A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on August 14, 2011.
O God, our Lord, we know that you have ordained every nation of the world. We know that no government reigns without your permission. We thank you today for our nation. We thank you for the vision of great leaders like Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and others. We thank you for the sacrificial leadership of individuals like Lincoln. Bless the memories of all who saw a nobler opportunity than had existed before. Bless the memories of their genius that followed your inspiration to create the foundation of liberties that we enjoy today. We ask for your spirit to bring a new era of the same kind of inspiration to our country. Bring a new era of leaders who love country and who rise above partisan politics. Raise up those who would genuinely put country first and lay aside hostile words that we might create a new foundation for the good of all. We pray that our nation would rise to find ways to provide security and promises of hope for each citizen. Most of all we pray that you would create within the peoples of this nation new virtue. May we be the people who are not swayed by negativity or malice or the use of fear. We ask that you would give to us the ability that our ultimate confidence would always be in your kingdom alone so that we might see through false promises and withstand the temptation to selfish ends. Lord, give us the kind of nation we want by making us the kind of people that this nation needs. Use us today. Use us to restore civility. Use us to demonstrate respect and decency. Use us today to work for the common good and for the family of all. Give us courage and persistence to do these things and to expect them from one another. We ask it all in the name of Jesus Christ who is both King of Kings and Lord of Lords, he whose kingdom knows no end, and before whom every knee shall bow. Amen.
If you don’t love somebody, it gets annoying when they tell you what to do or what to feel. When you love them, you get pleasure from their pleasure, and it makes it easy to serve. I didn’t love God because I didn’t know God.
—Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz
There are several things that could be said about the age in which we live, but what I would offer today is that we live in a relationally challenged day. Somehow, we have lost the knowledge, have forgotten the memory, or failed to practice the things that make good and lasting relationships.
In the winter, we will have an extended series on relationships that includes family. In doing research for that series, I came across a couple of things that are required to make lasting, good relationships in the family. I want to assure you that this is really simple. It is so simple it is frightening. One researcher said that the best way to insure lasting relationships in a family where there are children is to eat meals together. Wow! Who would have thought of that! That is really out there, isn’t it? The researcher did not prescribe a number of meals but just said that we need to sit down and have table time together. This kind of interaction helps provide relationships that last and bond families together.
For couples, this one is really hard, too. The one thing researchers found that made a lasting, good relationship was some show of affection every day. It said it did not matter whether it was a simple statement like, I love you. Have a nice day. It did not matter if it was a pat on the shoulder, See you later. It did not matter if it was a two-minute passionate embrace and kiss, I love you more than anybody else and I cannot wait to see you again. It is as simple as two seconds. A display of affection every day makes for a long and lasting relationship. It is an action that correlates better than any others that they have found. Wow!
We all know statistics, anecdotes, neighbors, somebody where we see the bad relationships acted out. Families are frustrated, and it just seems as if we are relationally challenged. Of course, this is not just in families. Nearly everywhere we turn, we see people who just somehow don’t seem to be able to connect. You go to a conference in order to be able to network with people in your profession, and everybody is out in the hall texting. You think, Who are they talking to? They are not talking to anybody here.
It used to be that you had to see somebody to talk to them. Then, we got the telephone where you had to at least here somebody’s voice, but now we have e-mails and texts where it is essential anonymous communication where you never have to engage personally and people say the most incredible things to each other in e-mail, things they would never say personally. Have you ever gotten an e-mail like that? We think, I wish the person had picked up the phone and called me instead of saying this to me in words.
This sermon was planned long before recent events in Washington, but all you have to do is look at Washington, D.C. to know a little about relationally challenged people. I will offer very little recap, but just a little observation. If children who live with us talked to each other the way politicians in Washington talk to each other, we would punish our children. If we talked to our neighbors—the people who live next door to us—the way people in Washington, D.C. relate to each other, somebody on the other side of us would have called the police for domestic disturbance. If we are married and related to our spouses this way, we would have very little hope that something lasting would happen. I think the sad truth is that Washington is both an example of the way things are and it is leadership that influences subtly to believing this is the way you resolve issues. As a nation, we are relationally challenged and we have forgotten the basic principles of our relationships. We have forgotten that we need things like civility and respect. All of this trickles down into PTA meetings and all different kinds of organizations where people belittle each other. We just wonder, How did we get here? We have forgotten how to relate to each other. We have forgotten the principles of what makes for a good relationship.
As Baptists, we are a part of the spectrum of Christianity that we would describe as evangelical Christianity. Probably the one characteristic of evangelical Christianity that is more prominent than any other is we believe in order to be a Christian, it requires a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. As evangelical Christians, we would say to one another, Do you know Jesus? Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? It is not a matter of checking off doctrine. It is not a matter of believing mentally certain dogma, but it is actually knowing a living Lord, Jesus Christ, that God has raised from the dead that we believe we can pray to and communicate with. God leads us to understand what the purpose for our lives is. We know Jesus. I believe that in a relationally challenged world there are times where that has an impact on our relationship with Christ. There are principles about our relationship with Christ that we have forgotten or have failed to live up to. Somehow the memories of these things have faded in our minds. Our relationship with Christ sometimes suffers because we forget the basics of the relationship.
On the basis of the passage of scripture from Mark 5, there are a few things that we can remember about a relationship with Christ that are true and that we must always hold before us. The first thing is this: It always begins with our need.
In Mark 5, we have this wild and wooly character. We find out that his name is Legion. He is a very distressed individual who lives among the caves. The Bible says he is demon possessed.
In a sermon, every time I approach a passage from scripture where it talks about demons, I am always afraid what people will think, but I have discovered across the years that people understand demons a lot better than I think they do. We understand that there are powers that affect our lives, things which we feel like we have no control over. They are not for us; they are against us.
Legion comes out of the tombs. He comes out of his own need. His need is this particular thing. Last week, the passage was about the Roman centurion. His need was for someone to have faith in, someone to believe in. The needs are different but it always begins with our need. Our relationship with God begins with our need for God to do something for us that we cannot do for ourselves.
Legion comes out and acts as if Jesus is the enemy which a lot of us often do. “What are we to do with each other, Jesus? I beg you, leave me alone.” That is what we would like Jesus to do—leave us alone. He comes out of his own need.
Legion has been bound before and nothing could bind him. It is just a sad, sad situation. Jesus comes to him in his need and saves him. We throw the word saved out like a slogan, but the word has a wide variety of meanings. It can mean to make whole. It can mean to make complete. It can mean to heal. It can mean to rescue as if someone were lost in the wilderness and they were saved. I was wandering around for weeks. I didn’t think anybody would ever find me and then they saved me. The basis of our relationship with Jesus always begin with our need. It could be as dire as this man from the Gerasenes area. It could be as simple as our own self-absorption that distracts us from the best relationships in life and selfishness that keeps us away from God and Jesus comes to us and does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
We cannot forgive ourselves. Sometimes we cannot rid ourselves of the addictions or the afflictions, but Jesus comes to us and does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Too many times we try to turn this around and act as if we have done something great for God and now it is God’s turn to do something good for us. That is not the way it is. We come in our need, and in his great love, Jesus does for us. When this takes place, Jesus always calls us to be a part of other believers.
The neighbors are pretty amazed by this. The pigs are destroyed and actually it is a way that Jesus can demonstrate to the people what the intention of evil was for the man. This is what the intention was for him. They run off because they are afraid. When they come back, Legion is clothed and in his right mind. He is there gathered with Jesus and the disciples.
There is no Wal-Mart or Kresge’s. There is no place to buy clothes out there. Wouldn’t it be something like Jesus saying to Andrew, “Andrew, you have been carrying that extra pair of sandals around. Give those to him.”
“James, you have been carrying that extra robe around. You have heard me say that those who have two should give to those who have none. Give him that robe so he has something to wear.”
“Peter, didn’t you have some soap in that pack you have been carrying on your back? Help this man clean up.”
By the time the people get back, the community of faith has helped provide all the things that the man needed. When Jesus does for us what we can’t do for ourselves, he calls us into a community of faith. Which of us has the resources to provide all the faith and all the things of faith that we need to exist? None of us. We are all called to be a part of something together.
Then, finally, the translation I have says, “The man wanted to be with Jesus.” Many times when we come to a relationship with Christ, we think, This is great. I just want to sit here and enjoy this forever. This feels so good. I feel so wonderful. I just don’t ever want to leave this sanctuary. I don’t want to ever leave this retreat setting. I always want to stay right here and enjoy the feeling that I have today. But Jesus gives him a commission to go. “There is work for you to do.” It is not simply a matter of getting right with God and enjoying it yourself, but we are each given tasks to do. We are each given a part of the mission in the kingdom of God. “Go back to your family. Go back and tell them what God has done for you. Go and participate. Go and feed. Go and clothe. Go and do something that spreads God’s love back to others.”
These are the foundations of a relationship with Jesus Christ. If we start with the assumption that we are a pretty good person and that we don’t need saving but just need cleaning up a little bit, we all have sin in our hearts. We all come with a need. How many times have we tried to change certain things about ourselves that we know are wrong and destructive? But God reaches into our lives and does it for us and everything is made right. It starts with our need and moves to God doing what we cannot do for ourselves. Then it comes to that place where we gather with other Christians to share the gifts that other people have so that we might be made complete. When we do something out of response to the love that Jesus Christ has put in our hearts, this is when it is full and right.
We often wonder why faith has no more power or why the church is not stronger or more influential in the world. So many times, it is because we are relationally challenged. We have forgotten the basics of what it means to know Jesus Christ in his fullness and completeness and to know and serve him.
There are so many simple things we could do that would change relationships for the better with people around us. In our relationship with Christ, we need to remember the right sequence and to follow it all the way out. These are the basic principles of what it means to know Jesus Christ in his fullness and to be at one with him now and always.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.