Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Church in HD: May His Glory Fill the Earth

Over the past two months, we have taken a little closer look at our church. Frankly, in some ways it has been uncomfortable, and particularly as we sit on these new pews and have new carpet under us. Of course, we know that these items are not the church, but given the problems we have had downstairs and how those problems have kept us from using approximately 20% of the downstairs during Sunday School, and during God Squad during the week, matters such as carpet and furniture do have a place in the discussion.

On the second week of the series, I very briefly reviewed the history of the television. I think I surprised many of you by saying that the first set of pictures to be transferred across a set of wires was done in 1862. But TV has come a long way since then, and even within the last 60 years when it became more common for people to own televisions in their home. Rather than the black and white TVs with rabbit ears, most people now have high-definition TVs and even super hi-def TVs and can watch TV without any wires as images float past us in the air all the time. The picture has become clearer and that made watching more enjoyable.

Another major advance in clarity was the advent of the Hubble Telescope. Of course, people have been gazing at the stars for years. Telescopes are nothing new. They have allowed people to get a better gaze at the stars and planets for centuries. But when the Hubble Telescope was developed the star-gazing became less hazy, and details emerged that had never been known. Additionally, the Hubble Telescope allowed us to see so much further into space than had ever been considered.

Of course, seeing things more clearly does not always make us feel good. For instance, my wife does not worry much about what the top of the refrigerator may look like. It isn’t that she doesn’t care, but because she cannot see it, she has no idea how dusty is can become. But if she gets a step stool to get in the cabinet above the fridge, then her next stop includes a paper towel and cleaner to clean it off – unless I have done it recently. (And yes, having used this example, the top was cleaned this week!)

As we conclude this series today, I want to move beyond the church to YOU as an individual. Because if you are a Christian, then you are a part of the Church. So, let us use the passage from Acts 2 to consider how you are doing as it relates to what the early church did. Because if each of us – that is, a collection of you’s all do our part, then indeed, we can emulate the early church and we will see God move in ways we may not have considered.

Are You Devoted to the Word of God? (Acts 2.42)

The early church was devoted to learning. They gathered every day to learn. They came to hear the apostles teach them – from their experiences and from their study. Of course, the apostles physically saw Jesus and were present when Jesus did many of the things He did. But Acts 6 tells us that the primary method was proclaiming the Word of God. That is the great equalizer. You and I may not have been physically present with Jesus, but we have the complete Word of God available to us every day. The apostles were devoted to studying it and teaching it. The people were devoted to hearing and learning it. Are YOU as devoted to God and His Word?

Are You Devoted to Fellowship with Others? (Acts 2.42)

We are all devoted to someone or something. As I frequently mention, a large group of people will be show extreme devotion each Sunday various football teams. I am not anti-football. And I like the Chiefs, but where is my true devotion? Because fellowship is not just being around others or the 75000+ people at Arrowhead today would be experiencing deep fellowship. And yet, let me argue, that they are. Most of the people at a game as Arrowhead Stadium will be Chiefs fans. Some plays will cause them to agonize. Others will cause them to celebrate. An extreme unity will be felt by most everyone there. And that unity includes suffering in the cold. On the other hand, the modern church has reduced fellowship to having meals together – and as the end of verse 42 shows, that was a part of the fellowship then. But fellowship is the sharing of life. It is wanting to spend time together. It is desiring to be with other believers. It includes encouraging one another to be better, caring for one another during times of trial, loving one another when no one else will, praying with, and for, each other (as the text mentions), and yes, gathering together regularly to celebrate what Jesus has done for us. Are YOU devoted to that kind of fellowship with others?

Are You Devoted to Sharing with Those in Need? (Acts 2.44-45)

Three times each year we take a collection to send to missionaries in Missouri (September), North America (March/April), and around the world (December). On the last Sunday of each month, we collect our change to send to two pastors in Kenya. Throughout the years, we also have other opportunities to share – such as providing supplies to the youth, coats to the students at Maryville, boxes of toys to children around the world through OCC, food items for our area’s food pantry, etc. But most of what we give comes from the excess of what we receive, not from what we already have. While that is ok in the monetary sense, it is not acceptable in the fullness of ministry. What do I mean?

Service is needed as well. As we have seen a couple of times over the past few months, God has given us all certain talents, skills, abilities, etc. We are to serve Him from what we already have – ourselves. Yes, we should give to worthy causes, but sharing with those in need will often require giving of ourselves more than of our stuff. Of course, the early church was willing to sell “stuff” in order to provide for others. But the awe that people experienced (v 43) was due to what was being done. And this is not about being at or going to church – living for Jesus means you can serve Him wherever you are and in whatever you do.

In fact, our willingness to give from what we have can change the world. As Matt Perman said, “Our work changes the world in at least two ways. First, it is through our work that we change the structures of society, and it is by changing the structures of society that we change the world.” (Matt Perman, Unstuck, p. 116)

We need to be giving of ourselves – our time and our money. Are YOU sharing with those who are in need?

Are You Devoted to the Worship of the Lord? (Acts 2.46-47)

If you are reading to this, your immediate response may be “Of course.” But is that true? Remember, the aim of this series is to be honest with who we are as a church, and that begins with who we are as individuals. Attending church on Sunday (or reading certain blogs) is fine. But worship is not meant for Sunday alone. True worship is meant for every day. In fact, I am fully convinced that the reason most churches do not fully experience God on Sundays is that the people do not take time to worship Him during the week. Our worship together on Sunday should be from the overflow of our worship individually throughout the week. Now, the early church did this differently, but they did not have radios, music apps, the internet, etc. Additionally, they were still learning to understand that God did not reside in a place (the temple), but within our hearts. So they went daily to the temple (where God had promised His presence would be) to worship – or praise (v 47) – who He was and all that He was doing. Our technology may allow us to worship anywhere, but we do not need technology to worship.

Is worship a part of your daily routine? Are you truly devoted to the worship of Jesus?

Are You Devoted to the Spreading of the Gospel? (Acts 2.47)

Last week I reminded us of the story of Philip and his instant readiness. Philip had an expectation to be used by God. Acts 2.42 shows the early church, as a whole, did as well. Verse 47 says that God added to their number daily. Last week, during Sunday School, a couple of people started asking about how the Doctrine of Election fits into the entire scheme of faith and sharing the gospel. It was a fascinating discussion for about five minutes and I just listened and smiled while they worked through it and others joined in the process. Without getting into that doctrine, let me just say that the doctrine is biblical. But so is sharing the gospel. Jesus did it (Mark 1.14-15) and He commanded us to do it as well (Matthew 28.18-20).

Yes, it was the Lord who added to their number, but the people were sharing the message. That message included words like, “Knowing Jesus changed my life” and “You should hear what Peter was teaching us last night” and “Why don’t you come with me tonight and hear for yourself?” Again, the word gospel simply means “good news.” We all share good news, but do we honestly take the time to share THE GOOD NEWS?

So, that’s five things the early church did well that we must consider for ourselves. The group then was fully devoted and the impact on the world is still being realized. The question for us: Is are we devoted? These five areas of devotion represent the five areas or our church’s strategy as well, so if we are as devoted, we can accomplish now all that they did then.

The early church was healthy and thus God did some amazing things in and through them. Fairfax Baptist Church, we can become healthier. We can do better. We can grow like they did then – maybe not with the same numbers, but why not at the same percentage rate? Healthy churches grow over time, although not necessarily at all times. A church that is growing is not necessarily healthy, but a healthy church will eventually mean growth. If we are not growing and do not grow, then we are not healthy. And, thus, we need to look deeper than the surface issues. If we are not healthy, then that means all of us have some part to play in improving ourselves so that collectively we can improve as well.

It goes back to the central question of this series: What can I do that, if done well, and done for Jesus, can make a difference in this church, and for His Kingdom?”

Why should we care? Because it is not enough to be a church member...we are called to be Christ followers. Jesus said, I am the Way, so if we heed His call to “Follow Me,” we will not get lost. And when we are following the path He has set for us, we are able to bring God glory. Bringing God glory is the vision we have as a church (Matthew 5.16) and is our part in God fulfilling His promise in Habakkuk 2.14 that the knowledge of His glory will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.

For us to fully begin exchanging our expectations for God’s manifestations, we need to tend to a few practical matters as well. I spent time this week mapping out 2019 and am really excited for what the new year will bring. But to enjoy the ride, we have some preparatory work to do. This work will not be specifically related to the ideas I have mentioned today, but without having certain processes in place, we cannot function as well as we should. So, when I return, we will focus on a few key items like developing our team purposes and completing our policies and procedures manual, and examining certain systems to make any changes to allow our ministry to become more effective. These areas will be key areas of focus of 2019!

CONCLUSION

I hope you have been challenged during this series – and especially today – to more seriously consider what it truly means to be a church that is devoted to God’s purposes and not our expectations. I realize that this series has not been the easiest to consider. It is easier to live with the idol of comfort than surrendering to standing before the council to be punished for proclaiming Jesus name as we saw with the apostles. It is easier to come and go while letting others serve than it is to do our part as a hand, a foot, an eye, and ear, or whatever part of the Body of Christ God has called us to be. It is easier to complain about what we would change about the church or others within the church than to take a closer look at what we could change about ourselves so that we might better reflect the glory of God. And it is better to think that the church that began just after Jesus left should be better than we are because, after all, they had spent time with Jesus. But do we not have the same Spirit and the same power available to us?

And that is why this series has been necessary. Sometimes we need to be rocked to the core. Sometimes we need to be reminded that church is nothing about what we want it to be; rather it is what He has designed her to be. The Church is the Bride of Christ and, as such, we have a responsibility to our groom to be what He wants us to be. And Jesus is not some misogynistic, wife-beating maniac. No, Paul reminds us that Jesus loved His bride so much that He died for her. The question for us is, will we live for Him?

Jesus said He would build His Church. One would think that over time it would improve. Humans now make better televisions, and telescopes. In fact, a lot of what is made is better now than in the past. No, not everything is, but if humans can improve on our ability to manufacture items, should we not expect that the Church Jesus designed and is building to be at least as good now as it was when it was first started? I am not suggesting that Jesus needs improving, He does not, but we do. And, as we improve, and become more like Jesus (God’s goal for us according to Romans 8.29), His Church should improve as well. That is why...

The JOURNEY letter for this week is: YYOU.

It is up to YOU. It is up to me. But if we live our lives devoted to Jesus and what He wants from each of us individually, we will become what He wants us to be collectively as well.

PRINCIPLE: God asks us to be ready to engage with others because He wants to be further engaged with us.

QUESTION: What can I do that, if done well, and done for Jesus, can make a difference in this church, and for His Kingdom?”

NEXT STEP(S):  LIVE: Be devoted! And answer the question that has fueled this series: “What can I do that, if done well, and done for Jesus, can make a difference in this church, and for His Kingdom?”

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Church in HD: No Thanks, Lord. Not Today.

Each morning you wake up with a multitude of choices. But every choice we face daily boils down to this:  will we do what needs to be done or what we want to do? Sometimes these two questions overlap or at least nearly overlap. For instance, we have all probably said, “I need a break,” or even better “I need a vacation.” Both of those may be needs, but each may also satisfy a want.

Yet most of what we do is done without much thought. As you got dressed this morning, you may have considered which shoes to wear, but you probably didn’t give much thought to putting them on your feet. Why? Because it is just what you do before going outside. Yet, why is that? Because you need to protect your feet. Likewise, your body will tell you when it needs food, so you eat when you need to eat. But sometimes we also eat when we want to eat – which is often why we gain weight. And how many children have no problem preparing to eat because they want some food only to hear, “You need to eat your vegetables.” Again, I would contend that everything we do will come down to either needing or wanting to do it.

So, what about evangelism? As I say that word, many will cringe. Why? Because we know we need to do it, but few really want to do it. Yet, according to the Bible we are commanded to evangelize – that is, we are commanded to share the Gospel. And I would guess most everyone in here has evangelized today or at least within the past couple of days. That is, you have shared good news with someone. Because that is what the gospel is. The word gospel simply means good news. But the question we must then ask is are we only sharing the gospel of our lives or the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Before I go on, let me just pause and ask this question. You need not respond out loud, but you should consider a response. Whether you have shared the Good News of Jesus recently or not, and whether you want to do it or not, would you agree that the Bible says that as a follower of Christ, you should be sharing the Good News with others? Hold on to that thought for just a minute.

This week’s message is about a story of a man who was ready to serve God in a moment’s notice. He wanted to serve, and thus God used him where he was needed. The story is of a man named Philip, and the passage is from Acts 8.

If We Want to Serve God, We Need to Be Ready (Acts 8.26-29)

Acts 8 begins with Saul ravaging the church. But the story immediately turns to the work that the Spirit is doing through the lives of people. One of those people is Philip who is preaching the gospel. Now before I go on, let me clarify something. Just a moment ago, I asked if, as a Christian, you should be telling others about Jesus – whether you want to or not. If you agree that is true, then let me share how the Greek verb “to evangelize” is translated in English. The word is preach. 55 times in the New Testament, this word is translated to preach, so if you agreed with that question a moment ago, then you have agreed that God has called you to preach.

The problem is that we have turned the idea of preaching into a form of speaking. But the Bible doesn’t explicitly say that preaching is standing behind a pulpit and delivering a message like we are accustomed to think of it. Now, it can mean that, but essentially, the meaning of the word is to share the Good News, and if we are to share that news, then we must be ready.

So, Philip is proclaiming the Gospel throughout Samaria. Remember the Samaritans are the half-breeds that most Jews detested. But they needed to hear the Good News so whether or not others wanted to go, and even whether or not Philip wanted to go, he went. And people believed. The apostles got word of what was happening so they sent Peter and John to make sure it was real. “Really, the Samaritans are believing that Jesus is Lord? Can that be true? Maybe Philip is mistaken. We better send someone to check it out!”

So, Peter and John go. And they find what has been said to be true. And even a magician believes so the apostles return to Jerusalem and preach, that is evangelize, to other Samaritans on the way back. Thus, the disciples have now made it to the third steps of Jesus promise. As we read last week, Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” They may not have wanted to go to the Samaritans, but God needed someone to go, so Philip went. The apostles have followed. And that leads us to the heart of our story for this week.

So, imagine Philip on the morning of this story. We are not told what time of day it takes place, but let’s say Philip woke that morning and said, “God, I am ready for whatever is next.” At some point, an angel appears and says something like, “Ok, God heard you. Here is your assignment for the day.” When Philip heard what he was to do, he did it. He was ready. And he went. The end of verse 26 says it was a desert place. This important detail tells us that it was not going to be all comfort for Philip, but his intent was serving God, so he went. He did not know what he was to do. He did not know whom he would meet. He just knew God said, “Go” so he went.

Once he got there, he was given his assignment. Notice that it wasn’t until he obeyed that God revealed what he was to do next. This principle is often difficult for me. At least it is when I am in this vicinity, and less so when I travel abroad. As you know I am a planner. But when you are serving God, you need to let you plans be disrupted if they are His plans doing the disrupting. Planning is not wrong. The Bible is filled with the plans that people had – including Jesus. But as Proverbs 16.9 teaches us, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” I don’t know what Philip wanted to do that particular day, but he was ready to do what the Lord needed him to do.

So, Philip arrives at the spot. He is told his next assignment which was simply to go over to the chariot. Philip still did not know what he was supposed to do. But he kept going. Now, the text does not tell us if the chariot was moving or not, and I suspect it was not. However, I like to think of this passage as Philip running alongside it because it does say Philip ran to the chariot. It is likely not true (it does not say he ran alongside), but it adds to the drama. But when Philip arrives he begins to understand what his assignment will be.

If We Want to Help Others Understand, We Need to Begin Where They Are (Acts 8.30-35)

Sometimes we desire to help but we do not know what is really needed. In those cases, we need to take a moment to observe the situation and then begin to work. As I have mentioned several times, that was a mistake I made upon arriving in Fairfax. I did take time initially on Wednesday evenings, and frankly after about five months, I thought we were ready (or at least I was ready) to move forward. But after I began to present some ideas, I realized that I did not have the full story and we had to back up and begin again about seven months later. Overall, I estimate the process set us back about another year.

Philip did not have five months, let alone two years. He had just a short time, but he did not know that. Yet, Philip hears what the man is doing and instantly asks a relevant question. “Do you understand what you are reading?” We do not know how long this was after Jesus died, but likely not very long – maybe a year or two. But this man comes from Ethiopia to Jerusalem and is now returning home. We do not know why he was there, but this mention of travelling from Ethiopia to Jerusalem may be a reminder to some people of the Queen of Sheba’s journey to Jerusalem during the time of Solomon. This man obtained some of the ancient writings somewhere and was reading from Isaiah 53 (verses 7 and 8), when Philip arrived.

Philip hears the man reading aloud and now he can begin to minister. Philip knew the man was ready because he asked for a guide. We may not always need to wait, but Philip knew this man was teachable. The word used for guiding is the same word that Jesus used to say that the Spirit would come to guide the apostles in John 16.13. Sometimes the Spirit may impart information Himself, but here He uses Philip to do the teaching. Remember, it was an angel that told Philip to go to the area, but it was the Spirit who told him to go to the chariot.

So, Philip serves as a guide. Philip engaged him but not just one to one. Philip began with this Scripture, so he included God in the process. But what else did Philip have to help him? Perhaps this official had a copy of what we call the Old Testament, but perhaps all he had was the book of Isaiah. What we do know is that none of the New Testament had been written, so whatever Philip told this man was relating Scripture from the Old Testament to the stories he had heard (and maybe even seen) about Jesus. But whatever process he used, Philip told this court official from Ethiopia the good news. That is, he evangelized!

If We Want Others to Know the Joy of Christ, We Each Need to Do Our Part (Acts 8.36-40)

Philip had now done the first part of his job. He had done what the Spirit commanded and he had responded to the opportunity to proclaim God’s Word. Philip had helped this man understand. But now the emphasis moves to the official.

The man sees water. Is this a miracle? I think so. Remember, we were given a five-word clue in verse 26 above – this is a desert place. Why would this information be recorded? Maybe so we could see the miracle that God provided a place for water in the midst of the desert. Whatever may have happened, we know that Philip took the opportunity to baptize this court official. And then, Philip was gone. As in the fact, he immediately vanished.

But Jesus command was to teach them to observe all that I commanded. Philip had not done this. This man still needed to know much more. But Philip’s part was done. Someone else would continue the process at this point. You may remember what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3, “I planted. Apollos watered. But God gave the growth.” Here Philip was the planter and God must have had someone else in mind for the watering portion.

For Philip, God made it very clear that his responsibility with this man was over because he was immediately whisked away. God may not always make it as clear to us as he did to Philip that day, but if we are faithful to serve God, He will be faithful to let us know when it is time for our next assignment.

CONCLUSION

1 Peter 3.15 says that we should always be ready to give a reason for the hope that we have. Many people in this region right now are talking about the hope they have that the Chiefs will beat the Browns today or that Patrick Mahomes will lead the Chiefs to the Super Bowl for the first time in nearly 50 years. And, if he does it will be a time for celebration for every Chiefs fan. But what will happen to that optimism and hope if Mahomes gets injured? The good news people may want to share will quickly turn cynical again and people will say something like, “See the Chiefs will never be able to win.” And, in one moment, the perceived need to talk about the good news of the Chiefs is gone.

But, the Gospel of Jesus dos not disappoint. Of course, our lives are not perfect just because we believe that His death and resurrection are truly THE Good News. But Jesus cannot be injured and dash a city’s or a region’s football dreams. Because Jesus was already injured and even died but He was able to overcome death providing the greatest of news. But tomorrow morning, most people – even strong Christians – will be talking about the Chiefs’ game (win or lose) instead of what Jesus has done for them.

That is why we must remember that we NEED to share THE Good News that has stood the test of time. We NEED to be ready in a moment’s instant because somebody’s eternal fate might be at stake. We may not WANT to have our lives interrupted, but as Philip’s life shows us, when we are willing to be used by God, miracles do occur.

The JOURNEY letter for this week is: EENGAGE.

As we consider this series of the Church in HD, we are looking at areas where our church might be lacking in comparison to the church as it was described in the Bible. We may not be whisked away in a moment like Philip was, but are we ready to share the Gospel of Jesus in a moment’s notice? Are we willing to share the Gospel of Jesus at all?

Again, every day we are faced with thousands of small choices that have to do with our wants and needs. And I suspect, if there is any spiritual maturity among us at all, then we realize that we need to share His message. That means we have to engage with others. We have to know them. We have to meet them where they are. And we must be ready to lead them as far as we can before God gives us our next assignment.

We know what it means to be engaged to someone – it is to be committed or pledged to that person. And an engagement is an appointment or an arrangement that has been made. Well, if we truly want to be used by God, then He has an engagement for us with some person to whom we can engage and help them to become committed themselves to Jesus.

We need to quit making excuses and waiting for tomorrow. We need to be ready today!

PRINCIPLE: God asks us to be ready to engage with others because He wants to be further engaged with us.

QUESTION: What can I do that, if done well, and done for Jesus, can make a difference in this church, and for His Kingdom?

NEXT STEP(S):

  • LIVE: We all need to live with a readiness to serve God. Make yourself ready this week and let God use you to speak to one person about the good news of Jesus Christ. In particular, the person should be someone whom you would not normally talk to about Jesus.
  • LEAD: We all need to lead others to not only know Jesus, but to be ready to serve Him as well.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Hub Sunday – “Gifted to Serve”

This week is Hub Sunday. I know many are still wondering what that means because this is only our fourth one and for the second meeting we only met for a few minutes before going out to serve. So, let me provide a brief reminder.

The idea is rooted in a conversation between Roger Martin and I from mid-June. The following week, he used the word, missions hub,” in a deacon meeting and that got me thinking how we could better promote missions – not just in the sense that we give money to some cause, but in how we are involved, and how we should be involved.

So, at the end of July we had our first Hub Sunday and I talked about these origins and why we would focus on this idea occasionally. I still do not know if it will be monthly long-term, but for now it is.

On Labor Day weekend, we used Hub Sunday as an opportunity to serve people around Fairfax on what we called Labor for the Son Day. I anticipate that is the first annual such day.

At the end of September, we brought out the boards showing various areas we served – in Fairfax, in NW Missouri, in the United States, and around the world. Lord willing, we will continue to add more to these boards over time. As a part of last month’s service, I invited Dr. Jeremy Burright to come and share, as the Superintendent of Fairfax Schools, how we might be able to serve the school. Some interest was generated and we will be determining a date to do some of the interior painting soon.

So, that brings us to today. And today I want to focus on the fact that God has gifted us to serve. I will present a few opportunities for us to consider, but first I want to review a familiar parable. This parable fits well with last week’s message related to the fact that the Spirit has given one or more gifts to every born-again believer as we saw in 1 Corinthians 12. Those gifts, called spiritual gifts, are a gift from God to us so that we may, in turn, give ourselves to Him through our service.

Before I begin to expand on today’s text, let me first read today’s text. The passage is Matthew 25.14-30. Please read Matthew 25.14-30.

The Master’s Journey

The man in the story is a wealthy man. We know this because He has servants and only those with some amount of wealth could afford to have servants. Furthermore, we will see by his gift, how wealthy this man really must be.

However, we must also note that he is a trusting man. Verse 14 says he entrusted his property to these servants. So, this wealthy and trusting man gave a certain amount of his assets to three servants as specified here. One servant received five talents, another two, and another received one. Before I describe a talent, let us understand that this distribution is fair. The Bible does not say this is a father trying to make certain that three of His children get the same portion of a candy bar. These are servants and the reason he gave more to certain servants is because of previous experience. The Bible tells us this – the master gave to each “according to his ability” (v. 15). This practice is good stewardship and, thus, good leadership. I teach this principle all the time. You give people certain responsibilities and as they succeed you give them more responsibility. A responsible adult does not give a 16-year-old $500,000 to do with as s/he pleases. The responsible adult gives a child a little bit of money and see how that amount first. If it is handled well, then more is given. Etc.

And we should be thankful for this because Luke 12.48 says that to whom much is given, much is expected. That verse is the verse I fear the most because I have been given much – and that would be true if I had nothing else but the grace of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. From there, God has given me a beautiful wife, wonderful children, a loving church to serve, opportunities to use my education to benefit others within this country and now abroad. Again, much has been given. Therefore, much is expected.

So, in this text, what has truly been given to these three servants?

The Master’s Gift

In our culture, many will see the word talent and think of something they can do. Perhaps it is an expression of art, or working with certain kinds of tools, or playing sports, etc. But in ancient times, a talent represented a type of currency (in many different cultures). The key for our understanding this parable is to approximate the value of a talent. I know when I look at this story, it is easy to consider that the master gave $5, $2, and $1. If that is the case, what is the big deal?

Well, let me put it in better perspective. A talent of gold or silver weighed between 45-90 pounds. The standard was about 75 pounds, so this is a large amount of precious metal. In modern terms, the value of one talent would be about $16,000 for silver, but over $1.25 million per talent for gold. Those are based upon recent prices of those metals, and that is a large discrepancy in value. But many centuries ago, silver was often more valuable than gold.

Another way we can look at a talent is to consider its value compared to someone’s wages. Many Bible scholars believe the talent to be the equivalent of 20 years wages. But even the most conservative estimates place the value at over $1,000 per talent. So, let’s use 20 years wages. An average salary can be skewed because some people make enormous salaries ranging well into the tens of millions or beyond. So, let’s use the median salary for the US. As of tax year 2014, the median salary was about $40,000 per year. So, based upon that number, this master gave a gift of $4,000,000 to the first servant, $2,000,000 to the second, and $800,000 to the third. Now, we have perspective on why burying the talent in the ground is such a big deal. But let us first look at the rewards given.

Our Reward

The master went away for some unknown, but long, period of time and when he returned, he did not expect the second servant to have as much as the first servant. Nor, did he expect as much from the third servant when compared to the second – suggesting interest would have been something beneficial.

But it is only the first two servants who received a reward. And the primary reward is the same – entry into the joy of the master. (Yes, the first servant also received the talent that the dishonored servant did not steward correctly, but that was not the primary reward.) The latter servant did not receive a promise of joy; rather that man (the text says “him” – v. 28) was cast into outer darkness and would be in a place that knows no joy (with weeping and gnashing of teeth, v. 30).

Our JOURNEY

How does this passage apply to Hub Sunday? If you are a Christian, you have a God-given gift designed to serve His church for the benefit of His Kingdom. And because you have a God-given gift, you have a God-expected responsibility to serve – that is, to use the gift(s) He has given. How do I know? Verse 19 says that the master returned to “settle accounts with them.”

One day our Master will return to settle accounts with us. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 3 that many will enter heaven, but will have nothing to show for it. Why will tears be wiped from our eyes in heaven? I think multiple reasons are possible, but one is that we will truly realize how much Jesus did for us. Certainly, that begins with His death on the cross and His resurrection to bring life after death. However, I believe we will also realize how many opportunities He gave us to serve and how little we did in response.

What’s Next? The Challenge

Like the master in the parable, our Master has been away for a long-time on His journey (v. 19). But Jesus is not on vacation. In fact, He is quite busy, as He is currently preparing a place for us (John 14.2-3). The question is: Are we idle in our response? Again, the Christian life is not about waiting to die so we can go to heaven, it is about us bringing a bit of heaven to earth and extending the reign of God across this earth. Or is that not what we pray with the words, “on earth as it is in heaven?”

So, as we consider our journey, let us consider how we might better serve our Lord. Let us recognize the gifts He has given to us. (If you do not know what spiritual gift, let me know and I will give you an item that can help you to begin to discover it.)

Before I close let me mention three final thoughts.

1) Yesterday was a difficult day for many because of Ferd’s funeral. As we do several times per year, our church not only hosted the service, but provided a meal afterward. I know many people were involved in buying and/or preparing items to make that meal possible. But I want to especially thank the four ladies who spent upwards of six, maybe seven hours at the church setting up, preparing, serving, and loving on the family. I can say thank you. But you will have to wait for the real blessing because it is the Master from whom you wish to hear, “Well done.”

2) Let me now mention a couple of opportunities for us to help the BSU in Maryville.
  • First, the students in the ministry are holding a coat drive for international students. Some of these students come from warm climates and have no idea what is about to happen related to our weather in northwest Missouri. If you have any lightly worn coats or if you wish to purchase a new coat, that fine too. But in addition to our OCC collection, please feel free to bring any coats you would like to donate and leave them behind the sound booth near the window. We will have another collection box back there for these coats.
  • Also, the BSU has been hosting a dinner for college students for years. This dinner is on Monday evenings and they are asking churches to sponsor a Monday evening. I will have to get more details as to how many people are needed to serve and how much food should be prepared, but as a part of our church being a hub for missions, this is a great opportunity for us to partner with another ministry and allow them to make connections that can lead to gospel conversations.

These brief mentions are simply other ways that we can serve. The goal for all of us should be to hear our Master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”

As we fulfill our responsibilities as individuals, we will realize our potential as a church. We have done some, but if we have been faithful with a little, then He will give us more to do. Let us respond, serving Him with the gifts (and talents) that He has given us to become the people and the church He has called us to be – a church that is truly a large church in a small town.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Church in HD: If We Are The Body...

When I was young I was athletic, but I was not highly flexible. I was good at a few sports and excelled at baseball. Additionally, I enjoyed playing most any type of game. (My wife will tell be the first to tell you that has changed!) But one game I never really liked – because I was not flexible was the Twister. You remember Twister, right? The premise was simple – don’t fall over. But the challenge was being able to contort one’s body in all kinds of positions while only allowing your hands or feet to touch the ground. Four colors. Four body parts. Each part would eventually be on a color, and you could only hope you could make the right decision so you could remain off the ground and off one another.

Of course another game involving the body was Operation. Operation was not about contortion it was about hand-eye coordination, having control, overcoming nerves, and keeping a steady hand. If your hand slipped slightly the buzz would startle you. Although an actual electric shock did not affect the player the buzz from the game would make it feel as if you had been shocked.

And for those who were even younger, many children grew up with puzzles to teach them about the parts of the body. 8-10 piece puzzles with the head, the torso, legs, arms, hands, and a foot taught children the basics of how a human body is constructed. And, if they got bored putting the same pieces together all the time, they could mix and match pieces in a fun way on a head shaped like a potato. We will come back to Mr. Potato Head later.

Why do I mention these childhood games? Well, they all have a similar focus – the body. And the Body of Christ is what we will focus on today from Scripture. The concept of the Church as the Body of Christ is a repeated theme in the New Testament. The meaning of this phrase is that we are multiple, yet we are one. And although we are multiple and different as individuals parts, we function best when all parts are doing what they are designed to do.

This series on taking a deeper look at the church has primarily focused on Acts. We began in Acts 2 and have worked our way forward to Acts 6 today with another two weeks to go. But like we did two weeks ago, we are going to move our focus to 1 Corinthians using Acts as our launching point. Two weeks ago we saw the unity in the church from the end of Acts 4 and contrasted that with the division in the church in Corinth even as they came together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Just a few sentences later, in what we know as 1 Corinthians 12, Paul continues to address the divisions in Corinth by showing how the church is really one body so to be truly functional is to work with and care for one another. That is our focus today.

One God, Many Gifts, for One Body (1 Corinthians 12.4-11)

1 Corinthians 12 begins with Paul saying he wants the church of Corinth to understand. He then shows that the Trinity is perfectly involved in the development of the church. Regardless of how people are gifted to serve, it is the same Spirit who provides those gifts. Regardless of how people choose to serve, they are serving the same Lord. And regardless of the activities being done, they are being done for God. So, one God has given a variety of gifts, aptitudes, desires, etc. in order for the church to function best. As Paul continued in chapter 14, God is a God of order.

Consider Creation for a moment. God did not make everything the same. He made different types of fauna and flora and He made humans to be different from them all. Why? Because as God created the overall ecosystem, it all works together to serve a singular purpose. Likewise, God provided each of us with different skills, and in this context, giftedness, to serve Him as one united body.

Paul then lists a few of the gifts God has given – wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, and interpretation. Paul says that all of these gifts are not to be withheld for our own pleasure, but are given by the Spirit, to whom the Spirit wills, for the “common good” (v7). That is, we all benefit when everyone serves according to his/her gifts.

One Body, Many Parts, One Composition. (1 Corinthians 12.12-26)

Paul then elaborates on his point by turning to the human body as an example. If I seem repetitive on this point, notice how repetitive Paul is. One body. Many parts. Many members of one body. Single members collectively as one body. Etc. Paul is speaking to a church that has deep divisions – even factions as he stated in the previous chapter. But the letter starts by talking about the divisions and people choosing to follow different lines of thought. In fact, the wording he used in 1 Corinthians 1 is remarkably similar to how people put signage in their yard at election time. When he says, I follow Apollos or I follow Peter, etc. it is like saying I vote for this candidate or that candidate. The problem was that Apollos, Peter, Paul, etc were not in opposition with one another, but the supposed singular body of Christ had become as divisive toward one another as our current political system is today.

Notice the imagery Paul uses beginning in verse 15. He makes statements that one part of the body does not consider itself a part of the overall body because it is not a certain part. Then in verse 21, he says that one part of the body says to another part, “I do not need you.” We see this as imagery and it is, but the imagery is addressing a very real issue! Remember in 1 Corinthians 11, which we reviewed a couple of weeks ago, some were gathering before the meal to eat their fair share before others arrived – leaving only scraps. Then, in 1 Cor 12.1, Paul begins by saying, “Now concerning spiritual gifts.” What he is doing – as he does in much of this letter to Corinth – is responding to a message he received from the church in Corinth. They had asked him some question related to how people with differing gifts should respond to one another – and Paul is replying.

So, imagine that the letter to Paul may have said something like, “We have people who say they should do this and others who don’t think it is important.” Paul writes back with examples from the human body which show the statement to be absurd. Effectively, Paul is saying that they should consider which part of the body they are willing to live without. Notice what he wrote beginning in verse 22. Read 1 Cor 12.22-24. Some parts of the body are more well known, they are more visible, they may even appear to be more useful. But all parts of a human body are necessary and so it is with the Body of Christ.

Why?

Because God designed the human body as one collective unit (v. 24) and the church is designed the same way.

One Composition, Many Appointments, for One Purpose (1 Corinthians 12.26-31)

Paul concludes this section by challenging them to consider how a body functions. Verse 26 states that all individual parts of the body either rejoice or suffer together. Think about it. You have likely experienced a tingly sensation throughout your body before – perhaps a good tingle from excitement and euphoria, and a bad tingle from anxiety or nerves. The sensation is real, but likely originates in one particular area, yet influences the entire body in that moment. This is the essence of what Paul is stating in verse 26.

He continues by providing a strong reminder of this current theme. NOW, you ARE the Body of Christ – with each of you being one part of it. He is saying that if you truly belong to Christ you need all of the other parts of the body – so care and nurture one another (tying this back to verse 25). He then lists another set of gifts with the idea that not everyone has all of these gifts, because again, as verse 4 and 11 combine to make clear, the single Spirit of God (i.e. no division) gives the gifts He chooses to each person as He wills.

So the purpose of the Body is singular – and that is to do what the head of the body desires – and the head is Christ. And what does Christ desire? Well that is our final point today.

One Purpose. One God. One Love. (1 Corinthians 13.1-13)

The text may be familiar, but imagine you are in Corinth on the day Paul’s letter arrives. Imagine you have never heard these words about love before this moment. And imagine you are hearing these words after just having heard Paul’s words about the gifts and the body. With that mindset, take a moment to read 1 Corinthians 13.

The point Paul is making in the overall context is that it is more than considering how good you think you are or how well you do what you do something. That type of thinking is the “childish ways” (v11). Instead, love is our ultimate purpose. Love is the command of Christ and if we are not loving others, particularly those who are part of the Body, then we gain nothing (v.3). Indeed, we are nothing (v.2). But Jesus did not give His life and call us to be part of His body that would be nothing. Jesus gave His everything so that we could truly be something – and that something is being a functioning member of the Body of Christ.

CONCLUSION

I began this sermon by talking about certain games and puzzles. Of course, childish games and puzzles give way to more complex ones. It is not enough for a medical student to consider the body in eight simple pieces. Rather they must learn the full anatomic structure of the body and how it works together.

But I think one thing that many adults lose as we age is the desire to imagine possibilities. That is why the three-dimensional Mr. Potato head is fun for children. The puzzle pieces fit in different areas that simply will not work for a two-dimensional puzzle where every piece has its defined space. Likewise, sometimes three dimensions is not enough. Twister is a three-dimensional game, but with a little imagination, someone added walls and added a fourth dimension.

A part of being one body is to nurture one another, or as Paul wrote in 1 Cor 12.25 to provide the same care for one another. That care is expressed in general empathy and specific concerns, but it is also expressed in helping others to grow into all that God would have them be even if they are different than you (or do things differently from you).

The JOURNEY letter for this week is: NNURTURE.

Our verse for Nurture and for the Mission (Equip the Saints) is from Ephesians 4.11-13. This passage is once again about what God gives to His Church for the sake of the body. Let me read all the way through verse 16. (READ Ephesians 4.11-16.) Mature manhood (v13) – represents the body maturing. Jesus as the head (v15) of the body (v16)  joined as one (body) by joints will allow the body to grow and be built up in love (v16). Equipping the Saints for the work of ministry no doubt includes helping each member of the body to reach their potential as an individual member of Christ’s body. But it also requires helping body parts work together in order for the body to function properly as a collective representation of the Body of Christ.

PRINCIPLE: The Bible compares the God’s people to a body. Bodies were made to function and each part is important so the body can function as a whole. As we care for ourselves, let us also care for one another.

QUESTION: What can I do that, if done well, and done for Jesus, can make a difference in this church?

NEXT STEP(S):

  • LEARN: Take time this week to determine what your talents, skills, and desires truly are. Knowing how God made you is critical to serving Him to the best of your ability. Even if you have done this before, it is a worthwhile exercise to do again.
  • LOVE: Jesus gave us the Great Commandment: Love God, love others (Mark 12.30-31) and the New Commandment: Love one another (John 13.34-35). These are not options if we are truly a part of His body.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Church In HD: That the Christ is Jesus

Today is a Sunday in October. That statement may be obvious to you because at this moment you are sitting in a church building looking at person standing on a platform talking to you while his Bible is open in front of him. But for most people Sunday does not mean sitting within a congregation. According to one study approximately 46% of Americans go to church or synagogue once per month with only 23% saying they go weekly. (1)

23% of Americans equates to approximately 80 million people. For comparison sake, choosing from numbers published this week, over 90 million watched parts or all of just six (6) of last week’s fifteen (15) games in the NFL. (2) Add to that the number of people who watched the playoffs in baseball, college football, etc. and you can see that sports are a big deal for television, which doesn’t even count local school and non-school related sports and leagues.

So, sports dominate over a time of worship. And many people will use excuses to not come to church that they would not use about sports. The following information has cycled through the internet many times, but it does provide a reminder for how shallow some excuses really are.



The reality is we worship what is important to us and we make excuses to avoid what is not important. God knew this, which is why He gave us commandments about worship. In our hearts, we will worship something, but our goal must be to make the object of that worship something truly worthy of worship. For the Christian, the object of worship is not an it, but a who – God Almighty. But that is not just true for the Christian, it is true for mankind in general because we are told that we have been made in His image.

Of all Creation, only man was made in the image of God. Therefore, our goals, our desires, our purpose, and, indeed, our worship, must be toward Him. Indeed, it must be about Him. The point of our life is ultimately not about us – it is about God. Many know this, but it is hard to remain true to it. Yet, we are reminded of this truth in a teaching apparatus used for children since the 17th Century. The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with the question: What is the chief end of man? The answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

If that is man’s chief end, it is the chief end of the church as well. We are not perfect, but perhaps the story we see today will encourage us to live more like those in the early church.

To Glorify God Is To Obey The Word of God. (Acts 5.17-26)

Acts 5 begins with the story of Ananias and Sapphira being killed for lying to the church. Then, many miracles and wonders are done. But this gets Peter and the other apostles thrown into prison.

But notice what happens. An angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and told them to go stand in the temple and speak about Jesus. I think many in our day would have heard the first part of that statement and gone on their merry way. “Look God has released us, let us go home, watch some TV, and stay out of sight for a few days.” But that is not what the apostles did. Despite the fact that they were out of the frying pan, they were now going to be directly in the fire. Speaking about Jesus in the temple would certainly draw the attention of the religious leaders – the same leaders who had just put the apostles in prison the night before (v 17-18).

So, the next morning, the high priest called together the council and the political leaders of Israel to put the apostles on trial, but the apostles were not in their cells. They soon found them “standing in the temple and teaching the people” (v 25). The apostles were then asked to follow to the trial (notice the guard dared not do it by force for fear of the people (v 26).

Again, if chains were released and doors were open, I think most people today (even Christians) would simply escape to a place where they believed they would be safe from returning to prison. But the apostles heard the message from the angel and did not dismiss it. Rather then seeking safety, they followed God’s command and actually put themselves in harm’s way. That is knowing and trusting God. That is truly bringing God glory.

To Glorify God Is To Speak Truth Regardless of Consequence (Acts 5.27-34)

Beginning in verse 27, the apostles are before the council. Verse 13 says “all” of the apostles were present, but does that mean twelve (now including Mattias), or 120 (as was in the upper room in Acts 2)? We simply do not know for certain. I tend to think it is the lower number, but we have no way of knowing. Likewise, we do not know how many were present in the council. The usual council was 70 members, but verse 21 said members of the senate were present as well. So we can guestimate that upwards of 50 were present, at a minimum. If so, the likelihood is that the apostles on trial were outnumbered by the leaders, perhaps by a 5:1 ration or maybe even greater. In other words, the odds were stacked against them from a human standpoint.

But when the high priest reminded the apostles that they were ordered not to teach about Jesus, Peter responds by answering with a statement which would have everyone in agreement: We must obey God not man (v 29). The problem is that the religious leaders believed they were God’s spokesman, not the uneducated fishermen and others before them.

But Peter continued with a charge against them – it was the leaders who were responsible for Jesus death on the tree (v30). But God! But God raised Jesus. The apostles witnessed it. And all they are doing is telling others what they had witnessed.

Peter spoke more than just some of the truth, he spoke the whole truth and nothing but the truth while he stood on trial. The reaction – the leaders now wanted the apostles dead. At this point, the apostles are taken out of the area so the leaders can discuss what should happen.

Let’s follow two lines of thought here. One we know. The other will cause us to consider our reaction.

What we know is that one of the most respected Pharisees made a case to let the apostles go. The man, Gamaliel, was the man who taught Paul (see for instance Acts 22.3). His argument was that other “great leaders” had come and led others to believe something great but each time they faded away. The same would happen to this new teaching if it was from man, but if it was truly from God, nothing can stop it, and you “might be guilty of opposing God” (Acts 5.39).

Meanwhile, the apostles are waiting. If it was you, what would be going through your mind? When Peter charged these leaders with being responsible for having Jesus crucified, would you find yourself saying, “Peter, shut up! Maybe we can get out of here!” Or would you be saying, “Right, tell ‘em Peter. They need to know what they have done. And they need to know what Jesus did for them through His death.”

Personally, I want to be counted in the second group. But in the moment, what would I have done? What would I do today? Do I allow my speech, and even my worship, to be dictated by my surroundings or by my reverence for God? What about you?

So, to glorify God is to obey God’s word and to speak the truth regardless of circumstance. And finally,...

To Glorify God Is To Fulfill His Purpose For Our Lives (Acts 5.40-42)

The religious leaders called the apostles before them, had them beaten, and said, “No more talking about Jesus!” What was the reaction of the apostles? To praise God for being beaten and continue to proclaim the name of Jesus.

The truth is that we make time for what is important. We talk about what is important. We give to what is important. We can check our calendars, our conversations, our bank statements, and especially our prayers to know what is truly important to us. For instance, we often pray for safety, and I get it. But the disciples were more worried about being bold for Jesus (Acts 4.29) whatever the cost. That is true reverence. That is complete worship.

As we take a high-definition look at our church, we have to ask where we fall short of the biblical standard of worship. Worship is more than singing, praying, teaching, and giving. Worship is knowing God and taking time to be with Him.

Church, do we obey God’s word or do what is comfortable to us? Do we speak His truth or do we cower when opposition is, or might be, present? Do we seek to fulfill our goals or to find God’s purpose in our lives and fulfill it completely? For me, I see a difference in how the apostles lived and how I live. Of course, they were not perfect. And, sometimes, I get it right. But, on the whole, I have no doubts that their degree of faithfulness to Jesus was greater then than mine is now.

Most people today are looking for a God who will satisfy them rather than seeking how they can serve Him. That is true in 2018, but it has been true for decades. Listen to this quote from a book by David Wells written in 1994.

“We have turned to a God we can use rather than a God we must obey; we have turned to a God who will fulfill our need rather than a God before whom we must surrender our rights to ourselves. He is a God for us, for our satisfaction – not because we have learned to think of him in this way through Christ but because we have learned to think of Him this way through the marketplace. Everything is for us, for our pleasure, for our satisfaction, and we have come to assume that it must be so in the church as well.” (3)

If that is our view of God, then it will impact how we see and serve His Church. We must move beyond the idea of a God who serves us in order to ready to be a people who serve God. As I said a few weeks ago, the only thing I have complete control over in this church is me. I must seek to make changes in my life that allow me to better revere God. I must partner with the Holy Spirit to allow God to mold me into the servant He wants me to be. If I do that – if each of us does that – then we will become the church that He desires us to be!

CONCLUSION

The last couple of years the Kansas City Chiefs have started their season 5-0. This year’s team looks to be as exciting of a team as the Chiefs have had in a long time and people are already talking about the Super Bowl. If the Chiefs win the next two weeks, they will be the AFC favorite for the Super Bowl by a large margin. And, when talking about football and television, the Super Bowl is the highest watched event in America each year. In fact, the Super Bowl rates as 19 of the 20 highest rated television events in American television history. The only exception is the series finale of M*A*S*H. (4) And yet, the Super Bowl compares nothing to the football event that happens every four years – the World Cup finale has over 1 billion people watch from all over the world. (5)

Why do I come back to this idea of football and television? Because the Chiefs have a realistic chance of playing in early February next year. And, while I have joked about it in a few prior years, one day I will be faced with the prospect of having church or watching the Chiefs play in the Super Bowl for the first time in my life. (I was four months from being born during Super Bowl IV.)

So, I will state right now that if they Chiefs make the Super Bowl and are set to begin play at about 5:15, I will be at church at 6 pm. Now, that said, last year I considered using the game as a means of outreach to the community, but we had just come back from Kenya. So this year, I am doing further research on this idea to ensure we do not violate any copyright laws. But if we do show the game, and serve food, and engage in some meaningful fellowship, we will pause to make sure that we take time to give glory to God because ultimately nothing else matters.

The JOURNEY letter for this week is: RREVERE.

Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12.32). He meant that in a literal way – being lifted up from the earth on two pieces of wood and held there by spikes. And He meant that in a literal way, after He rose from the dead and was taken up to be with the Father in the place we call heaven. But He means for us to lift Him up in our lives as well. He wants us to bring Him glory in what we do, in what we say, and in how we live. Like the early apostles, He wants us to bring Him glory in our obedience, our speech, and by fulfilling our calling as a child of God. If we do these things then we will show Him, and the world that we truly revere Him.

PRINCIPLE: Worship is more than coming to church; it involves giving every part of us to Someone greater than us.

QUESTION: What can I do that, if done well, and done for Jesus, can make a difference in this church?

NEXT STEP(S):

  • LEARN: Take an honest inventory of your life to determine any areas that you hold for yourself instead of giving to God.
  • LIVE: Commit to giving more of yourself to God. Begin to live with an abandonment of self because of a complete trust in God. This can begin to happen by actually doing the answer to the question: What can I do that, if done well, and done for Jesus, can make a difference in this church?
  • LOVE: Love God, love others, and love one another (Mark 12.30-31; John 13.34-35). Loving is not always easy, but if we love Jesus, we will obey His commands (John 14.15).
  • LEAD: Only one truth can save any of us – knowing that “the Christ is Jesus.” Help others to not only discover this truth, but to embrace it in their lives. They will need an example to follow – so learn to lead them well.


Footnotes:
(1) https://www.statista.com/statistics/245491/church-attendance-of-americans/ - accessed Oct 12, 2018).
(2) http://www.sportsmediawatch.com/nfl-tv-ratings-viewership-nbc-cbs-fox-espn-nfln-regular-season-playoffs/ - accessed Oct 12, 2018).
(3) David Wells, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994, 114).
(4) (https://www.si.com/nfl/2018/02/04/how-many-people-watch-super-bowl-viewership-ratings – accessed Oct 12, 2018).
(5) Ibid.