A few years ago, I thought I would have some fun, so I purchased one of these flight simulator programs for my computer. Most boys of any age love the thought of flying an airplane. I figured the closest I would ever get was to fly on a computer. But that was good enough to me.
I got the program home, skimmed through all the instructions, and began to fly. I discovered that the Cessna was the easiest plane to fly, and was often used as a training plane, so I chose that one, picked the city I'd like to fly out of, and commenced my inaugural flight. It was then that I discovered another important fact. Flying isn't so easy. As I taxied and eventually took off, I discovered that there was a confusing array of displays and gauges that all required careful attention. I do remember some fairly significant crashes (aren't you glad I was playing on the computer rather than really flying?) before noticing the 30-day return policy on the game. I returned the game for a refund, and thus ended my flying career.
I sometimes feel like life is like the flight simulator program, don't you? There's the initial excitement and anticipation. But life is full of crashes, and life is also full of gauges that need attention. There's health and work, family, devotions, nutrition and exercise, plus any other number of complications that all seem to need attention. What's worse, when one gauge is doing well - say, when family looks okay - inevitably, another gauge is begging for attention. It's difficult, even impossible, to pay attention to all the gauges that seem to need attention in daily life.
Then there's church. When we come to the church, there's another big set of gauges that we use, and somebody's supposed to be in charge of those gauges. Two of the gauges are in the bulletin: offerings and attendance, nickels and noses. We watch those gauges, and if things are going okay, we breath a sigh of relief and sit back comfortably. If things are going the wrong way, then there's a cry of "Alert! Alert!" and people begin to panic.
There's this other gauge, which for lack of a better word, I'll just call contentment. There seem to be some times that everything's going okay, and people seem generally content. Then there are times that the wheels fall off and it looks like everything is falling apart. One of the gauges that we look at is how good we're feeling about the way things are going on.
Then there's other gauges - the gauges that we as leaders sometimes use to measure our church's health. These are good gauges, such as the Natural Church Development survey we use to measure factors such as small groups, empowering leadership, relationships. These factors are all important, even though I wonder if God is more interested in us joining him on the mission field, in joining him in what he's doing, than in how well an organization is doing.
There are countless gauges that we could use to measure ourselves - individually, and as a church. The problem is that the gauges can be confusing, and so numerous, that it's impossible to pay attention to them all.
What if I were to tell you that there's one gauge that we're naturally drawn to, that is our default gauge, that's completely wrong? And then, what if I were going to tell you that there's another gauge - more important than your health, your income, your job, the church's offerings, attendance, or health - that is really the gauge, the one that we must pay attention to? As we head into another Fall as a church, as we probably are looking at all the other gauges as we begin to get busy, it's time to refocus on the gauge that Jesus has given us; the one that really matters.
OUR NORMAL GAUGE
Before we look at the important gauge, I'd like to look at the gauge that all of us default to. I've realized as I looked at all the gauges in my life this past week that this was probably my favorite one, even though it's clearly the wrong one. Yet it's the one I'm drawn to in my life again and again and again.
If you have your Bibles, open them with me to John 13. I want to give you a bit of background to what we're about to read. This was the last week of Jesus' life, the same night as his betrayal and arrest, the night before his crucifixion. Jesus knew what was about to happen, and it was so important to him that John introduces what we're about to read with some background about what Jesus was going to accomplish. Read with me verses 1-3:
Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He now showed the disciples the full extent of his love. It was time for supper, and the Devil had already enticed Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, to carry out his plan to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that he had come from God and would return to God.
What's about to take place isn't just another day. It's one of those moments in which life stands still, and in which something very significant is about to happen. Because it's his last night with his disciples, Jesus is about to focus on what's really important. He's about to clue us in on what we should really pay attention to in our lives as his followers. Let's see what happened.
But before we do, I need to give you a bit more background. Back in those days, it was customary that when you arrived somewhere, a servant would wash your feet. It was considered the most humiliating, disgusting work that any servant could do. It was usually reserved for the servant with the lowest status. Some believe that Jewish servants were exempt from having to do this task. It would be a little like the job I saw somebody doing last week, as we drove home from the States and stopped at some rest areas. It would be a little like cleaning the public washrooms in a very dirty rest area. It would be beneath our dignity or desire to do such a thing, at least for most of us. But in this case, one of those gathered with Jesus would have to do this demeaning job, because the meeting was so secret that no servants were present.
We also know what the disciples were thinking about last night. Luke 22:24 gives us the topic of discussion as the disciples entered the room that night: "And they began to argue among themselves as to who would be the greatest in the coming Kingdom." After three years of intensive training by Jesus, at the most critical night in Jesus' life, this is where their minds were - about themselves, about who's the best.
It hit me this week that of all the gauges that we look at, in our personal lives and in the church, this is the one that we default to. When all the gauges start to overwhelm my attention, and half of the gauges are going the wrong way, my attention swings back to the gauge that's dearest to my soul - who's the greatest? How are my needs being taken care of in this situation? How am I feeling? Are my rights being respected? Is there any complaint that I can register, any way that I can enhance my position and move ahead? The gauge that I normally look to is my own self-interest, and it's the wrong gauge. It's dead wrong. It will destroy my own soul and those around me. But it's the gauge that all of us are drawn to over and over, unless we make a conscious decision every day to ignore it. It's the gauge that kills churches and destroys souls, yet it's the gauge that's part of our lives unless we naturally resist it.
Whenever a church begins to experience grumblings and complaining and disunity, it's because people are looking at the wrong gauge, the gauge of self-interest. It's never the issues that are the issue. Why do I say that? Because you can always disagree and deal with the issues without grumbling, complaining, and disunity. Whenever a church begins to experience grumblings and bad attitudes, it's because people are looking at the wrong gauge. They're wanting to be the greatest, and for others to serve them. James 4:1 says, "What is causing the quarrels and fights among you?" We answer that question, "Because I have this issue." "Because I don't like the way this is being done." "Because I disagree with what is happening." James says that this isn't why. Listen to what James says:
What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Isn't it the whole army of evil desires at war within you? You want what you don't have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous for what others have, and you can't possess it, so you fight and quarrel to take it away from them. And yet the reason you don't have what you want is that you don't ask God for it. And even when you do ask, you don't get it because your whole motive is wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. (James 4:1-3)
Whenever we're part of grumblings or complaints at a church, rather than dealing with the issue sacrificially, honestly, and with integrity, it's because each of us possesses a whole army of evil desires that are ready to go to war, and will scheme and kill to get my way. It's possible to be so deceived that we even pray to God that he'll give us what we want - not because it's right, but because it's what I want. I'm not saying that we can't disagree and try to resolve issues. That's not evil; that's a good thing. But what's wrong is when our concerns take us over to wanting what we want, and when we begin in any way to participate in fighting and grumbling and complaining. It's then that the issue isn't the issue. The issue is our own hearts.
Jesus responded to this by doing what Jesus can do like no other. He responded with his actions. While others were fighting about their position, what they wanted, what they thought, read what Jesus did in verses 4-5: "So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist, and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel he had around him."
The gauge isn't me. The gauge isn't my concerns. The gauge isn't even the issues that I'm concerned about. The gauge is ultimately about one thing: how much I'm willing to give up my rights, my agenda, my position and my pride to become a servant of others. Jesus said later, in verses 15 to 17:
I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you [not literally washing feet, but giving up my self-interest to willingly serve others.] How true it is that a servant is not greater than the master. Nor are messengers more important than the one who sends them. You know these things—now do them! That is the path of blessing.
THE GAUGE THAT MATTERS
There's another gauge that really does matter. When you get down to it, it's the only gauge. We could do everything else right, personally and as a church, but without careful attention to this one, we'll crash. This isn't just an important gauge. It is the gauge. Without it, we're nothing.
Don't get me wrong. We're still going to follow through on what we've set out to do. We're making good progress in our task forces, and some exciting things are happening. While we honor our past as a church, we look forward to becoming a church that's on target in serving him and others, that is leading people to a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. But today I'm asking you to step aside from watching the gauges of how well our church is doing, even how well you're doing, and to look at the only gauge that really matters. If we don't do well here, nothing else is important.
Jesus says in John 13:34-35: "So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples."
Jesus calls this "a new commandment." I've always thought that new here meant recent, that it was new information. But it wasn't a brand new commandment. All the way back in Leviticus 19:18, the Bible said, "Never seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD."
When Jesus said it was a new commandment, he wasn't saying that it was recent or brand new. It's a new commandment because it's fresh. It's new because it's supposed to characterize the new era that began with Jesus' death and resurrection - the era of the church.
Jesus gave this command, and it's almost like he wants us to bake it fresh every morning. Yesterday's love is stale. Keep it fresh. Love one another today. Then, next week, when last week's love is old and crusty, love each other again. Keep it fresh. Keep it new.
Jesus said, "Just as I have loved you, you should love one another." How does Jesus love us? Jesus loves us without reservation and without limit. Jesus loves us without reservation. When he looks at you, there's nothing that causes him to hold back as he pours out his love on you. When he washed his disciple's feet, he washed the feet of Judas, even though he knew that Judas was about to betray him. There is absolutely nothing that you have done or will ever do that causes Jesus to hold back in his love for you. He calls us to love others without reservation as well - even the people who don't love us, even the people who drive us crazy.
Jesus also calls to love without limit. Our love has limits. Jesus' love was so strong that he gave up his life for us. That's the model for our love - love without limits, love without reservations.
Jesus also said, "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples." The best way that we could become an attractive church is if we became a church in which we truly love each other. Instead of a church that's known positively for it's programs or services, or negatively for its fights and disagreements, this is supposed to be the proof positive that we are the people of God: that we love each other.
Think about a church like the church we read of in Acts 2:44-47:
And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had. They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group
An early church historian wrote, "It is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand on us! 'See,' they say, 'how they love one another…see how they are ready even to die for one another.'" (Tertullian, 3rd century)
I'd like you to look up here for a minute. It's very possible that many of us may have been reading what Jesus said, and today we may have been thinking, "Right on. Preach it. I wish that others in this church were more loving. Pastor, I wish you were more loving." But Jesus is calling you to look at your own gauge this morning - to examine your own life, to see how you're doing with this love. He's calling me to do the same. The real issue today isn't how loving other people are. It's how loving you are.
The good thing about being in a church is that you never run out of opportunities to love. There's always somebody hurting. There's always something to annoy you. There's always someone to forgive. There are always opportunities to step outside the fight of self-interest, to wrap a towel around our waists, and to begin laying aside our dignity to serve others, to give up our rights and concerns for their sakes.
I was trying to think about how to apply this. It's obvious here that we have a choice whether or not to obey Jesus' command. We sometimes think that love is a feeling, that we can't choose whether or not to love, but Jesus would never command us to love if it were impossible to love. Love is a choice.
The most obvious application is to receive the love of the one who gave this command. He demonstrated his love for you by dying for you. You can only love others as Jesus loved you. I invite you to respond to his love today.
But for those of us w ho have already received Christ's love, there are three aspects of our life that we need to change:
Our conversations - Proverbs 10:32 says, "The godly speak words that are helpful, but the wicked speak only what is corrupt." Proverbs 18:4 says, "A person's words can be life-giving water; words of true wisdom are as refreshing as a bubbling brook." Ephesians 4:29 says, "Don't use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them."
You have no idea how much power your words have. You can use them to cut others up, and you will end up no only hurting them but also endangering your soul. But your words also have the ability to bring healing and life to others and the church. How can you express love through your words? What damage control do you have to do because of words you've already spoken?
Our actions - "Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions. It is by our actions that we know we are living in the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before the Lord" (1 John 3:18-19). Jesus demonstrated his love for us through his actions. What help do you need to give to somebody, even though it's inconvenient? 1 John 3:16-17 says, "We know what real love is because Christ gave up his life for us. And so we also ought to give up our lives for our Christian brothers and sisters. But if anyone has enough money to live well, and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help—how can God's love be in that person?" We don't love if our love doesn't show in our actions. What action is God calling you to take?
Our reactions - The hardest time to love is when we've been hurt, when somebody's wounded our heart. When somebody was wronged us, or wrongly accused us, has gossiped about us, the hardest thing in the world is to love that person. I know. Jesus said, "Love your enemies! Do good to them! Lend to them! And don't be concerned that they might not repay. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to the unthankful and to those who are wicked" (Luke 6:35).
I don't think there's a person here who doesn't have to address one of these issues - our words, our actions, our reactions. The sad thing is that many churches are known not by wholesome words, generous action, and gracious forgiveness, but by grumbling and selfishness. How pleased God must be when his children come to him in repentance, who go back to people they've wronged or spoken poorly about, and make things right. How pleased God will be with those of us who respond in obedience to the command of Jesus to love.
I need work in these areas. I need to pay more attention to this gauge. It's the only gauge that matters. Without love, we're nothing. I wonder if you would respond with me in obedience in a commitment to love others more.