I heard a funny tale about a husband and wife: After being married for 25 years and intending to make their silver anniversary a memorable one, the wife asked her husband to describe her.
Well, he looked at her and said, “You’re A,B, C,D, E,F,G,H, … and I,J,K.”
The wife was puzzled and so she asked, “Now, what the heck does that mean?”
He said, “Adorable, Beautiful, Cute, Delightful, Elegant, Foxy, Gorgeous and Hot!”
The wife smiled: She beamed at him and said, “Oh, You’re such a sweetie, but what about I,J,K, what does that stand for?”
He looked back at her and said, “I’m Just Kidding!”
We only get one life, although we might wish for more than one. D. H. Lawrence said, ‘If only one could have two lives. The first in which to makes one’s mistakes and the second in which to profit by them.’ But life is not a dress rehearsal… or as someone else once put it: Life is not a stress rehearsal! One writer said: “Adult life is not a practice session. Practice time was while we were growing up. Practice time was while we were in school. We are now full participants in the game of life.” So how can we make the most of the rest of our life? Would you please turn with me to Romans 12v1-2; Paul writes: ‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.’ So…
1. What Should We Do?
We are to be different. We are to break with the past. We are no longer to conform to the ways of this world. Instead we are to be transformed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the renewing of our minds, so that we continue to think and act differently; in a way that is holy and pleasing to God.
Everyday a man called Bill brought his packed lunch along to the building site where he was working. And every day at lunchtime he would open his lunch box and say, “Oh no! Not cheese sandwiches again!” Well, after several weeks of listening to this same daily routine, one of his workmates finally said, “Look, Bill, if you are fed up with cheese why don’t you ask your wife to put something different in your sandwiches?” Bill shrugged and said, “I don’t have a wife. I’m single!” His workmate looked puzzled and asked, “Well, who makes your sandwiches then?” To this Bill simply replied, “I make them!” – And the moral behind this little tale is this: If you keep on keep on doing what you have always done you’ll keep on getting the same results! We are to break with the past. We now need to think and act differently.
Do you ever drive differently when you see a police car behind you? Why? It’s not because your heart is changed; it’s not because you see the police car and think, Oh, I really want to be a good driver. You drive differently because you are fearful and you don’t want to get a ticket. You don’t want to see that blue flashing light in your rearview mirror. Citation God doesn’t want our forced compliance to a godly way of life because we are fearful of the consequences. He wants us to choose to be different. He wants our willing submission out of our love and gratitude to him for all he has done for us.
It’s very hard to be different. I heard the story of a young police officer who was taking his final exam at Hendon Police College in North London. Here is one of the questions (read slowly):
You are on a patrol in outer London when an explosion occurs in a gas main in a nearby street. On investigation you find that a large hole has been blown in the footpath and there is an overturned van lying nearby. Inside the van there is a strong smell of alcohol. Both occupants – a man and a woman – are injured. You recognise the woman as the wife of your Divisional Inspector, who is at present away in the USA. A passing motorist stops to offer assistance and you realise that he is a man who is wanted for armed robbery. Suddenly a man runs out of a nearby house, shouting that his wife is expecting a baby and that the shock of the explosion has made the birth imminent. Another man is crying for help, having been blown into an adjacent canal by the explosion, and he cannot swim … Bearing in mind the provisions of the Mental Health Act, describe in a few words what actions you would take.
The police officer thought for a moment, picked up his pen, and wrote: ‘I would take off my uniform and mingle with the crowd!’ – We can sympathise with his answer. As a Christian, it is often easier to take off our Christian uniform and ‘mingle with the crowd’. But we are called to remain distinctive, to retain our Christian identity, wherever we are and whatever the circumstances. Citation
We are called to be different… not odd or weird, but different to the world’s standards. Let me take three examples where we are called to be different:
First: ‘It means that we should no longer indulge in gossip or character assassination behind people’s backs.’ The definition of a gossip is someone with a good sense of rumour! Even the very word ‘gossip’ hisses when you say it. – We mustn’t listen to gossip either. Remember, whoever gossips to you will probably also gossip about you.
One preacher once took a tube of toothpaste and squeezed all of it out into a small glass. He then asked his volunteer – a young boy – to try and put all the toothpaste back in the tube again. ‘Impossible! You can’t do it; there’s no way it will go back in the tube.’ ‘Likewise’, said the preacher, ‘when you gossip or break a confidence, or defame someone’s character: it’s impossible to take things back again. It’s like the toothpaste: once you have spilled it out you can’t put it back in the tube again!’
God calls us to be different: we are not to gossip and pull people down behind their backs.
Second: It means we do not need to spend our time moaning grumbling and complaining (if that is what we were like before). Instead, we should consider how fortunate we are, and how very blessed we are that God should choose us as His friends. We should be grateful and give thanks continuously. The more we give God thanks, the more we realise how much we have to give God thanks for. Remember how the old hymn goes: Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done. Rather than gossiping or being backbiters, we should be encouragers, constantly looking to build others up out of love for them. Rather than grumbling and complaining, we should be full of thankfulness and joy.
Third: Being different means that we are free not to conform to the world’s standards of sexual morality. ‘It means rather than indulging in sexual immorality [as the world does] we should be demonstrating the blessing of keeping God’s standards.’ – A useful biblical definition of sexual immorality is any sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage, including both what we do with our minds and with our bodies. Think about it, immodest clothing, sexually explicit movies and pornography are all designed to create lust. We are to use our freedom in Christ not to indulge in such things, but to flee from them.
‘Everything God made is good – including our sexual organs which He designed for our enjoyment. [Sexual intercourse is God-given. You know, God didn’t look down from heaven and say, ‘Oh my goodness, whatever will they think of next!’] The sexual urge is God-given and, like fire in the fireplace, is a great blessing when it’s enjoyed in the right context.’ Citation But…
There is no such thing as ‘casual sex’. Every act of sexual intercourse effects a ‘one flesh’ union (1Corinthians 6:13-20). When this union is broken people get hurt. If you glue two pieces of corrugated cardboard together and then pull them apart, you can hear the sound of ripping and see that bits of each piece of card are left behind on the other. Similarly, becoming one flesh and then being torn apart leaves scars. We leave broken bits of ourselves in broken relationships. All around us we see what happens when God’s standards are ignored. We see broken marriages, broken hearts, hurt children, sexual disease and those whose lives are in a mess. On the other hand, in so many Christian marriages where God’s standards are kept, we see the blessing that God intended to bestow on the whole area of sex and marriage. Citation
Picture a triangle with God at the top and a husband and wife at either side. The closer the husband and wife get to God the closer they get together.
We don’t live in a Christian society (anymore). We live in a secular society. But we are not supposed to simply mingle with the crowd; we are now called to stand out from the crowd. We are ‘anointed,’ believers, followers of Christ. We are to allow the Holy Spirit to transform our thinking and be different… There is massive pressure to conform to the ways of this world, but we are to transform not conform; we are to change our ways and be different; we are called to stand out from the crowd.
Two caterpillars sitting on a leaf saw a butterfly passing by. One turned to the other and said, ‘Huh, you won’t catch me up there in one of those things!’ Such is our fear of leaving behind what we know.
We are not to conform any longer to the ways of the world, but we’re to transform our thinking and be different. We are to break with the past and make a new start. How? Would you please turn with me to Romans 12v9-16: In the opening verses of Romans 12, Paul has been talking about us living for God; about our being living sacrifices (12:1); allowing God to transform us into the person He would have us be (12:2); and about us using the various spiritual gifts that God has blessed us with to serve others (12:6-8). Now, in verses 9-16 he gets down to the nitty-gritty of how we are to do just that. This whole section is entirely positive. It reads like God’s manifesto for human society. There are just eight verses so let’s check them out a verse at a time…
(SLIDE): 9 ‘Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.’ – The word for ‘sincere’ here means ‘un-hypocritical’ – we are to be true to our heart. When it comes to sincere love it’s not about pretending to get on with each other. We are not to be polite, helpful and apparently warm to someone on the surface, whilst disliking them on the inside; saying nice things while thinking nasty things. We are to be sincere. We are to hate falsehood and what is evil, and cling to what is good. ‘This poses a problem for many people today. ‘If I really don’t like someone’, they say, ‘how can I love them? And if I am commanded to love them, and try to act as if I do, doesn’t that make me a hypocrite?’ Part, at least, of the answer to that, is that for Paul, ‘love’ is more about what people do than how they feel. ’
Mother Teresa said, “A day lived without doing something good for others is a day not worth living.” Loving people must be a way of life, a fixed attitude, a commitment we make every day. Citation
God wants you to learn to love and serve others unselfishly. The old comparison between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea is a good one. Galilee is a lake full of life because it takes in water but also gives it out. In contrast, nothing lives in the Dead Sea because, with no outflow, the lake has stagnated. Serving is the opposite of our natural inclination. Most of the time we’re more interested in “serve us” than service. But as we mature in the Christian faith, the focus of our lives should increasingly shift to living a life of service. The mature follower of Jesus stops asking, “Who’s going to meet my needs?” and starts asking, “Whose needs can I meet?” Citation
(SLIDE): That leads us nicely to verse: 10’Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves.’ – What does that look like in a local church context? It means sharing and showing hospitality, friendship, encouragement, pastoral care, prayer support, looking out for each other’s needs, honouring one another, showing active good will, brother/sisterly love, kindness and charity.
Steve Sjogren wrote a book called Conspiracy of Kindness. He started a church in Cincinnati, Ohio, that has grown rapidly to an average attendance of 7,500 in just fifteen years. Their motto is, ‘Small things done with great love are changing the world’. They carry out random acts of kindness like paying for a stranger’s coffee, or writing a ‘thank you’ note to a shop assistant. They have discovered the power and impact of ‘showing God’s love in practical ways’. (…) People from outside were attracted because of what they saw happening on the inside. They were attracted by the sheer undiluted power of God released through ‘acts of kindness’. Citation
(SLIDE): 11’Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord.’ – Behind these words it’s like Paul is saying, ‘Brother/Sister are you pulling your weight; are you doing your bit?’ Of course, we can’t do everything but, friends, we must not do nothing! We should never be lacking in zeal to serve one another, and to grow in fellowship. If every Sunday every one of us came to church and looked to serve and demonstrate love to just one other person, can you image how wonderful and attractive our fellowship would be? Never mind every Sunday, how about if every single day we each did at least one act of random kindness for someone else. How would our fellowship be, then?
(SLIDE): 12‘Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.’ – The certainty of the Christian hope is a cause for joy: Sometimes called the “Christian Trinity” of faith, hope, love – faith looks upward, hope looks forward, love looks outward. We are also to be patient in affliction; together facing rather than running away from trouble… because affliction is an inevitable experience. Jesus said: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And we are also to be faithful in prayer, in good times and the bad.
(SLIDE): 13 ‘Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.’ – ‘Christian hospitality is very different from social entertaining. Entertaining focuses on the host – the home must be spotless; the food well prepared and abundant; the host must appear relaxed and good-natured etc. Hospitality, in contrast, focuses on the guests. Their needs are the primary concern – whether it’s a place to stay, nourishing food, a listening ear or simply acceptance. Hospitality can happen anywhere; in a church hall or in a messy home. It can happen around the dinner table where the main dish is a tin of soup. It can even happen where the hosts and guests are doing chores together.
(SLIDE): 14‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.’ – Love not revenge! Do you remember praying: ‘Father, forgive us our sins/trespasses as we forgive… those who sin against us.’ Whatever they have done to you, your part of the business is clear. – Christians are not perfect people, but we are being made perfect (some more slowly than others, it has to be said)! The church is not made up of perfect people. St Sebastian’s is not a museum for masterpieces; it’s a hospital for those who have been hurt by life, even self-inflicted. – If someone has hurt you, what are you going to do in response? Or if it’s persecution, how will you handle it? Our responsibility is to love; God’s is to sort out the injustice.
(SLIDE): 15 ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.’ – We all know the people who are interested in us; who will listen, laugh and cry with us. And we all know those who stand aloof, who are pleasant enough, but don’t make any effort to walk alongside us. Let’s be willing to be emotionally involved with others. That’s the way to deepen our fellowship.
(SLIDE): 16 ‘Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.’ – The Message (paraphrase version of the Bible) puts it like this: ‘Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.’ Let’s be humble, and willing to associate with people who are different from us.
Someone once asked Francis of Assisi how he was able to accomplish so much. He replied, “This may be why: The Lord looked down from heaven and said, ‘Where can I find the weakest, littlest man on earth?’ Then he saw me and said, ‘I’ve found him. I will work through him, and he won’t be proud of it. He’ll see that I am only using him because of his insignificance.’” – You may be small in your own eyes, but God has need of you! Citation
Of course, ‘God’s manifesto for human society’ sounds all very well and good: ‘Love sincerely; be devoted to one another; honour one another; never be lacking in zeal for the Lord; be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer; practice hospitality; bless and do not curse; forgive; live in harmony with one another; don’t be proud…’ but…
2. How Do We Do It?
You can do it because the Spirit of God lives in you; and your life is now controlled by the Spirit and not by the sinful nature. That’s not to say your sinful nature no longer exists – it does, and will continue to exist as long as you live – but your sinful nature is no longer in control of your life anymore… that is to say, as long as we are seeking to please God our sinful nature is not in control. You see, having the Holy Spirit is not enough; the Holy Spirit must also have us. God will not take control our lives by force! We have the Spirit to help us but we can still suppress the Holy Spirit. Always we have a choice. Which voice will you listen to when you are tempted to have another drink, when you really know you shouldn’t; or when you are tempted to gossip or poke your nose in where it doesn’t belong, or you are tempted to watch inappropriate TV or sexually explicit material on the internet; or you are tempted to lie or cheat or be selfish or rude or whatever other wrong behavior you can think of – which voice will you listen to? We now have the Holy Spirit to help us but we can still suppress or quash the Spirit.
Imagine our old nature and our new nature being like a good dog and a bad dog inside our head – and both of them are constantly squabbling for the same piece of meat; they’re fighting to take control of our lives, to dominate our thinking and behaviour and make us their slave. Whichever dog we listen to and feed the most is the one that grows dominant and gains control over us. What we need to do is feed the good dog and starve the bad dog. In other words, we need to do what is right and seek to please God. And when we slip up and find ourselves sinning – as we will do – we need to come to our senses; we must immediately cut off the food supply, we must repent and turn away from the sin; we must starve the bad dog by consciously feeding the good dog! We must repent and seek God’s forgiveness and restoration.
Repenting is a gift that God gives us for our sake, not for His. Repenting doesn’t increase God’s desire to be with us. It increases our capacity to be with him.
Staying with the ‘dog’ theme and repentance, author John Ortberg, tells this humorous analogy:
He says: “Have you ever see an animal repent? We have a dog and a cat. Our dog sleeps in a little house every night, and he always gets a treat before he retires. He expects it. He feels entitled to it. When I stand up after 9:00pm, he goes crazy with anticipation. He stands at the cupboard door where the treats are and won’t go into his house without a treat. But sometimes the dog does a bad thing. When that happens, and when we find the bad thing, he does not expect a treat. He will run from us. He will actually kennel himself without a treat. He knows he’s been bad.
Sometimes our cat does something wrong. Do you think the cat repents? No. Do you know why? Cats are evil. – Somebody once said the difference between a cat and a dog is that a dog has a master, while a cat has staff!” Citation
Coming back to Romans 12, Paul says in v1: ‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper act of worship.’ Sacrifice means there will be a cost. The definition of a living or willing sacrifice is to give up something of value in consideration of something else. We are to give up our old sinful ways and live lives to please and honour God, which is our true and proper act worship.
Nicky Gunbel writes, ‘God wants us to offer all of ourselves and all of our lives. First we offer our time. Our time is the most valuable possession and we need to give God all of it. This does not mean we spend all of it in prayer and Bible study, but that we allow his priorities to be established in our lives.
It is easy to get our priorities wrong. An advertisement appeared in a newspaper: ‘Farmer seeks lady with tractor with a view to companionship and possible marriage. Please send picture – of tractor.’ I don’t think the farmer had his priorities quite right. Our priorities must be our relationships, and our number one priority is our relationship with God. We need to set aside time to be alone with him. We also need to set aside time to be with other Christians – on Sundays and perhaps some mid-week meeting where we can encourage one another.
Secondly, we need to offer our ambitions to the Lord, saying to him, ‘Lord, I trust you with my ambitions and hand them over to you.’ He asks us to seek his kingdom and his righteousness as our foremost ambition and then he promises to meet all out other needs (Matthew 6:33). This does not necessarily mean that our former ambitions disappear; but they may become secondary to Christ’s ambition for us. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be successful in our job, provided that our motivation in everything is seeking his kingdom and his righteousness, and that we use what we have for his glory.
Thirdly, we need to offer him our possessions and our money. In the New Testament there is no ban on private property or making money or saving or even enjoying the good things in life. What is forbidden is the selfish accumalation for ourselves, an unhealthy obsession with material things and putting our trust in riches. (…) Generous giving is the apporpriate response to the generosity of God and the needs of others around us. It is also the best way to break the hold of materialism in our lives.
Next we need to give him our ears (that is, what we listen to) – to be prepared to stop listening to gossip and other things that drag us and others down. Instead we need to attune our ears to hearing what God is saying to us through the Bible, through prayer and through books and tapes and so on. We offer him our eyes and what we see. Again, some things we look at can harm us through jealousy, lust or some other sin. Other things can lead us closer to God. Rather than criticising the people we meet, we should see them through God’s eyes and ask, ‘How can I be a blessing to that person?’
Then we need to give him our mouths. The apostle James reminds us what a powerful instrument the tongue is (James 3:1-12). We can use out tongues to destroy, to deceive, to curse, to gossip or to draw attention to ourselves. Or we can use our tongues to worship God and to encourage others. Further, we offer him our hands. We can use our hands either to take for ourselves or to give to others in practical acts of service. Finally, we offer him our sexuality. We can either use our sexuality for our own self-gratification or we can reserve it for the good and pleasure of our marriage partner.’ Citation
Making a break with the past and making a new start; can sometimes bring persecution and suffering but nothing like the suffering in other countries around the world, where Christians are persecuted and killed. More people have died for the Christian faith in the last century than all the others put together!
Our topic this evening, you remember, is ‘How can I make the most of the rest of my life?’ We have looked at ‘what we should do’ and ‘how do we do it’ – now let’s finish with…
3. Why Should We Do It?
First of all because of what God has planned for our lives. Romans 12v2 says: ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.’ God loves us and He wants the very best for our lives. He wants us to entrust our lives to him so that we can ‘test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. We should do it because God has good plans for us. He says in Jeremiah 29v11: ‘For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ If we want God to reveal those good plans to us then we need to entrust our lives to him.
If you have ever seen people riding a tandem, the person in the front steers and the person behind offers peddle-power. We, all too often, want to steer and have the control and just call upon God to give us the extra ‘umph’ to get us up the hills! We need to give control to God and let him steer.
Finally… we should seek to honour God and make the most of the rest of our lives because of what God has done for us. The little sacrifices he asks us to make are nothing when we compare them to the sacrifice that God made for us.
William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, was driven to continuously make the most of the rest of his life because of what God had done for him. As an old man and nearing the end of his life, he gave his last ever public address in London’s Royal Albert Hall, on 9th May 1912, and he ended his speech with these words: “While women weep as they do now, I’ll fight; while little children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight. I’ll fight to the very end.”
William Booth did just that: a few weeks after giving this speech he died and entered into glory, no doubt to hear those words: “Well done, good and faithful servant (…) Come and share your master’s happiness!”
‘As we look at Jesus, God’s only Son who ‘endured the cross’, we see how much God loves us. It really is absurd not to trust him. If God loves us that much we can be sure he will not deprive us of anything good. Paul wrote, ‘He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?’ (Romans 8:32). Our motivation for living the Christian life is the love of the Father. Our model in life is the example of Jesus the Son. And the means by which we can live this life is in the power of the Holy Spirit. How great God is and what a privilege it is to walk in a relationship with him, to be loved by him and to serve him all our lives.’ Citation Indeed, it is here we find the answers to how we can make the most of the rest of our lives.