesson Christians need to learn how to deal with in this age, it is how to deal with waste.  Life is complex and it is also unpleasantly messy at times.  We all go through disappointments, setbacks, trials and tribulations.

 

This means we need a process to deal with the difficult times, events, and relationships in life.  We also need to revise our expectations of what God has genuinely promised.  Often evangelism focuses on a promise of a better life in Jesus.  This is true, but ‘better’ is not the same as ‘easier’.  To the contrary, Jesus promises trouble and tribulation.

 

Have you ever wondered why Jesus’ teaching so often features the commands to forgive and to ‘not judge’?  Forgiveness keeps us alive by dealing with the toxic unforgiveness that can poison our joy.

 

Need more?  Repentance is the most powerful way to stay clean with God.  This is why we pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”  Repent and forgive; forgive and repent.

 

Green = Growth

When we are enjoying Life to the Full, we are growing, expanding, maturing.  What does ‘Christian Growth’ mean?  What does ‘Church Growth’ mean?

 

Perhaps Church Growth is easier – especially when we can gather evidence like the number in attendance, or our level of giving.

 

How have you grown as a Christian over the last year?  Are you more knowledgeable?  Are you more tolerant?  We know the fruit – the evidence:

  • Are you more loving?
  • Are you more joyous?
  • Are you enjoying deeper peace?
  • Are you more patient?
  • Are you becoming kinder?
  • Have you been a ‘good’ Christian so that those outside see your good works and praise your Father Who is in Heaven?
  • Are you faithful and full of faith?
  • Are you becoming more gentle?
  • And how is your self-control?!

 

If, like me, some of these feel uncomfortable, we have to ask ourselves, “What stops growth in this area?”  And, more powerfully, who could help me break through to a higher level of growth?  Is there someone in the church who you admire, who could disciple you?  We become like the people we spend most time with.  This is the secret power of fellowship.

 

Radish = Respiration

I think some of us here are in danger of expiring because we haven’t learned to give and take.  This is the heart of ‘respiration’ – the breathing in and the breathing out.  When we give out too much without replenishing, we burn out.  The signs of burnout are easy to recognise – and here they are summarised from an excellent article by Carey Nieuwhof

  • The passion and motivation has gone or is faded
  • You feel ‘numb’ as your dominant emotion
  • Few people energise you
  • You explode over nothing
  • You are becoming more and more cynical
  • Your productivity has dropped
  • You are self-medicating – through over-working, over-eating, over-drinking, over-spending
  • You don’t laugh anymore
  • Relaxation no longer refuels you

If any or all of these sound like you, it’s time to breathe in – it’s time to seek and accept help.  Let’s talk.

Churches can expire too.  It’s possible to give, give, give and not receive enough to replenish our resources.  The healthy way is give and take.  Breathe in; breathe out.

 

Shoots = Sensitivity

Our seventh sign is sensitivity.  When we are truly alive, we are tuned in.  We listen.  We sense what’s going on.  We know stuff.  We are aware of how we feel.  We are aware of others.  We are sensitive to others.

 

As a Church, we need to be sensitive to our context – our community, our town, and to one another.

 

As individuals, we need to be sensitive to ourselves and to those we fellowship with.  The signs we shared on how to spot burnout build up because we swop self-medication for self-care.  And this happens because we’ve lost sensitivity to how we really are.

 

Let’s listen to our hearts, let’s listen to one another, let’s listen to our community, and let’s listen to the Holy Spirit.

 

Towards a Life to the Full and towards a Living Church

I want you to live more of a Life to the Full.

I want to live more of a Life to the Full.

 

In this message, we have a map to this destination.

  1. Take steps to move towards more of what we want for ourselves and the fellowship
  2. Feed better!  More Word!  Less junk!
  3. Identify our gifts and teach others so that we can reproduce excellence in the church.
  4. Repent, forgive, and let God transform our stumbling blocks into steppingstones, and our setbacks into springboards.
  5. Pursue our calling to grow in Christ.
  6. Learn to receive as well as to give – resisting the perils of burnout.
  7. Listen so we may be sensitive to ourselves, others, and the Spirit.
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