Monday, February 29, 2016

A Limited Detail (Strategy)

On April 12, 1970, Apollo 13 launched with a mission to land on the moon. A little more than two days into their mission, everything changed. Why? One of the oxygen tanks had a slight malfunction. The tank (known as Tank #2) had been installed on Apollo 10 the year prior, but was removed to be modified, and had been damaged in the process. This same tank, now on Apollo 13, did not function properly on two different tests conducted in March, yet was put on board after a work-around had unknowingly severely damaged the tank. The explosion of Tank #2 caused Tank #1 to fail as well. These events caused issues with the electrical system and the water system. The last minute crew replacement, John Swigert, added because of the possibility of measles spreading on the crew, would utter the infamous words, "Houston, we have a problem..."

Of course, this is not the only issue of NASA. On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after take-off due to an O-ring seal, which was less than two inches in diameter. On February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it re-entered the earth’s atmosphere because a small piece of foam insulation broke off and struck the wing when it launched on January 16, 2003, over two years from its originally scheduled launch date.

The purpose of this brief history of spacecraft-related malfunctions is not meant to find fault with NASA. On the contrary, if we look at the complexity of space travel, we can see that NASA has a rather remarkable record. NASA has successfully launched over 1000 unmanned missions including the highly anticipated Mars mission which landed on the planet in August of 2012. Additionally, well over 100 manned flights have occurred, including the flights to and from the ISS for over 22 years. In fact, it has been continuously manned for over 15 years now. So why do I mention these accidents? Because details matter. Details are often small, but in the three examples I mentioned, we see how highly important they can be.

Our focal passage for this series, Matthew 16.18, revolved specifically around Jesus words, "I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH." In these words, we have already seen that we can trust Him, that His will can accomplish the purpose, and that He has the right plan to do it. But that plan, as we saw last week, also included using the right materials…us. We are the chosen materials, but we have to be willing. We must make ourselves available.

But besides being available, we must also realize that we are a significant detail to His plan. Without us, God will not be stymied. Jesus is the only human in history who was irreplaceable, and yet His humility (see Philippians 2.5-11) was inexplicable. We cannot consider ourselves irreplaceable. To do so would be incredibly arrogant. But we are significant...even if we might be limited.

Fitting into the "MY"

A few weeks ago, we explored the "I" part of the statement. But today, it is the possessive word "my" that gets the emphasis. Most humans are appalled at the idea of slavery, and rightfully so. Yet, Paul called himself a bondservant (slave) of Christ. And elsewhere, the Bible says that we were purchased by the blood of Jesus (1 Corinthians 6.19-20). But that discussion will wait for another time. The intention of this post is to show that each person (though limited individually) is a detail that when combined with others (who are also limited) can do much greater things. This truth is evident from the passage of 1 Corinthians 12. Please take a moment to read 1 Corinthians 12.12-27.

The verses are in the context of a larger passage in which Paul is writing about unity. Most famously is Chapter 13, which speaks of the kind of love God has for us, and therefore, the kind we should have for one another. But after focusing on the divisions within their taking of the Lord’s Supper, Paul addresses spiritual gifts. And he does so with the concept of the plural into the singular. So this week, I want you to consider the message under the idea of How do I fit in to the MY of Jesus? Next week, we will transition to the group aspect.

Let me give you five truths about the "MY" and His relation to us.

1. The "MY" controls the body, not us.

In 1 Corinthians 12.22-27, Paul compares each person to an individual part of a body. But just earlier (vv. 4-6), he shows the context of these parts are a part of the plan of one Spirit, one Lord, and one God. Last week, we talked about our need to unify. These verses are one of the reasons…we all serve the same God. And that God has made us in a unique way so that we might partner together to serve something greater than ourselves. We are the individual members which make up the body, of which He is the head.

2. The "MY" provides one or more gifts, to us.

Last week, I mentioned that God only uses one kind of people. It is the available. And for those that are available, He provides us a gift to be best equipped to serve Him for the sake of His church and His Kingdom. Some can do one or two things. Some can do more. But like we saw at the beginning of the message regarding a few NASA missions, when a slight detail is not applied correctly, misuse or not having the right pieces to use can cause major problems.

3. The "MY" overcomes the limits often placed, on us.

As individuals, we are limited in what we can do. That is expressed in the title for this post. Limited is not bad; it is simply a reality. As 1 Corinthians 12 reminds us, the body is made up of different parts, and each part has a function. That is, WE MUST BE WHO WE ARE because we cannot truly be someone else, just as a foot cannot be an elbow. We should strive to maximize who we are, but we cannot be someone else. When we partner with Jesus - the "MY" from our passage - the collective is able to support so much more than any single part.

4. The "MY" is the owner, not us.

This one may sting a little. Think about how often each of us use the phrase, "my church."

"Why don't you come to my church?"
"Did you hear what happened at my church?"

Whose church is it? A fictional book was written a few years ago entitled, Who Stole My Church? The premise of the book surrounds some overdue changes for a church in the northeast US. The feedback led one person to exclaim that her church had been stolen.

The truth is that we call it "my church" because we have an investment in it. For the church I serve, the truth is none of us was here when it started in 1884, and prayerfully, this church will endure long past our lifetimes as well. Truthfully, it is His Church, and we are just the stewards. But when Jesus says, I will build MY Church, THIS church is a part of that. This church is a small part of "MY CHURCH."

5. The "MY" sets the standards, not us.

Last week, I mentioned a quote by Winston Churchill - "However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results." The problem is that for too long we have set standards that do not measure what Jesus measures. For too long, churches have allowed people to be considered a good Christian if they are faithful in:

  • Showing Up
  • Serving
  • Stewardship

These are important standards in one sense. And they are chosen standards because they are measurable, that is, the questions can be simply answered. Was so-and-so at church? Who is going on that mission trip? What was the amount of the offering last week? (If more people gave, we could do more.)

Learning to Think Differently

Jesus did talk about service, and being stewards. But He also talked about love. It is difficult to measure that. Or how about measuring a question such as how many disciples someone has made? Again, we can count how many people we have invited to church, etc. But making disciples, that takes time. It also means we have to allow people into our lives at levels most would rather not exposed. And thus, instead of making disciples we don’t even make converts. LifeWay Groups recently sent an email with the headline reporting that 95% of all Christians have never led another person to Christ. 95%! But we, as "good Christians" worry about the budget. And we are good Christians because we show up, serve occasionally, and give a little money. We have convinced ourselves we are good, and yet do not follow Jesus command to make disciples! 

The fact is that a person can come to church every week, give a lot of money to a church (or other causes), and serve occasionally (even often) and not love Jesus. They may not even know Jesus. And yet, by most standards they are an excellent church member and a "good Christian." On the other hand, a disciple would do all of these things - show up, serve, and give) because that is what it means to follow Jesus. And each disciple is one of many significant details that Jesus uses to partner with Him in building His Church and extending His Kingdom.

Instead, by choosing not to live out the gospel in every aspect of our lives, "good Christians" provide their children alternatives to Jesus. Because of sports and other activities five nights a week (or more), children and their parents are too tired for church on Sundays (or any other day). Effectively the children become atheists because they do not know God. The fact is that if we do not disciple our children, they will not disciple their children, and no one is a disciple. And thus we see churches all over America closing. "But it isn't our fault!" cries the congregation. The pastor is blamed. So one pastor is fired, and another hired. A band-aid is put on the situation for awhile, and the church feels good, not because things new building is taking place, but because the furniture has been rearranged, so to speak. After a few years, the process repeats - again, and again.

  • The truth is we all must take ownership.
  • The truth is that our understanding is different than His.
  • The truth is we need to make sure that our results are good measured by His standards, not ours.
  • The truth is that the ideas of showing up, serving, and stewardship are not enough to be effective as a church.

As I said the first week of this series, "Good gets in the way of great." So, if we want to be better, or greater, then we need to look at Jesus' perspective. He wants us to love God, love others, and love one another, and make disciples here and abroad. If we are the kind of people described in that graphic, we will be a large church in a small town. In the book, Transformational Church, the authors describe this phenomenon as:

  • Individuals Being the People of God
  • Congregations Acting like the Body of Christ
  • Community Reflecting the Kingdom of God

Any church that wishes to be included as part of the "MY" that Jesus is building likely needs to change some things. We need to think like a follower of Jesus instead of an attender of a church. We need to engage in being a disciple of Jesus and be willing to help others find Him as well. And we need to do this together. That was last week’s message – unity. But this week, it is not about us, it is about Jesus. It is not about what He is building, it is that He possesses what is being built! Does God possess you?

His Church = His People

Jesus said, "I WILL BUILD MY…." My church. And the church is the people, so we are the church. And the church is His, so we are His. When someone says it is my or mine, they are claiming ownership. So, Jesus is claiming ownership over each one who has given their life to Him (that means you have given ownership of your life to Him). That ownership is for you as you are, not just how you could be. Certainly, Jesus wants us to be better than we are…more than we are. But God. Romans 5.8 says, "But God demonstrated His love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." His blood purchased you, so He owns you. And when He purchased you, He made you whole, casting aside your sin. Many times we may want to build. We want to succeed. We want to be what Jesus wants…but without Him, it is not possible. We forget that far too often.

And so we get discouraged or even depressed. We feel like the wood scraps I mentioned last week. But, if we believe, Jesus says we are His. And because we have limitations, any success that we have ensures that He gets the glory. Or at least that is how it should be.

And that is why our JOURNEY letter for today is:

  • R - Revere

A couple of weeks ago, the focus was on the will of God. But John 12.32 contains another "I will" statement of Jesus. Here, Jesus says He will draw all people to Himself…IF He is lifted up? So, what does that mean? Do you and I lift Him up?

First, we must understand that in one sense Jesus meant that He would be physically lifted up on a cross for execution, and once complete all men would be drawn to Him by the blood He shed. However, secondly, lifting up can have the implication of us revering Him - that is, lifting Him above ourselves. Again, it is Jesus that provides our hope. Isn’t that worth lifting Him up?


So, what about our next steps?

Our next steps continue to build on our previous steps in this series. We need to be ready to see what opportunities God brings our way. And we need to be ready to respond. How do we do that?

  • Remove the obstacles. What obstacles in our lives keep us from giving ourselves to God?
  • Create a MAP Team. Develop opportunities and see them through to completion/evaluation!
  • Pray for faithfulness to God’s leadership. We ask Him to lead, and we respond by obeying.
  • Commit to one another. We must be united to truly be all that God intends.
  • Find an on ramp.

An on-ramp gives us time to get up to speed so that we are able join in with the rest of the traffic. Sometimes, we get to the end of an on-ramp and we must still wait because the traffic is too heavy. And that happens in ministry as well. But ultimately, just as a responsible driver tries to make room for someone about to merge into traffic, a wise servant will make room to allow another person to merge into a ministry role of some sort. On a freeway, everyone may need to slow down for just a short time, but in the end, if everyone is following the principles of driving, all parties get to their destination. Likewise, servants who include others when serving may need to go slower and explain some things along the way (making the initial completion slower). But in doing so, a new ministry partnership may be formed, and more importantly a stronger disciple may be made of both individuals.

But as we close, let me talk about an exit ramp for a moment. Have you ever exited a highway and then realized there wasn’t an on-ramp to get back on the highway on the other side? Being in an unknown area, all of a sudden you find that you don’t know how to get back on the same path (highway) you just exited. Your journey has been disrupted. It wasn’t intentional, but it happened. Now, if we are talking about a trip in a car, the longer it takes to get back on the highway, the more frustrated we get because we are losing time. But we will find a way, because we are determined to reach our destination.

But if we are talking about people who leave the church, then the exit ramp can often mean their JOURNEY is aborted. Over time, as people get away from church, they tend to get more comfortable because they have more time (i.e. I don’t have to go to church, so I have more time to do …). But can I suggest that while they have more time, they have less life – at least, life as described by Jesus? Because Jesus promises a life that is given abundantly (John 10.10).

So, find an on ramp. As we talk about opportunities in the coming weeks, months, and years, some opportunities will arise that are not a good fit for you. But others will fit you perfectly. I will post some thought on this in a few weeks related to the "gates" and the "keys" from later in Jesus' statement. But for now…as you are looking for opportunities to serve, consider how you might include others as well – either using the on-ramp to join them, or inviting others to use an on-ramp to join you. After all, the other person, or persons, might be just the detail that God will use to make everything run as planned.

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