Ten years ago, I weighed almost 300 pounds. I’ve lost over 80 pounds since then. It wasn’t easy to do so I did it in stages. When I was at my maximum weight, I began exercising and cutting back on the number of calories I ate each day. I lost thirty pounds but then something happened. I plateaued and quit losing weight. The only way for me to keep losing was to further decrease the number of calories I consumed. As my body got smaller, I had to keep eating less. What got me to one level wouldn’t get me to the next level. The only way I could get there was to change what I was doing.
During my first interview with the search committee at Snake Spring Valley CoB, I was told, “We’re looking for a pastor to help take us to the next level, whatever that is.” My question to you is this: Do you really want to go to the next level? The reason I ask is because what got you to this level won’t get you to the next one. If it could, you’d already be there. The only way to get to the next level is to change some things.
Any changes we make have to start in our relationship with Jesus. The increased numbers in attendance and in our weekly offerings don’t mean a thing if we aren’t growing in our walk with the Lord. So, if we want to go to the next level, we have to start there.
One passage that gives us some direction in this is 1 John 4:7-21 – 7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 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.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”
Verse 11 tells us to love others because God loved us first. This command leads us to a question: How do we love others like God loved us? John tells us how to do this in verses 17 and 18. The first way we love others is to be like Jesus in this world. This brings us to another question. How did Jesus act when he was in the world as a human?
One place which tells us is Philippians 2:1-8 – “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”
Jesus didn’t do what was best for him or what made him feel the most comfortable. He did the things God wanted him to do, even though it led to his own death. He sacrificed himself for the good of others.
I realize we’re one of the few Church of the Brethren congregations that is growing. We have money to do ministry and we do it. Many people are growing in their faith and being healed of past hurts. There are lots of children attending so our future looks bright.
Nonetheless, we will not pat ourselves on the back and think we’ve arrived. How many of you have unsaved family members? How many of our neighbors don’t have a relationship with Jesus? How many more of our youth have to die because of drugs? How many of you can say your marriage is the best it can possibly be? How many of you can say that you’re sinless? Even though there are many great things happening here, we still have plenty of room to be more like Jesus in the world around us.
The second way we love others is by letting go of fear (vs. 18). It’s scary to go to a different level because it requires change. For everything we gain, we have to let something else go. We have to trust the things God has in store for us are better than the things he’s asking us to leave behind.
Think about it. Many of the things we hang onto are pain, rejection, sin, selfishness and pride. Aren’t we better off to grow in our faith and allow God to replace these things with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?
The last thing we must do is take 2 Chronicles 7:14 serious. It says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” We must seek God and repent from our sins. Are we really willing to do this? If we are, God will forgive us and heal our land.
This past week, God has been doing some amazing things in my life. He’s delivered me from pain I felt because of the way some people treated me in the past. Then he told me to move on and quit looking backwards. God’s challenged me is some areas of my marriage where I need to step up and do better. Although I truly believe God gives me my sermons and is working in our congregation, he showed me that I, along with many of you, are putting more emphasis on meetings and schedules than we are on walking under the direction of the Holy Spirit.
As I’ve thought and prayed about this whole concept of our congregation taking our relationship with Jesus to the next level, I’ve realized something. It has to start with me. As your pastor, I commit myself to allowing Jesus to take me to the next level in my relationship with him. Now, what about you? Are you willing to recommit yourself to Jesus right now and allow him to take you to the next level?
If you are, then open yourself up to the leading of the Holy Spirit and be obedient to what he tells you to do. That’s the place to start. (We’re going to spend this spring focusing on going to the next level. More instructions and suggestions are coming.)