How do you find authentic, deep, lasting fulfilment in life? Is it a dream or can it be a reality? The problem is after years of bombardment from the secular media and advertising we are confused, cautious, sceptical. The daily diet on the TV, on the bill boards, newspapers and magazines tell us unashamedly that freedom and fulfilment comes from indulgence, luxury, space, exclusivity. The subliminal messages tell us to indulge ourselves. Fulfil our desires. Pursue pleasure. Stay free. Protect my space. Minimize commitments. Given such messages, it’s easy to understand why many people are cautious about commitment – whether its commitment in marriage, commitment to a charity or community service, commitment to our Church. We fear commitment, obligation, being tied down, restricted. If I commit myself, will I end up enjoying it or regretting it? Will life really be more fulfilling? Or just more draining? Well contemporary medical research provides a conclusive answer.
Dr Paul Pearsall, the psychologist, writes in his book The Pleasure Prescription (Hunter House, 1996) “Modern research shows one of the most pleasurable of all human acts is also one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself and for others. Gentle, caring selflessness results in significant health benefits.”
In the mid 1980’s Allan Luks, author of, The Healing Power of Doing Good, conducted a survey of 3,300 volunteers. He discovered that many volunteers experience feelings of euphoria while volunteering. He called this the “helper’s high” and compares it to the runner’s high – when a person runs and exert, but instead of feeling more stressed, one feels more relaxed. The act of helping causes both a physiological and an emotional effect. Research has shown that regular acts of kindness or serving stimulate the release of endorphins, natural hormones that help improve mood and also help to improve the body’s immune system and lower blood pressure. Research has shown that volunteering on a regular basis improves self-esteem, increases your sense of well-being, and lowers stress. One study even found that retired men who volunteer one day a week live two-and-a-half times longer than retired men who don’t volunteer at all.
So helping others is beneficial to our health. It produces feelings of calm and well-being that continue for hours after volunteering. Luks makes it clear that when we persuade someone to volunteer face to face; we are giving an enormous gift, much like membership in a health club. So I have no hesitation this morning, because I long for each of us to be truly blessed by God.
On the night he was betrayed Jesus washed the disciples feet.
“When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:12-17)
Do you understand what Jesus has done for you? Do you realise the implications of following him? “I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done for you.” If we follow Jesus we will serve Jesus through his family. In fact we could go further and say that a follower of Jesus is someone who obeys Jesus, because of we are not obeying Jesus we are not following him. Jesus call to servant hood is a life long and a life-giving calling. His style of servanthood energizes, it invigorates, and deeply satisfies. And when Jesus calls, he also equips as well. The moment we entrust our life to him, we receive not only cleansing, but charismata – spiritual gifts – that enable us to serve his family. We can make a unique and significant contribution to the Church of Jesus Christ. On Easter Sunday we invited you to renew your commitment to Jesus and membership of his Church here in Virginia Water.
Together we made a pledge to the Lord and one another, by God’s grace, for the year ahead based on the Anglican model. We recognise that:
And since Easter, Sunday by Sunday, we have been considering each of the statements that summarise what it means to be a follower of Jesus and a member of his family.
Today we are thinking about the need to Give Personal Service to Church, Neighbours and Community:Please turn with me to Romans 12. This morning I want us to see that serving in and through the local church is the norm for every Christ follower.
Our church family helps us grow up together.
Our church family moves us out of self-centred isolation.
Our church family is our primary place of service.
My aim this morning is quite explicit: I pray that each one of us will be motivated to joyfully and willingly commit to serve on one or more of our serving teams for the year ahead. We no longer use the word ‘volunteer’ because servants do not volunteer.
In December each year we renew our financial pledge because we believe that tithing our income is the norm for every believer So in May each year we will use this Sunday to renew our pledge to serve our church and community for the year ahead. Because we believe serving is the norm for every follower of Jesus also. While God may have blessed us with different talents and different levels of income, he has given each of us the same amount of time each week – 168 hours.
We all get the same amount of time to invest in our families, in work, in recreation, in exercise and in sleep. We are simply asking you to consider giving at least one of those 168 hours each week in personal service. In the seat pocket in front of you us your personal copy of our serving leaflet. It highlights the opportunities for service in and through Christ Church. And on the back wall are more details of our various serving teams.
At the end of this sermon I invite you to complete and return the response form via the collection plate.
Whether you have been serving on one or more of our teams for decades or this is the day when you will pledge to serve for the first time, I know that you need no greater incentive than the blessing Jesus promises as we obey him. But we would also like to gift you the attractive designer pen which you will also find in the seat pocket in front of you, as a small way of saying ‘thank you’. And if you pledge to serve on two or more teams we will gift you a set of rare, limited edition postcards of Virginia Water. Please turn with me to Romans 12
1. A church family helps us grow up together
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your proper worship as rational beings. 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.” (Romans 12:1-2)
First note that Paul describes us as brothers and sisters. We are a family. Secondly notice he urges us to sacrifice – to offer our bodies – that is our time, our energy, out talents, our lives as living sacrifices. Third, notice he defines Christian service as an act of worship. There is no contradiction – no contrast between worship and service. The one is defined by the other. Indeed you cannot do one without the other. John Ortberg observes another paradox.
“When we use our spiritual gifts in a spirit of servanthood, something happens to us as well as through us…” Paul calls it metamorphosis. When we find a place of service, “Old patterns of pride and self-absorption get disrupted. We explore our strengths and come face to face with our weaknesses. Failure leads to fresh encounters with grace. Risks lead to fresh experiences of trust. Competitiveness gives way to fresh reliance on community. Serving is a transforming endeavour.” This is how we please God. A church family, first of all, helps us grow up, together.
2. A church family moves us out of self-centred isolation
“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:3-5)
Listen to Rick Warren on the importance of the Church in scripture.
“Membership in the family of God is neither inconsequential nor something to be causally ignored. The Church is God’s agenda for the world. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” (Matthew 16:18 NLT). The church is indestructible and will exist for eternity.
It will outlive this universe, and so will your role in it. In his book, The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren tells us,
“You are called to belong, not just believe… We are created for community, fashioned for fellowship and formed for a family, and none of us can fulfil God’s purposes by ourselves. The Bible says we are put together, joined together, built together, members together, heirs together, fitted together, and held together and one day will be caught up together. “While your relationship to Christ is personal, God never intends it to be private. In God’s family you are connected to every other believer, and we will belong to each other for eternity... Following Christ involves belonging and not just believing. So the person who says, “I don’t need the church” is either arrogant or ignorant. The church is so significant that Jesus died for it… “Christ loved the church and gave his life for it.” (Ephesians 5:25). The Bible calls the church “the bride of Christ” and the “body of Christ.” I can’t imagine anyone saying to Jesus, “I love you but I dislike your wife.” Or “I accept you, but I reject your body.”
But we do this whenever we think we can live in isolation, or regard serving one another as optional. “The Bible says a Christian without a church home is like an organ without a body, a sheep without a flock, or a child without a family. It is an unnatural state. Paul insists, “We are members of His body – the church. The bible insists that, “the church is a body, not a building, an organism not an organisation…
For the organs of your body to fulfill their purpose, they must be connected to your body. This is why the first symptom of spiritual decline is usually inconsistent attendance at Sunday services. When we become careless about fellowship, everything else begins to slide too.” “Biblical fellowship is being as committed to each other as we are to Jesus Christ.” Most Christians can recite John 3:16. Not so many have memorised 1 John 3:16, “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3:16).
A church family helps us grow up together.
A church family moves you out of self-centred isolation.
3. A church family is our primary place of service.
“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Romans 12:6-8)
“The difference between being a church attender and a church member is service. Attenders are spectators on the sidelines; members get involved in serving. Attenders are consumers; members are contributors. Attenders want the benefits of a church without sharing the responsibility.”
Paul lists a variety of ministry roles – this is not an exhaustive list but it covers the essentials. Prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, mercy. Not that dissimilar to the opportunities listed in our servant leaflet. We will only reach our redemptive potential as a local church when we each contribute, when we each serve one another. Notice his assumption? “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them.” (Romans 12:7) We have each been given natural talents and spiritual gifts –gifts of God’s grace – to help build up Christ’s Church – so let us use them. Service is the norm for the Christ follower. How do we discover our gifts and talents? We discover our gifts by using them. We discern people’s gifts as we see them in action. Notice Paul has more to say about how we should serve than in defining what or where.
“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honour giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.” (Romans 12:9-13)
This is what makes the Church, the family of Jesus, truly unique in the world for our membership of his family is by adoption and transcends race, ethnicity, gender, age, IQ, class or culture. God created the church to meet your five deepest needs; a purpose to live for, people to live with, principles to live by, a profession to live out, and power to live on. There is no other place on earth where you can find all five of these benefits in one place. There is nothing else on earth like the local Church! So, if you have not already done so please find the pen and the serving leaflet in the seat pocket in front of you and in a moment of prayerful reflection, ask the Lord to help you answer these questions:
What am I really passionate about?
What do I most enjoy doing?
How does you want me to help build Christ’s Church?
Where best can I serve at Christ Church in the next year?
If you are not sure where the Lord would have you serve, come and talk to me or one of our Pastors over refreshments or lets meet up in the week. (Pause for completion of the pledge form)
This morning in our series on the Privileges of Church Membership we have been considering what it means to give Personal Service to Church, Neighbours and Community.
From Romans 12 we have seen that
A church family helps us grow up together
A church family moves us out of self-centred isolation.
A church family is our primary place of service.
A place to grow. A place to serve. A place to belong. That is what God intends us to be at Christ Church. That is what we will increasingly become – with your help. Lets pray.
Material for this sermon drawn with thanks from Bill Hybels, The Volunteer Revolution; John Ortberg, Gifts: the joy of serving God and Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life.