Pop, Peers, and Prejudice

I want you to take a journey with me this morning. I want you to go back with me to the summer of 1998 to a place called Flint, MI. A new and upcoming group is getting ready to perform at the IMA Arena. I remember seeing the posters around town for the concert and wondering who they were. Little did I know at the time, but they were ready to break into the big time. The group’s name was N’Sync. It didn’t take long from that summer for them to become the latest super group. Matter of fact for several years that’s all you heard from the pop world. They even had a CD entitled “Celebrity.” That was 1998 and now we are in 2005. N’Sync has practically faded back to obscurity. We have a natural inclination to want to be popular. N’Sync had their “15 minutes of fame.” What is our fascination with being popular or with hanging around popular people? I call it the pop phenomenon; pop music – pop people – pop entertainment. Everyone wants to be a star. Now this is not a new thing. Consider this lyric from a band who was on the top of their game in the late ‘70s, who fell from the ranks because of the nature of pop music.

Someone calls out my name
They ask me how I’ve been
So what’s it like in the big time?
Will you be my friend?
Have you met Mick Jagger?
Ringo, George or Paul?
Do you have my number?
Will you give me a call?
4 o’clock in the morning
I hear the telephone ring
It’s the voice of a stranger saying
I like the way you sing
They all want to know
Do you make a lot of money?
They all want to know
Will you change your name?
They all want to know
What’s it like to be a rock star?
Everybody wants to know if they can hang around
Everybody’s my friend, hello, hello
Everybody’s my friend, hello, hello
Everybody wants a have a little piece of the action
Everybody wants to get into the show
Everybody falls in love with the main attractions
Everybody wants to know if they can hang around
Everybody’s my friend, hello, hello
Everybody’s my friend, hello, hello
Some people say that I’m changing
They say I’m not the same
But they don’t understand me
There’s so much more to fame
They all want to know
Do you make a lot of money?
They all want to know
Will you change your name?
They all want to know
What’s it like to be a rock star?
Everybody wants to know if they can hang around
Everybody’s my friend, hello, hello
Everybody’s my friend, hello, hello

Why this fascination with popular culture? Why are they popular? Is it good looks? It is good voices? Is it good money? Is it good dance moves?

What does James have to say about pursuing popular people? And what does this have to do with going back to school. Let’s take a look at James 2:1-13.

1 My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. 2 For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, 3 and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” 4 have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?

5 Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? 7 Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?

8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; 9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

This morning I want to speak specifically to our teens as they have already been back to school for a few days. Our culture has led us to believe that popularity is important. Because of this we tend to gravitate toward popular people. We have a natural tendency to want to be popular with our peers. Not only does this happen in the schools, but also in the church. The first thing James says in verse 1 is “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism.” Peter was shown this by God in Acts 10:34.

The question that can be asked here is “How can you claim faith in Jesus Christ if you favor some people more than others?” God does not show favoritism and neither should we. James gives an example of a “rich” person coming to the meeting place and he is shown the place of honor while those who are poor are shown the back seats and maybe not even the back seats we just leave him to fend for himself. Think for a moment. Are there ways that you do this? Are there ways that I do this?

Why does James have such a problem with favoritism? He gives us several reasons why?

Luke 6:20-22

20 Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples, and said:”Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God.21 Blessed are you who hunger now, For you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. 22 Blessed are you when men hate you,and when they exclude you,and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man’s sake.

Matthew 5:3,5

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 5 Blessed are the meek,for they shall inherit the earth.

God has chosen the poor (the humble) (the poor “in spirit”) to be rich in faith

In these two gospels we hear that blessed are the meek. This is our attitude before God. On Wednesday nights we have be looking at being Christ-like. One of those attributes is humility as opposed to being proud and self-sufficient. God rewards the humble because the rich “in spirit” are already receiving their reward. Another way to say it is, “because they are popular, they already have their reward.”

A second reason we should not show favoritism is that we might show it to the wrong people. Think about this, how are the rich, rich? They could be rich in looks or money, or personality or I believe you’re getting the picture. Why is this a problem? Because the rich persecute the poor. Think about this – if someone is popular because of good looks, they tend to look down on those who are unpopular or who are just average or below average looking. The rich tend to look down on the poor. James even goes on to say that the rich will drag you to court, they will slander the name of Jesus, and they will ridicule you.

The third reason we should not show favoritism is because it violates God’s law. Leviticus 19:18

18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

James repeats the law and Jesus’ words that you should love your neighbor as yourself. This is not a selective love. God’s love was not and is not a selective love. We must love all as God has loved all. James goes on to say that if you pay special attention to one group, you violate the law and commit sin. As we’ve learned on Sunday evenings, God does not separate sins into categories of lesser and greater sins like we do. Sin is sin!!! We don’t like to think about this, because it’s much more comfortable to think about sinning in degrees. For example, I’m not as bad as they are because I don’t do all they do. God says we’re guilty just they same if we break one of his laws.

Fourth, those who specially favor one group of people over another will be judged. How will they be judged? They will be judged by the law of love (that gives freedom.) If you have shown mercy, you will receive mercy, but there will be no mercy for those who have not been merciful to others.

Let me take a sidebar here. James is not saying that we can’t have friends that we relate to – we cannot however; pick and choose those who will win us popularity! Don’t be selective and go against the flow.

Before we leave this subject of favoritism, let’s look at James’ final words, “mercy triumphs over judgment.” What would that look like in our church? How quick are we to judge those, even those who are Christians in their walk with Jesus? What would mercy triumphs over judgment look like on Sunday morning during the commitment time? A good friend of mine from New York said, it would look like a full altar every Sunday.

What motivates you to do good things for people? Is it their status; their power; their prestige, their wealth; or their friends?

James tells us that this is wrong! Treat the rich and poor alike; don’t favor one over the other. Treat the popular and unpopular alike. Treat the beautiful and the not so beautiful alike. We cannot claim to call ourselves Christians and show favoritism. God does not show favoritism and neither should we. Go against the flow – be counter cultural. Be merciful to others. Show the love of Christ in how you treat others.

How many of you will stand with me this morning to declare that; “I will go against the cultural flow of popularity and show the love of Christ to all the people around me no matter what is gained on my behalf.”

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We Are a Community of Believers

What do you think of when I say the word “church?” What is the church? Or perhaps I should say who is the church? Is the church a who or a what? When I just asked you what is the church, some of you thought of a church building as in this facility here that we know as Preston Wesleyan Church. If your not part of this congregation on a regular basis, you might have thought of another building. Perhaps you began to think of a particularly striking building that is a church. Some of you no doubt, starting thinking about the people that are gathered here this morning. They make up the church. Maybe some of you began to think of all the Wesleyans who are gathered around the world worshiping today, and perhaps you thought that all those who carried the name Christian were the church. What we are going to take a look at today is what or who the church is and what he would say to it. We are going to be in James 5:13-20.

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

Now some of you would say that this has more to do with prayer than the church, but if we take a careful look we see that prayer is part of the bigger picture and prayer is important in the life of the church. James asks the question, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of Jesus.” The word that is used in the Greek is ecclesia, which simply means an assembly. As we look at the New Testament there is no clear instance of it being used for a place of meeting or of worship, such as a church building. Neither is it used to denote the inhabitants of a country united in the same profession, for example “The Church of England.” How then is this word used.

  • If we look at the word in Acts 19:32 — Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together. [2] – it is simply translated as an assembly or gathering.
  • In other places it denotes the whole body of the redeemed, all those whom the Father has given to Christ, the invisible, catholic (small c) (or universal) church. – This is the Body of Christ in whole (all those who claim Christ and follow his commands and bring others along.)
  • It could also mean a few Christians associated together in observing the ordinances of the gospel – Our congregation gathered this morning in this building IS Preston Wesleyan Church. (not the church building)
  • It could also mean all the Christians meeting together in a particular city, whether they are assembled in one place of in several places for worship. All those gathered in Antioch were an ecclesia, even though there were several congregations. We could say that all Christians gathered in Martinsville this morning constitute an ecclesia. We could say that all Wesleyans gathered around the US and the world constitutes an ecclesia (one church).
  • The whole body of professing Christians throughout the world are the church of Christ.

By now you can probably see where I am going with this. “God has commanded his people to organize themselves into distinct visible ecclesiastical (church) communities with constitutions, laws, and officers, badges, ordinances, and discipline, for the great purpose of giving visibility to the kingdom, of making known the gospel of that kingdom, and of gathering in all its elect subjects. Each one of these distinct organized communities which is faithful to the great King is an integral part of the visible church, and all together constituted the catholic or universal visible church.” Now let’s take a look at our scripture again.

  • Is anyone among you suffering?
  • Is anyone cheerful?
  • Is anyone among you sick?

On any given Sunday morning, we can identify with one of the emotions listed. We all have burdens, trouble, care, happiness, joyfulness, sickness, sorrow, and pain. We all come to church with emotions. We are emotional people. That is part of our design. Several weeks ago I mention that we want to come to church to get a lift (an emotional high.) And we should leave here better off than when we came. But we don’t gather here simply for an emotional high or to lift our spirits. Verse 14 says, “Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” This is the community of faith. It is the body of believers gathered together. As we gather on Sunday mornings, we come from everywhere, not only in a physical sense as in where we live, but emotionally and spiritually. Some of us are happy to be here. Some of us are carrying great burdens. Some are sick and not feeling well. As we take a look at this scripture we are to bear one another’s burdens. We are to gather together to sing songs of praise so that we can encourage one another. We are to pray to God and for one another. Here is the connectional relationship with each other in the church. Each of us, has a vertical connection to God, but we also need the horizontal relationships to each other. If we could function on our own, if the vertical relationship to God was all that was needed, what would be the purpose in gathering together. Not only do we come to connect to God, we can do that at home, but we gather to celebrate the vertical relationship with God and the horizontal relationships with each other. We come to connect to one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to pray for each other, to sing song of worship in praise to a great God, and to encourage one another. James goes on to say, “And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” This is why the church exists. This is why the church is so much more than a building. It is a body of believers praying and sharing with one another. Prayer is an important part of being the church. It can heal people. Yes, people are physically sick, but there are also others who are spiritually sick. Each of you can probably come up with at least one name if not several of those who have not received Christ as savior. They might be family or they might be friends. We need to continue to pray for them as a church.

The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

We as a church need to persevere in prayer. How many times to we pray once and that’s it? Dr. Earle Wilson reminded us at the ordination service this year that Elijah was a fervent man of prayer. He did not pray for rain one time, but seven times. How many times would we have given up after the second or third time?

We are called to pray. 19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. It’s all of us working together as a community of faith, as believers in Christ, and as the body of Christ that will change the world for Christ. This is the church at work. This is the kingdom at work and not only the body here at Preston but in our community and around the world. Believers all around the world are building the kingdom. That is the purpose of the church. James would want to see believers working together, praying together, worshiping together to the kingdom of God grow throughout the world.

It’s Morphing Time

How many of you remember the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers? For those of you who don’t have any clue what I’m talking about, it was a low-budget Japanese animated classic the dubbed badly into English during the Eighties and Nineties. The storyline revolved around ordinary teenagers who in the time of crisis could “morph” into extraordinary beings. “Morph” has actually worked its way into our vocabulary and is used in computer graphics. Most of you have seen commercials where there is a face and it smoothly changes into another face. This is known as digital morphing. The way these teenagers changed into extraordinary people was by the cry, “It’s morphing time.” What is morphing? Most of you know the word metamorphosis. Most of us know the process that moves a caterpillar to a butterfly. The process is known as metamorphosis. It is a transformation. As we look at this morning’s passage we see that we are called to be transformed.

One of the questions that is being asked of us pastors this year by The Wesleyan Church is this: “Are you living the transformed life right now?” The second is related to it. “Are you leading a transforming church? These are some great questions that we need to be asking, especially in light of last week’s message. This is part of the getting back to basics approach that James would have told us to do. Are you living the transformed life right now is not only a good question for pastors, but for each of us. It’s a question that the Wesleyan Church is beginning to look at and there are changes happening that are encouraging. Remember to be in prayer for our General Superintendents (especially considering that the General Board will be electing a new GS in September to replace Dr. Holdren). Also be in prayer for Dr. Jim Dunn. I see some encouraging signs in the Department of Spiritual Formation.

It’s a beginning that the Wesleyan Church is beginning to make. There are two important things we are going to look at in our scripture this morning. The purpose in our lives as Christians and our purpose as a church lie within II Corinthians 5:11-6:2

11It is because we know this solemn fear of the Lord that we work so hard to persuade others. God knows we are sincere, and I hope you know this, too. 12Are we trying to pat ourselves on the back again? No, we are giving you a reason to be proud of us, so you can answer those who brag about having a spectacular ministry rather than having a sincere heart before God. 13If it seems that we are crazy, it is to bring glory to God. And if we are in our right minds, it is for your benefit. 14Whatever we do, it is because Christ’s love controls us. Since we believe that Christ died for everyone, we also believe that we have all died to the old life we used to live. 15He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live to please themselves. Instead, they will live to please Christ, who died and was raised for them.

16So we have stopped evaluating others by what the world thinks about them. Once I mistakenly thought of Christ that way, as though he were merely a human being. How differently I think about him now! 17What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!

18All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself through what Christ did. And God has given us the task of reconciling people to him. 19For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. This is the wonderful message he has given us to tell others. 20We are Christ’s ambassadors, and God is using us to speak to you. We urge you, as though Christ himself were here pleading with you, “Be reconciled to God!” 21For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

6:1 As God’s partners, we beg you not to reject this marvelous message of God’s great kindness. 2For God says,
“At just the right time, I heard you.
On the day of salvation, I helped you.”
Indeed, God is ready to help you right now. Today is the day of salvation.

As we look at this morning’s passage we see that we are called to be transformed. Look at verse 17: 17 What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!

We are not the same anymore. We are changed. “Are you living the transformed life right now? Most of you will remember Popeye, the Sailor Man. This spinach-eating, Olive Oyl loving hunk of a man says, “I yam what I yam and that’s all I yam.” For Popeye there was no hope of transformation. Do we as Christians make this our rallying cry? I yam what I yam and that’s all I yam.” You mean there’s no hope of transformation? Then the scriptures must be lying to us.

You remember that I said there are two things I would like to point out. Yes, we need to live a transformed life, but how do we get there? Look at verse 18, 18All this newness of life is from God, who brought us back to himself through what Christ did. And God has given us the task of reconciling people to him.

We are to be Christ’s Ambassadors. We are to be representatives of the King. God sent Jesus Christ into the world to reconcile us to God. The greatest transformation in our lives should take place when we receive Jesus Christ into our hearts. We use the word saved and I realize that we are saved from sin, but we are also converted, we are transformed. You don’t hear many instant transformation stories any more. But we know God is able to transform us in an instant. That is why I believe that we don’t gradually become a Christian. There is a definitive time when we received Jesus as Savior and he starts the transformation process from what we were to Christ-likeness. What are the two important things I was getting at? They are reconciliation or redemption and transformation. Are you living the transformed life right now? What are the fruits of you living the transformed life? If you’re living the transformed life, you life should look like the fruits of the Spirit. The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, and self-control. Are these fruits visible in your life? Let me tell you a story about Hank. Hank was a cranky guy. He did not smile easily, and when he did, the smile often had a cruel edge to it, coming at someone’s expense. He had a knack for discovering islands of bad news in oceans of happiness. He would always find a cloud where others saw a silver lining.

Hank rarely affirmed anyone. He operated on the assumption that if you compliment someone, it might lead to a swelled head, so he worked to make sure everyone stayed humble. His was a ministry of cranial downsizing.

His native tongue was complaint. He carried judgment and disapproval the way a prisoner carries a ball and chain. Although he went to church his whole life, he was never unshackled.

A deacon in the church asked him one day, “Hank, are you happy?”

Hank paused to reflect, then replied without smiling, “Yeah.”

“Well, tell your face,” the deacon said. But so far as anybody knows, Hank’s face never did find out about it.

Occasionally, Hank’s joylessness produced unintended joy for others.

There was a period of time, John Ortberg relates, when his primary complaints centered on the music in the church. “It’s too loud!” Hank protested-to the staff, the deacons, the ushers, and eventually the innocent visitors of the church.

We finally had to take Hank aside and explain that complaining to complete strangers was not appropriate and he would have to restrict his laments to a circle of intimate friends. And that was the end of it. So we thought.

A few weeks later, a secretary buzzed me on the intercom to say that an agent from OSHA was here to see me. “I’m here to check out a complaint, “he said. As I tried to figure out who on the staff would have called OSHA over a church problem, he began to talk about decibel levels at airports and rock concerts.

“Excuse me,” I said, “are you sure this was someone on the church staff that called?”

“No,” he explained, “If anyone calls—whether or not they work here—we are obligated to investigate.”

Suddenly the light dawned: Hank has called OSHA and said, “The music at my church is too loud.” And they sent a federal agent to check it out.

By this time the rest of the staff had gathered in my office to see the man from OSHA.

“We don’t mean to make light of this,” I told him, “but nothing like this has ever happened around here before.”

“Don’t apologize, “he said, “Do you have any idea how much ridicule I’ve faced around my office since everyone discovered I was going out to bust a church?”

Sometimes Hank’s joylessness ended in comedy, but more often it produced sadness. His children did not know him. His son had a wonderful story about how he met his wife at a dance, but he never told his father because Hank did not approve of dancing.

Hank could not effectively love his wife or his children or people outside his family. Whatever capacity he once might have had for joy or wonder or gratitude atrophied. He critiqued and judged and complained, and his soul got a little smaller each year.

I tell you that story from John Ortberg’s book, “The Life You’ve Always Wanted” because John goes on to say. Hank was not changing. He was once a cranky young guy and he grew up to be a cranky old man. But even more troubling than his lack of change was the fact that nobody was surprised by it. It was as if everyone simply expected that his soul would remain withered and sour year after year, decade after decade. No one was bothered by the condition. In the words of James, Brothers, this ought not be. As believers we have expectations. We expect that a man like Hank would affirm certain religious beliefs. We expect that he would attend services, read the Bible, support the church financially, pray regularly, and avoid certain sins. But we don’t expect that he will progressively become the way Jesus would be if he were in Hank’s place.

As we prepare communion, I want to ask the question again, “Are you living the transformed life right now?” Transformation is expected. Someone once asked John Wesley, “How often should you serve communion?” Wesley replied, “As often as you can.” I know the arguments say we can make it a meaningless ritual, but we are supposed to pray and read the Bible continually. Does that make those processes a meaningless ritual? By no means. For Wesley, Holy Communion was the means of grace through which we are remembered to the real presence of Jesus. The reality of Jesus’ divine, grace giving presence in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, must not be minimized. While Wesley did not accept the Roman Catholic Doctrine of Transubstantiation, he nevertheless affirmed that Jesus was REALLY present to the believer when the believer ate and drank of the elements with faith. This means of grace Wesley identified closely with sanctifying grace … Communion provides the believer with the access to the grace which they need to literally walk the Christian walk and improve their Christianity toward the goal that God has for them in Christ Jesus. Let me ask the question that we started with, “Are you living the transformed life right now? Let’s take a moment and examine ourselves before God.