“TRANSFORMED LIVING - TRANSFORMED GIVING”

ROMANS 12:1-2

NOVEMBER 23, 2008

 

I want to begin with two questions this morning and I want you to think about them throughout this entire message.  Question number one: “How much does Jesus have of us?”  Question number two: “How much does Jesus want of us?”

Did you get those two questions?  “How much does Jesus have of us?” and “How much does Jesus want of us?”

Keep those questions in mind as we turn to our passage of Scripture for this morning.  As we do, note how the Apostle Paul begins.  He writes,

 

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God ...

 

When my children were teenagers, I asked them how they knew I meant business.  I asked them, “When I tell you to do something, how do you know you better pay close attention to what I am saying, so as to avoid serious repercussions?”  Their answer was revealing because I never knew this about myself, but I know it now.  They told me, “You get this serious look on your face.  Your eyes get real big, and your eyebrows go up like this and your voice gets low and soft.  Then, you begin by prefacing what you are going to say by telling us this is really important, and with big eyes, raised eyebrows, and a soft and low voice, you tell us what you want us to do.  That’s when we know we better listen and listen closely.”

The Apostle Paul does something similar here.  He doesn’t raise his eyebrows or lower his voice, but he does press his pen against the page as he writes these two verses.  He begins with the words, “I appeal to you by the mercies of God.”  He doesn’t say, “Oh, by the way this would be nice if you did this,” or “Golly, gee, if you did this it would really make me happy.”  No, he says, “I appeal to you.”  If we had his original manuscript before us, we could probably make out the difference in his handwriting.  He presses his pen hard against the page as he writes these words.  He feels passionate about what he is saying.

And well he should, because what concerns him is of prime importance.  In a sense he’s asking the same question I asked at the beginning of our message.  “How much does Jesus have of us?” and “How much does Jesus want of us?”  You see, the problem back in the city of Rome in 60 AD was the same problem we face today.  The world has more of us than does Jesus. 

He puts it this way,

 

Do not be conformed to the world...

 

That’s the problem.  Conformity to the world around us.  Think about it.  Three hundred advertisements bombard us every day.  Buy this.  Wear this.  Drive this.  Each day, three hundred reasons for discontent.  Each day, three hundred ways to be distracted.  Each day, three hundred messages about how to conform to the taste and values of society.  And every day, three hundred more.  And the effect of all this?   Well, it pains me to tell you.  Study after study indicates that, at best, only marginal differences can be found in the values and choices of Christians and non-Christians in our society.  You heard me right.  Only marginal differences in the values and choices of Christians and non-Christians.  Whether measuring issues related to money, career, marriage or family life, behavior seems to be roughly similar despite our claims of faith.  It seems for Christians and non-Christians alike the standard we use when deciding between detergent or doctrine is, “Does it work for me?”

How much does Jesus have of us?  How much does Jesus want of us?

Now I know it sounds incredible, but it really happened.  This is a true story.  A man walked into a doctor’s waiting room.  He had an appointment to see the doctor, but what he saw when he walked into the waiting room took him by surprise.  All the other patients in the waiting room were sitting in their underwear.  After a brief time of surveying the strange situation, the man slowly removed his outer garments, neatly placed them next to the other patients’ clothing, and then the took his seat wearing only his underwear.

And I know it sounds incredible, but this also really happened.  A man entered an elevator.  He seemed a little confused to see that all the other passengers are facing the back wall, even though there is no door at the back of the elevator – just a wall.  After a moment’s hesitation, the man does exactly what the others are doing: he faced the back wall.

These two incidents appeared on actual episodes of that old TV series Candid Camera.  The show was meant to produce laughs, which it did, but beyond the humor, was a devastating commentary on our willingness to conform. 

And the Apostle Paul appeal to us, presses his pen hard against the page and says to us, “Do not be conformed to the world.”

Of course, when it comes to the world it is important to ask, “What is the ‘world’ against which we are warned?”  The Greek word is kosmos.  It’s where we get the word, “cosmic” and “cosmopolitan.”  As Paul uses the word, it means “spirit of the times” more than it does any thing else.  As Christians we are not to conform to “the spirit of the times.”  What are the spirits of the times?  Well, let’s contrast the “spirit of the times” with the words of the founder of Methodism, John Wesley.  Remember when John Wesley said, “Make all you can, save all you can, and give all you can!”  Well, the spirit of our times says, “Make all you can, keep all you can, spend all you can.”   And we Christians have bought into that mindset.  The startling truth is that the average Christian gives about 1 percent of personal income to the work of Christ.  1 percent!  That translates to about 50 cents per day to the missionary work of spreading the Gospel over the globe.  50 cents.  That is less than a soft drink in most vending machines. 

How much does Jesus have of us?  How much does Jesus want of us?

Did you hear about the man who so loved the color yellow that he painted every room in his house yellow?  He also purchased yellow furniture, yellow pillows, yellow sheets, yellow clothes, yellow pajamas, yellow slippers and a yellow bed.  Unfortunately, he came down with yellow jaundice and died because the doctor was unable to find him.

Conformity to this world is a killer disease.  It kills our spirit, and the truth is, for many of us the world has more of us than does Jesus. 

Do not be conformed to this world.

Instead be transformed.  Instead of being pressed into the world’s mold, be transformed inwardly by Jesus Christ.  The word Paul uses here is metamorphosis.  This means not a change in the external scheme of things, but a change in the essential nature of the person, beginning on the inside and working it’s way out.  A key to understanding this is the transfiguration of Jesus.  The records indicate a change in the being of our Lord Jesus that began on the inside and worked its way to the outside – a shining, luminous transformation that permitted the essential deity of the Christ to shine forth from the humanity of a Galilean carpenter. 

Let me see if I can highlight the difference between “conformity” and “transformation.”  To be conformed is to be like a chameleon.  The word “conformity” means “to assume an outward expression that does not come from within.”  That’s what a chameleon does.  A chameleon changes its color to match the background.  Place the chameleon on green and it turns green.  Place the chameleon on brown and it turns brown.  Transformation on the other hand comes from within, and it’s a radical change.  When a grub becomes a butterfly, there has been a metamorphosis, a radical transformation.  When a tadpole becomes a frog, there has been a metamorphosis, a radical change.

Again the question.  How much does Jesus have of us?  How much does Jesus want of us?

Do you remember that old recruiting poster?  It had a picture of Uncle Sam, pointing his finger at us and saying, “Uncle Sam wants you!”  Well, that’s how much Jesus wants of us.  He wants all of us.  And what’s the sign that Jesus has us?  Well, we become living sacrifices.  A sign that we have been transformed is we give ourselves sacrificially to the cause of Christ.  In fact, I don’t’ know much but this I know.  It takes a crucified church to take a crucified Christ before the eyes of the world.  Let me say that again.  It takes a crucified church to take a crucified Christ before the eyes of the world.

Listen to these words from Dr. Martin Luther King. He said,


I choose to identify with the underprivileged.  I choose to identify with the poor.  I choose to give my life for the hungry.  I choose to give my life for those who have been left out of the sunlight of opportunity ... This is the way I’m going.  If it means suffering a little bit, I’m going that way.  If it means sacrificing, I’m going that way.  If it means dying for them, I’m going that way because I heard a voice saying, “do something for others.”

 

How much does Jesus have of us?  How much does Jesus want of us?

Listen to the words of the Apostle Paul once again:

 

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

 

We are to present ourselves as a living sacrifice to God -- our time, our talents, our treasures -- but you know the problem with a living sacrifice don’t you?  The problem with a living sacrifice is it keeps crawling off the altar!  That’s because we never sacrifice something easily.  The whole idea of sacrifice is yielding something that is important to us.  And when the world dictates what is important to us instead of Jesus dictating what is important to us, it’s really easy to slip off the altar.  In fact, when the world becomes more important to us than Jesus, we avoid the altar altogether.  In fact, I’ve noticed something in my 33 years of being an ordained Minister of the Word and Sacrament.  I’ve noticed that the people who like stewardship sermons are the ones who give generously and sacrificially.  People who hate stewardship messages don’t like them because they bring them too close to the altar and they are very uncomfortable there. 

How much does Jesus have of us?  How much does Jesus want of us? 

I want to close with some words from an eccentric.  Listen to him,

 

A man called me an “eccentric” today.  People have called me all sorts of things over the years, but this is the first time I’ve been called eccentric.  I reached for the dictionary to check the definition.  All I could think of was the man who stipulated in his will that he be buried in his gold plated Cadillac with a ten dollar cigar in his hand.  Now that man was eccentric!  Then I read the definition: “An eccentric person deviates from the norm.  An eccentric person operates away from the center.”  I wasn’t sure if my friend had complimented me or insulted me.  I did a lot of serious thinking.  I wasn’t sure that I wanted the label of eccentric.  But the more I thought about it the more I liked it.  If the center, or the norm, is where the majority of people in my world are living, then I am perfectly satisfied with the label.  The truth is that I don’t have to be like everyone else.  I can be different.  The words of my mother linger in my memory.  “Don’t say everyone else is doing it,” she would tell me.  “Stand tall – above the crowd.  Speak out.  Do what you know is right rather than trying to be like everyone else.”

 

In a couple of weeks, on December 7, we all have a chance to stand out from the crowd.  We all have a chance to climb back on the altar.  How much does Jesus have of us?  How much does Jesus want of us?