Our theme for the month of February is Thrive. The Christian Rock Band Casting Crowns have written, “It's time for us to more than just survive; We were made to thrive”.
Last week I looked at what it means to thrive and where we as Christians need to start.
Many of us Christians are just surviving spiritually because of issues such as hardships, lack of health, conflicts, and the lists continues. It’s the same with church. It ought to be thriving resulting in people coming to faith, baptisms, testimonies of God working in people’s lives, numerical growth, new church plants, the poor and vulnerable being cared for, past wrongs with various cultures being reconciled, and the list continues. Jesus said to the church in Laodicea that they were only just surviving. They were lukewarm. He wanted them to be on fire!!
This series, I want to look at four areas that are essential for Christians and Churches to get out from the rut of surviving to thriving. Last week we looked at the first one. It is all about having the right foundation. For we Christians and for our church, we will thrive when we place our roots on the solid foundation of Jesus – not on materialism, not on nice philosophy, not on some good church growth principles. None of these. We will thrive when we place our roots on the solid foundation of nothing else but Jesus Christ – but even more specifically – the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This means that we trust Him as our God and honour Him as our Soveriegn reigning in our lives.
What this means, you may remember from last week, is that for many we have handed over to Jesus a bunch of keys. Those keys open most areas in our lives. But for some, we are keeping just one key. The key of one room which is kept for personal use, and the Lord is shut out. What most Christians don’t realise is that if Jesus is not Lord of all (of every room), then He is not Lord of all. Keeping even that one key robs us of abundant living which may be the reason why so many are just surviving. Have you given over the keys to every room in your life? Does Jesus have the key to every room in your private life? Is there a room marked “private – keep out?” If so, you haven’t really anchored into solid foundation and when those storms come, you will be blown over. You must be willing to surrender that key to the Lord.
This means the keys to our money, to our priorities, our hearts, our dreams, our struggles – every area must come under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
When we as Christians and together as a church surrender every area to the lordship of Jesus, acknowledging that Jesus is God and Sovereign then we will begin to thrive.
Those who take care of their gardens by pruning, fertilising, weeding, watering when it hasn’t rained for a while –their gardens thrive. They love their garden because they pay attention to it, because it is a priority in their lives, because they love seeing it bloom and thrive.
And it is the same with us. If we want to thrive rather than just survive, we have to love. The greatest commandment that Jesus has given us is to love. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV). Now understand that all of the laws added up to 613 commandments according to the Scribes back then. 248 being affirmative and the other 365 being negative. Out of all those 613 love was the greatest? Loving God and loving one another.
I’ll tell you why learning to really love enables you to thrive? It’s found in our reading – verse 4. It’s the first of what love isn’t. Paul says that love “does not envy” (1 Corinthians 13:4 NIV). Other translations have jealous. Jealously eats us up. When we are jealous about another person’s success, a friend’s latest purchase, or a sibling’s close relationship with the parents, its stirs all the wrong emotions. It causes thoughts that sometimes lead to actions that makes you the lesser person. Jealousy robs us of our contentment and joy. Learning to love is learning to accept that what others may have or achieved doesn’t mean that you are any less of a person for you are equally loved by God who has blessed you with every spiritual blessing. When love conquers jealousy, you begin to thrive.
The inspired words of Paul about real love continue in verse 5, “It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5 NIV). “it keeps no record of wrongs”! Keeping records of all the wrongs that either I have done to myself or others have done to me disables me from thriving. Some of us have notable bank balances, only that such bank balances have records of the wrongs that have happened to me. Such records of wrongs weigh us down. They are like a heavy ball and chain around your leg. You can’t move forwards with such heavy records of wrongs. Love though, cancels those records of wrongs. It’s love that breaks free us from the past. It’s love that helps us move on from just surviving to thriving. As Peter wrote in his first letter, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8 NIV). Meaning that we learn in love to keep no records of wrongs.
We’ll come back to 1 Corinthians 13 in a moment. I want to tell you another reason why love enables us to thrive. It is because love casts out all fear. The Apostle John tells us this. He says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18 NIV). Love is the absence of fear. You can put all emotions on a scale. On one end, you have love. Then joy. After that is peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT). On the opposite end of the scale of love is fear. Other fear-based emotions include, hatred, insecurity, jealousy or greed. The more we love the move the scales are tip towards experiencing the beautiful fruit of the Spirit enabling us to thrive.
I believe that as white Christians, we need to have a better understanding of our first nation people. This is why we have formed a partnership with Doug and Cynthia Thomas’ Church in Normanton, to help us gain an understanding of the hurts and hopes of the indigenous folk. I want to tell you about a beautiful man named Aussie Cruse. I once met Aussie at a function at Parliament House in Canberra and so I invited him to speak at my former church which he did.
Ossie had a huge battle with alcohol at age 12, a year after he was forced out of school, and by the time he was 15 he was well on the road to alcoholism. After marrying Beryl at age 18 he continued drinking heavily and Beryl went through hell living with Ossie. In 1962, he was pretty well spaced out as he was now an alcoholic.
Ossie knew that his life was a mess, so in 1962, at the age of 29, he went to a meeting in Sydney’s La Perouse, where he was living, to hear an Aboriginal evangelist called David Kirk. He knew he needed to change because he made many resolutions never to drink again but he would still go back on it.
At this meeting, when Ossie heard the gospel preached he came under conviction that his life needed to be changed radically by the Lord Jesus and so he came to know Jesus as Lord and Saviour at that convention. His wife the night after because she was an addicted gambler. And she was also radically changed.
Ossie explains that what took possession of his life that night was the understanding that the love of God is real. This is what Ossie said, “When I became a Christian in 1962, everything changed, radically changed. I never wanted to drink again, I never had withdrawals, I never even had to go to any sort of counselling, but my life just so radically changed. One minute you’re lacing your sentences with four-letter words – swearing – and, like, the next day when I put my life in the hands of the Lord, I just couldn’t stand to hear people swearing, let alone ever wanting to drink again. So, to me it was a miracle, a miracle that saved me all the way even today. I never, ever desire to go back into that old way of life.”
This is part one of Ossie’s story. He was saved by the amazing love of God. God’s love found Ossie and Beryl and they were radically transformed. God’s love keeps no records of their wrongs and love cast out his fears of returning to alcohol and gambling that nearly destroyed them both. I’ll share part two in moment.
The church at Corinth had a lot of strengths – in fact it would be right to say that they were a very gifted church. They had their core beliefs and ministries, but their culture was worldly. For one thing they had attitude – twice in chapter 4 Paul told them that some were arrogant. They had divisions within the church, and some even lived immoral lives.
Paul tells them off for these and teaches them the more excellent way. In chapter 13 he tells them that they may speaks in tongues or other languages (13:1) but if they don’t have a culture of love then they are just noisy. He says that they may have the gift of prophecy and fathom all mysteries and all knowledge and have amazing faith but if they don’t nurture a culture of love then their church is nothing (13:2). He also says that they may even give to the poor but if they don’t love then the church gains nothing (13:3).
And Paul ends by saying, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV). Church, we may have great facilities, live in one of the better places in the world; we may have some great ministries which includes the school. Our Statement of Beliefs may be 100% biblical and we have a great vision but if we don’t nurture a culture of love then we will not thrive.
A few decades after the commencement of the church at Ephesus, John in his vision from Jesus, spoke into the life of that church. Jesus praises them for their deeds, hard work and their perseverance. They even hated the practices of false teachers and yet Jesus said something was missing. They had forgotten to love – particularly that love for God when they first started. They needed to repent – to turn back – and learn and practice love for God and one another. Jesus said that if they don’t – if they don’t nurture a culture of love – their light would be removed.
Church may we nurture a culture of love across our church. Back to 1 Corinthians 13, Paul reminds us what Christian love to one another ought to look like. He says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 NIV).
A thriving church puts into practice loving one another. You see it. You feel it. The church thrives because people want to be a part of a loving church where they feel safe to share their hurts and hopes, where they feel supported and encouraged. And perhaps the best places to experience such love for one another is in the home – inviting people over for a cuppa or a meal. It can be found in Life Groups. Learning the Bible and sharing and praying for one another in a safe environment can be such a highlight of our week. Jesus did teach us “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35 NIV).
This is part two of Ossie Cruse’s story. Not only were he and Beryl saved and transformed by the love of God, but soon a new love for their people and Australians as a whole became to form.
In 1968 he and 70 others founded the Aboriginal Evangelical Fellowship (AEF) of Australia in Port Augusta in 1970. The indigenous work that we as a church support in Camooweal is a AEF ministry.
Those early days in the 60s and 70s were difficult because attitudes back then of both blacks and whites towards each other were far more strained.
For his part, Ossie believes that if God had not intervened in the lives of Aboriginal leaders such as himself in the 1960s, there would have been bloodshed and havoc in this country as high-profile Aboriginal activists “would’ve very easily taken the road of vengeance”. Instead, Ossie insists that they chose the Bible that taught them to love their neighbour and preach the gospel.
In 1982, Ossie travelled with former prime minister Gough Whitlam to post-colonial African countries to drum up support for a treaty with Aboriginal people in Australia. He took his advocacy all the way to the UN and became a member of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples, paving the way for the UN Declaration of Rights for Indigenous Peoples. He doesn’t want to take back land nor does he want to tell people to leave this land. He wants to see one united Australia working for peace and justice for all people.
Last year, the ABC TV program Australian Story featured Ossie. And he was unashamed about his faith in Jesus. In the program, Aboriginal MP Linda Burney says that, as a member of Federal Parliament, the lesson she has taken from Uncle Ossie is “quiet leadership”. She said, “It is that understanding that persuasion is not about thumping the table and yelling at people. Persuasion is often long and arduous, quiet and persistent”. Love is patience.
Today, Ossie and his family live in Eden where he serves in a church teaching black and white children about the excellent way – the way of love.
When the church of Jesus Christ loves one another on a level that is so counter culture than it will thrive. You will thrive. It is the most excellent way says Paul.
How can anyone love the way that Jesus loved? How can we actually love without being judgmental or full of expectation or without jealously? How do we stop keeping those record of wrongs?
I don’t think its humanly possible to be honest. I really don’t. It’s too hard to love your enemies. And yet Jesus gave us the great command to love Him and one another. This kind of love, I believe, can only come supernaturally from God. And the Bible teaches us that those who earnestly seek to follow Jesus and His teachings, then the Holy Spirit will sanctify us. We learn about this from passage like 1 Thessalonians 5:23, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23 NIV).
That word sanctify is another wonderful Christian doctrine. It is a process of being made holy – to be more like Jesus - resulting in a changed lifestyle for the believer. The English word sanctification comes from the Latin santificatio, meaning the act/process of making holy. It is through the Holy Spirit are we sanctified. And one of the reasons why we are to be sanctified is we are “kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v23).
As the Holy Spirit continues to chisel away at us, gradually we are being sanctified, and so our ability to love as 1 Corinthians 13 starts growing. Come before God asking him to sanctify you through and through. Confess your sins, your wrong attitudes, and ask that He’ll keep chiselling away all those things that bind you. Love is does not envy, so chisel that away please God. Love doesn’t boast, so chisel that away please God. Love is not proud, so that needs to go please God. Love does not dishonour others, so that’s a big one God and so is the next one that love is not self-seeking. And please God, chisel away my ease to anger and how I keep those records of wrongs. Sanctify me through and through so I may thrive!