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Christ the King Sunday
November 23, 2014
Pastor Dan Selbo

"40 Days of Prayer"
Matthew 25:31-46

Dear Friends, Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus. Let's get right into it. Today is one of those Sundays when there is so much going on, there's no way we can deal with all of it.

It's our annual Thank Offering Sunday. All of these gifts that are here today: the shoeboxes, the bags of food, the quilts, the frozen turkeys and chickens. I don't want to overestimate how each of these might be used (as they're passed on and shared), but I certainly don't want to underestimate what God has promised to do in the lives of those on the receiving end. We may never know; but what's happening here today will make a tremendous difference.

It's also the second week in which we are making financial commitments for the coming year. Every one of us here today has been blessed. There's no question about it. Our commitments are a response, a way of returning to God a portion of what he has given to us. And just like with (these other gifts), the things we return will be used in some life-changing ways.

It's also Christ the King Sunday, the final Sunday in the Church year. We haven't been following the Church year as closely these past couple of years. We worked our way through The Story, we've done a number of series. But today we come (to a day) when we recognize and remember what it means to have Jesus as our King.

And finally, this is the first day in our "40 Days of Prayer"; a time when we're challenging ourselves to set aside time each day (between now and the New Year) to ask God where he is leading, what he wants us to do, and how we might each fit in to what he has in mind for us.

We're not going to deal with all of this. (There's not enough time.) But I do want to spend time with those last two, with the fact that Jesus is our King and with what we have in front of us (beginning today) with these "40 days of Prayer." And then I want to allow some time (at the end) to actually kick it off.

Let's start with the "40 Days of Prayer." This is a bit different, but I think it's important. In your bulletins you have an insert that describes what we're trying to do. If you don't mind finding that, I want to talk us through what we're being challenged to do.

As you're doing that (finding that insert), I want to tell you what happened this past week with one of our members. I'm not going to give the details, but one of our members was talking about the "40 Days of Prayer" that's starting here today, and (while she was doing it), one of her kids jumped in with a rather insightful comment. She was talking about the 40 days coming up when we're going to praying, asking for God's guidance. That's when her son (jumped in) and asked, "Why 40 days? Why not 365 days? Why just 40?"

I thought (when I heard that), "That's wonderful! What a great question!" I'm glad that's where her son's mind went. (He's exactly right.) This isn't an effort to set aside 40 days to pray, and then forget about prayer for the other 325. Prayer is something we do year round.

Nor is it an implication (in any way) that prayer isn't already happening. I know it is. I know many of you are praying every day. It's what we do as believers. It's who we are as followers. We can't even begin to live the Christian life if we're not regularly and intentionally setting aside time for prayer. (It's not possible.) It's a given. It's what followers of Jesus do.

But for these next 40 days, (beginning today), we're challenging ourselves to pray with a more direct and deliberate focus. And that's what these 40 days are about.

Take a look at the insert in your bulletins and follow with me as we talk our way through. On the front side, where it says "40 Days of Prayer, November 23 - January 1", you'll find a general description of what we're challenging ourselves to do.

You'll see three personal challenges. It says, "Pray Daily, Worship (Sunday and midweek), and Accountability"; (prayer, worship, and accountability). Those are the three challenges.

We're challenging ourselves (first of all) to pray¡­and not just to pray, but to pray with a (specific target) for our prayers. You'll see that on the bottom of that same side. We're challenging ourselves to pray for where God is leading us (individually) and how he wants us to grow in the coming year. We're all going to do something in the coming year. It's that something we want to be praying about.

What does God want for my life? Where is God leading in the year ahead? How can (what I'm doing) with my life become better aligned with what he (wants me to do) with my life?

In the same way, we're challenging ourselves to pray for where he is leading us as a congregation. Let's be honest. We have a tremendous opportunity in front of us (in this coming year) to have significant impact for God's kingdom. (That's not an overstatement.)

We're a strong congregation. We're in a tremendous mission field. About 4% get up and go to church on Sunday morning. It's all around us.

We also have a lot going on right here. This whole discipleship effort is starting to take hold. Huddles are happening. Missional Communities are not far away. We're even looking at the possibility of starting a couple of house churches; to say nothing of what needs to happen among our leaders and our (leadership structure) to support those efforts. We're challenging ourselves to pray for God's guidance, for his hand to lead us, and for the things that he wants us to be about to actually become the very things we are about.

That's the first challenge, to pray. The second is to worship. Now, similar to the prayer challenge, this is nothing new, except that our worship time (starting here today) is going to include a time for each of us to pray. Not just our corporate prayers, but individual time to talk with God.

And midweek, the three Wednesday nights in December (in particular) will be services built around prayer, with music, Bible readings, and prayer stations set up for that very purpose. It'll be different from Sunday morning, but we believe it'll be a meaningful and deliberate way for us to spend time together talking with God.

Prayer, worship, and accountability. There's a place on the top of that same side to write the name of someone who can hold you accountable. It's not something you have to do, but it will help you stay on it.

It's like anything in life. It's one thing to say you're going to do it. It's another to actually do it. Texting, emails, phone calls, whatever it takes. Find someone who can remind you to do what you're committing to do. (That's all on the front side.)

On the back side, there's space for you to take notes. The idea is to write down what you prayed for. Make note of what God is telling you. And then, based upon what you hear, make sure you follow through with a plan. There'll be an insert (like this) each week between now and when the 40 days are over. And when it's over, there'll be a chance for each of us to share in a very tangible way what it is we heard. The first two weeks in the New Year, there'll be that chance.

40 Days of Prayer. (Let me say one last thing, and I hope you already notice this.) This has nothing to do with the financial commitments we're making today. That's a challenge of its own. This has nothing to do with that. It has everything to do with where God is leading, how our lives might be used, and what he wants for us, individually and together, in the coming year. (I look forward to where these 40 days might lead.)

That's our challenge, for the next 40 days. Let's change our focus (for a few moments) and talk about Christ as King. And then I want to come back to what these 40 days are all about and give you a few moments to pray.

The passage we read today (from Matthew's gospel) is one we've heard before. It's the story of the judgment, of what is going to happen when everything that is (going to happen) has already happened.

You know the story. Jesus is seated on the throne. It says, all the nations will be gathered. Everyone who has ever lived will be standing before the One who is King.

Try to picture it. (Can you imagine?) All of the people you have ever known. All of the generations who have ever lived! Just think about it. Your family; they'll all be there. Your parents, your grandparents, your great grandparents, they'll all be there; your children, and
your children's children, every one of them. You'll be there. I'll be there. No one who has ever lived will be left out.

Paul says that when that day comes, "every knee will bow, and every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." All of the questions about whether (or not) this is all true will be gone. All of the doubts about where this world is heading (and why) will be erased.

And that's when it will happen. That's (exactly) what will happen. Like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, so will Jesus make his judgment. And there'll be a separation, and it'll be final. The sheep on the right, eternally with Jesus, and the goats on the left, forever set apart.

And how will it happen? On what basis? On the basis (the Shepherd says) of what we've done (in this life) for those in need. On the basis (our Lord tells us) of how we've responded (in this life) to him. And on the basis (Jesus says) of how our relationship with him influenced and impacted the way we lived.

I don't know about you, but for me, this is one of the most challenging stories Jesus ever told. It gets right to heart of what's in our hearts, and how (in this life) we've responded (or not) to him.

Remember the examples? "I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger," Jesus said, "and you welcomed me in, in need of clothing and sick and in prison, and you gave me something to wear, looked after me, and came to visit."

My friends, this isn't an unrealistic list of things to do. It's a list of what we can all do. What would you do if you walked out of this building today and, on your way home, saw Jesus with nothing to eat? Would you give him something to eat? And what if he needed clothes? Would you give him clothes? What if he was thirsty, give him a drink? Sick or in prison, see what you could to do to help? It's a no-brainer. We all would. Why do we even ask?

We ask because he's out there. Not as Jesus, but as one for whom Jesus died. That's what's going on in the story. When you follow Jesus, your world changes. People who maybe didn't matter, all of a sudden matter. People whom you (thought before) you could ignore, you no longer can.

How come? Because, they're all part of his family. They're all part of your family. (That's what this means.) Would you help someone in your own family, if they had a need? Would you help someone in Jesus' family, if you had the chance?

What if it was Jesus' brother who was hungry? Would you feed him then? (It is, so why not?) What if it was your brother? Would you let him go on without the clothes he needs? We all know what we'd do, if it was. The question is what will we do, because now it is.

Sound familiar? (It should.) It's the Christian life. Sound like you've heard it before? (I hope so.) It's what God wants to see and (to find) in each of us.

It's the Book of James in summary. It's the whole faith and works all wrapped into one. "Be doers of the word, and not hearers only." If it's only words, (James says), without action, then our words are nothing more than words. What's happening in your life to back up your words?
What are you doing in your life to show that you've given it back to Christ?

That's the story. That's what's going to happen. It's not a work-your-way-into-heaven passage, based upon what you've done. Jesus is King and he's King because of a cross. (Don't ever forget.) He died for a reason. He already paid the price.

This isn't about how we get into heaven, (don't misunderstand), because only Jesus can get you into heaven. That's not what this is about. But he is King, and he has called us to follow, and we follow, Jesus says, by serving those in need.

Now, I realize this starts getting personal. And I realize that there are no easy answers. (I don't want to pretend there are.) I also realize that there's a risk in helping people, because it's easy (when you help) to get burned. Maybe there's not a real need? Maybe you're becoming an enabler? Maybe this is nothing more than a scam?

Who knows what it might be? The answer is we don't. All we know is that (behind that person) is Jesus. All we know is that (in helping) that person, we're helping Christ.

And so, what do we do with (all of this) on this Christ the King Sunday? Where do we leave (all of this) when we walk outside and go home? There's a lot going on here this morning: shoeboxes, bags of food, quilts and blankets to be given away. And it's all good. It's all in response to Christ. I'm not saying that it's not.

All I know is that we have an opportunity (individually and together) to make a difference in this world in the name of Jesus. And not just on this weekend when we recognize and respond to all that we've been given. But every day, every moment, all throughout the year.

So let's close in a way that is a bit different. If we want to make a difference, we need to be different. Let's do it differently today, and start by spending time in prayer.

I've asked our musicians to give us a couple of minutes, to simply spend time praying about where this might all lead. Before our next song, before we move on, let's stop and let's start together, these 40 days of prayer.

Take these moments, silently, just you and God, and pray.




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