Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The God Who Gives: God Gave Us Gifts

’Tis the season to be giving... fa la la la la la la la la
Aren’t we glad our Lord is living? fa la la la la la la la la
But the question we must ask... fa la la la la la la la la
Is are we equal to the task? fa la la la la la la la la

Wait, what? If something is a gift, then why should we worry about if we are worthy of the gift? Fair question. But this is something we worry about. As the giver we ask questions such as, “Will I get them the right gift?” “Can I afford to give what I want to give?” And as the receiver, we may say, “This gift is really beyond what I deserve.”

So, rightly or wrongly, we are in the middle of that season where we hope to be considered good enough to receive gifts (lists being made and then checked twice for those who were naughty and nice). And we hope to be properly thanked for getting good enough gifts.

So, let me ask, have you ever received or seen someone else receive the perfect gift? How do they react? How does the giver respond? That moment, if/when it happens, is truly a blessing for all involved.

With that in mind, here is an important thought. If you are a follower of Christ, then you have already received the perfect gift? Of course, that is Jesus. But even beyond the gift of Jesus (which we will discuss in two weeks), God has gifted YOU perfectly to serve Him.

Last week, we began this short series by reviewing some of what God has given us. This week, we will go a little deeper with the idea of three particular gifts God has given to all people, but particularly to those who call Him Father.

God Gave Us Time

God is an eternal God. Therefore, time is a part of Creation. God doesn’t need time, we do. When the Bible says, in the beginning God created...well, He also created time. He created the concept of “beginning.” Because God existed before the beginning and will exist after the end – of time, that is. That is why He is called the Alpha and Omega. These are two letters of the Greek alphabet, where alpha is the first letter and omega is the last. For us it would be like saying God is the A and Z.

And because God is eternal, the writer of Ecclesiastes says that He put eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3.11). We are created to be beings that will live beyond this life (that is, for eternity from here forward), but we are bound by time at this point. So, the question is: What do we do with this gift of time?
  • We must realize our time is limited. (Psalm 90.12)

We only have so many days on this earth and therefore we must make them count.
  • We must make time count. (John 9.4) 

He continued by saying that He was the light of the world. And in Matthew 5, Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world. How can this be true? Listen to verse 5. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. Is Jesus still in the world? Yes, through you and me. And thus, if His light shines it shine through us, but it only shines when we make time count. Therefore,
  • We must redeem the time. (Ephesians 5.16)

To redeem something, is to buy it back or recover it. Of course, we call Jesus our Redeemer because He bought us back. That is, Jesus purchased us instead of letting us die and be separated from God. Paul writes that the days are evil. Thus, we need to buy them back. We need to make the best use of the time that God has given us. We need to be intentional. We need to be focused. We need to be committed. Do you know what happens if we are not intentional, focused, and committed? Nothing. Nothing good happens. We say things like, “I can’t believe I just wasted a whole hour (or day)” doing whatever it is we do when we are not redeeming the time.

The problem is that too many people waste too many days and when their life is about to end they realize just how limited their time is, they regret what they haven’t done. I don’t want that to be me, and I pray you don’t want that to be you. And, in the coming year, we are going to have the opportunity to be much more intentional, more focused, and more committed to doing all that God wants from each of us. I can ask if you are ready now, but those are just words. As the old saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. Well, get ready for 2019, because the pudding is about to be served!

God Gave Us Treasure

Now, we come to the topic everyone dreads hearing about during a sermon. But the reality is that God has given you finances. And God offers you the opportunity to return some of that portion to Him. As I mentioned last week, God is a giving God and His generosity far exceeds His “expected” return. He wants a cheerful giver, but 10% should be a minimal goal for us. Maybe we can’t give 10% now; maybe only 2% or 5% is possible. But if you get a 2% increase, why not give 1% extra to God. In a few years, you can be giving 10% or more. 10% is, after all, the full tithe. And the only place in the Bible where God asks for us to test Him is in regard to giving Him the tithe.
  • Our lack of blessing may be from our lack of giving. (Malachi 3.10)

Just before this verse, God asks, “Will man rob God?” The idea is that we often withhold from God in order to meet our own desires. But God says, if you give to me, I will give abundantly to you.
  • Our lack of giving may reveal our lack of faith. (Philippians 4.19)

Do you believe that promise? God will supply all your needs. He will, and that need includes giving back to Him. Why does it include giving? Because we are made in the image of God and this entire series is about the fact that our God is a giving God. Thus, if He gave and still gives, then we should be giving as well. And, if we are not giving, then perhaps, that is because we do not trust Him to provide for us. Of course, some are able to give more than others, but it is not the amount we give it is the sacrifice we are willing to make. Compare the story of the rich, young ruler in Matthew 19 who had much but was unwilling to part with it (Matthew 19.16-22) compared to the widow who gave all she had (Mark 12.41-44). Which person truly had faith?
  • Our lack of faith may reveal where we desire our treasure. (Matthew 6.19-24)

Please understand it is not wrong to have stuff. But nothing we have is truly ours. It is given by God for us to steward. It is ours in the sense that God has allowed us to have/use it, but ultimately, everything belongs to Him. As Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return” (Job 1.21). Job knew the truth because his faith was in the right place. Even though Job struggled and seemingly doubted, he knew that despite losing all he had, his true treasure was found in God. And, as you may recall, God restored to him even more than he lost.

As I say often, we are not to seek what God may give us, we are to seek God. If we seek stuff from God, we may receive it, but miss out on having God. But if we seek God, then we not only get God, but one day (in the next life) we will get everything that God can offer. Remember, God has set eternity in our hearts, so let us focus on where the true treasure lies.

God Gave Us Talent

This last point will spill over into next week, but it is important we see this truth today. Because like with time and treasure, God has given us the ability to do certain things. The question is: How do we use what God has given? Do we use it for ourselves, for others, or for God? Now, the reality is that all three of those aspects can be ok (which is why we need to spill over into next week), but to paraphrase Paul’s thought to a couple of different churches, all that we do should be done for Jesus and to glorify God (Colossians 3.17, 23; 1 Corinthians 10.31).
  • God made us for good work. (Ephesians 2.10)

God knew what He needed, so He gave us the ability to do it. Notice, the verse says that He prepared these works beforehand so that we would walk in them. That is, we should be doing what God prepared for us to do. He didn’t just randomly make you or me. He made us on purpose, with purpose, for a purpose. And thus, He expects us to fulfill our purpose until we are no longer living.
  • Our work may be different, but it is all for God. (1 Corinthians 12.4-7)

We looked at this passage recently on a Hub Sunday with the help of Mr. Potato Head. The truth is we need to be different and have different skills to accomplish different tasks to fulfill the overall mission that God has for us. That begins by each one of us doing our part, and it ends with God getting the glory for what we accomplish together. Thus, God made us all unique and, as such, we need one another to be complete.
  • God made us different because of His grace. (Romans 12.3-8)

Notice verse 6 says that the different gifts we have received are because of His grace. This is stunning. Parents worry too much about being fair. If one child receives something the other child must as well. Now, when one child is having a birthday, some people give a gift to their siblings so they are not left out. That is their choice, but God isn’t worried about fairness, He is worried about getting things done. So, notice verse 6 ends with an exhortation from Paul – “let us use them.” That is, God has given us these gifts based upon what He thinks is best – so, let us use what has been given to us. How? For whom? Well, we will develop this thought more next week. For now, let us be about discovering our gift and using what we know we should be using.

CONCLUSION

Time. Treasure. Talent. These are all gifts from God to His people. The Bible speaks about time often. It speaks more about money and treasures than it does about heaven and hell. And all throughout the Bible we see people using or refusing their talents. The question for us is: How will we respond – as individuals and as a church?

I know that God has gifted me in many ways. However, to use the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, I feel like I am often returning three talents for the five I have been given. A 60% return may be great as an investment in the market, but is it enough for Jesus?

Well, Jesus was willing to receive at least interest from the third servant in Matthew 25. But in reality, 60% is not enough for all that Jesus did for me. He gave 100% of Himself to me so that I could give back to Him. But my failure is why He came. Your failure is why He came. We are just over two weeks from celebrating the birth of Jesus, but it is not just a baby we honor. It is the baby who became a man willing to die so that when we fail to live up to the expectations of God, we can be forgiven because of the sacrifice that man, the man named Jesus, made for you and me.

See, Jesus had a fixed amount of time on this earth. And Jesus had limited treasure. But Jesus also had a certain talent all of which were to fulfill His unique purpose. That is the gift we are ultimately about to celebrate. And that is why we must consider what, if anything, we will give back as our gift to Him. And that is why...

The JOURNEY letter for this week is: YYOU.

It is up to YOU. It is up to me. God has a purpose for each of us and thus He has given us gifts to accomplish that purpose. Ultimately, we are gifted so that God may be glorified, but that only happens if we live our lives in the manner for which He intended. We cannot change yesterday, but we can make a new future by our choices today.

PRINCIPLE: God gave us resources to be used for His glory not ours.
QUESTION: How can I better use what God has given me as an expression of thanksgiving to Him?

NEXT STEP(S):  LIVE: Live what you know as you seek to improve yourself for Him. Don’t wait for tomorrow – make use of the time you have been given today to begin serving God with your time, your treasure, and your talents.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The God Who Gives: God, the Giver

A little more than a week ago, we celebrated a holiday called Thanksgiving. Many people still hold this holiday for its intention – as a day of giving thanks for what God has provided. Of course, the American focus goes back to the pilgrims and the Indians, but the origins of the holiday actually go back to the ancient Israelites and the Feast of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) which was the feast of the harvest.

But in our day many see the day as the beginning of the season of the getting. That is, maybe we should call December 25th, “Thanksgetting,” and wrap the period in between in a nice bow to represent what many have purposed these 30 or so days. But, even if some people do focus more on what they get instead of what they give, the reality is that someone had to give something in order for that something to be received. Yes, I know that some people give themselves their own gifts to make sure they get what they want, but still, the premise holds true. The act of giving is required for an act of receiving to happen.

So why do people give? Some will say they give based upon what they receive (or hope to receive). Others give because they want to give or because they can. But ultimately, the reason any of us give anything is because we are created in the image of God, and the Bible shows time and time again that God is a giving God.

This week, we begin a four-part series entitled, The God Who Gives. This week will serve as a bit of an overview of the series, with the next three weeks looking more in depth at points two through four from today’s outline. By the time this series is completed, my goal is for us all to appreciate all that God has given to us and for each of us to be more responsive for what He asks of us in return.

Today I am going to share four primary aspects of God’s giving. We must realize that just because God has given it does not mean that all of us have received it. As I mentioned above, these four aspects are really the outline for the series I am preaching this month. The entire theme can be understood in the idea that God is a giving God and therefore, because we are made in His image, we should be giving as well. In fact, as we will see in the next three weeks, we can give to others the very things that God has given to us. But first, let us take a birds-eye view of God’s gifts to us.

God Gave Us Life (Gen 2.7; John 11.25)

We know that God breathed life into Adam (Gen 2.7). But the NT reminds us of this truth as well (1 Tim 3.16; John 6.33).

But beyond human life, God gives that which sustains our lives. He gives:
  • light to make things grow and to help us find our way. – Exodus 13.21
  • (gave) water to the Israelites. – Numbers 21.16
  • rain which allows grass to grow in the field. – Zechariah 10.1

God also gives in order that our lives may be full. He gives:
  • wisdom to those who seek it. – James 1.5
  • increase to those whom He wills. – Psalm 115.14
  • peace and rest to those who seek and trust in Him. – Numbers 6.26; Deuteronomy 12.10

We could go on and on with the things God gives related to life as well as life itself – life that is abundant, both here and forever for those who follow Jesus (according to Jesus – John 10.10). We will come back to this idea in Week 4 a little bit, so for now, let us preview the next few weeks to see what else God gives.

God Gave Us Purpose (Gen 2.15; Jeremiah 29.11)

Again, we can look at the very beginning of the Bible to see that He intends for His creatures to have purpose. At the end of Genesis 1, God says that mankind is to have dominion over all other animals. He commanded the first man and woman to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth. In Genesis 2 (v 15), God put the man “in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Later, God had a purpose for Noah, for Abraham, for Jacob, for Joseph, for Moses, for Joshua, for Samuel, for David, for Isaiah, for Jeremiah, for Daniel, and a whole slew of others. In the NT, we see the same was true for Jesus, but also for Peter, and John, and Paul, and Bartemaues, and even Judas.

Of course, these are marquise names, but what about Tamar and Jael and Nabal and Ziba and Barzillai from the OT or Anna, or Justus, or Parmenas, Publius, Junia, and others from the NT? The point is that God has a purpose for each one of us. For some it is a noble purpose; for others it is a more common one. After all, He is the potter and we are the clay. But the point is that God has created us on purpose for a purpose and our responsibility is to discover that purpose and live our lives accordingly. It goes back to the question I asked time and time again in the last series:

What can I do, if done well, and done for Jesus, can make a difference in this church and for the Kingdom of God?

A part of that answer lies in the purpose that He gave to you. In all of history, you are the only person who is exactly like you. And thus, God made you unique to do something only you could do. The question is are you doing it? If not, maybe it is because you have not discovered that purpose. Do you think it is too late? Well, Moses was 80 and Abram was about 90 when they learned of their purpose. And that is young compared to Noah who was 500 when God revealed his purpose. So, you are not too old. Nor are you too young (remember Samuel was a small child when the Lord first appeared to him). The question is are you interested in knowing your purpose? And if so, are you willing to fulfill it?

We will discuss this aspect of our purpose more next week, and, for that matter, next year.

God Gave Us Love (1 John 4.8; John 3.16)

1 John 4.8 says God is love. And if we are created in God’s image (which Genesis 1 says we are), then some of that attribute is within us. If it wasn’t, then God would be asking the impossible when Jesus said that the greatest command is to love God with everything we are and to love others as we do ourselves. Of course, it is next to impossible to do this well anyway, so we must rely upon the love of God to make it happen in our lives. But not only did God gives us the capacity to love, He gave us His love.

One verse in the Bible says something about God loving us so much He did something for us. You might recognize it if you heard it (referring to John 3.16). What was it God did? He gave His Son. Why? So that we might have life. Wow. That is love. Stop and think about that for a minute. I am sure we all have had a similar thought about sacrificing our own child. But let’s make it practical in this moment. Look at the person next to you. In front of you. Behind you. Look at me. Whatever you may think of the person personally, would you willingly sacrifice them to appease the wrath of a god. History shows that this happened often, including in biblical times. But these sacrifices were made to some god out of fear for what might happen. Our God gave us Himself because He loved us (and loves us) so that we do not have to fear Him, but that we may love Him in return.

But the love that He has given to us is not for just ourselves and Him, it is for all people – and for all of the time. More on this thought in two weeks.

God Gave/Gives Us Grace (Ephesians 2.8-9; John 1.16)

This fourth point relates to the previous one. Love and grace are connected just as love and mercy are connected. Therefore, we have a direct link which connects mercy and grace. The gift of God by which you do not have to die for your sin is because of His mercy. The gift of God by which you have life is due to His grace. As Ephesians 2.8-9 tell us it is a gift of God that we have grace through faith.

You might recall a phrase I isolated around this time last year from John 1. John records that from God’s fullness we receive grace upon grace (v. 16). I absolutely love that thought that grace is multiplied by grace. Take a dose of grace from God and heap an another helping. That is what John says we can receive. But something can only be received if it is offered. And John says it is from the fullness of God that such grace is offered to you and to me. Now, that does not give us license to abuse that grace. Rather, the grace we are extended is to then be extended to others as well. But the idea of grace upon grace is a wonderful picture of how much God has given to us already and how much more He is willing to give us when we fall.

CONCLUSION

We could spend the rest of the day reviewing Scripture for all of what God has given in the past or will give in the future. And, I am certain, we could spend all week here listing (and then discussing) all that He has given to each of us individually. So, why does God give us all that He has and all that He will? Why does God give us all of these things and more? Because our God is a giving God.

Let me ask it one more time with a slightly different emphasis. Why does God give us all of these things and more? Because He wants us to pass on what we have received so that others can benefit as well.

God gives because He is a giving God. But God gives to us so that we can give to others. God made us in His image, so our very nature includes the capacity, and even the desire, to give. The challenge for us is to live up to the challenge of being a giver like God. The truth is that in God’s economy, we cannot out-give the giver. God always has more to give, but that does not mean that He necessarily will give when we want it. Of course, the same is true with us. We often have more to give, but we withhold it for various reasons. However, I would venture to guess that our reasons (however good we think they are) pale in comparison to the reasons God would withhold from us.

That said, as we consider what it means for God to be a giving God, will you consider how God wants you to respond this month as a giver? We will talk more about our own responsibilities in the next three weeks, but before we make excuses or give a rationale for why we don’t give to someone or some organization (including this church), let us stop, for this month, and ask what, if anything, God would have us to give.

The JOURNEY letter for this week is: EENGAGE.

God is the giver, but He has given so that we will engage others. He wants us to tell His story. He wants us to share what He has done in our lives. He wants us to give back that portion from what we have received.

NEXT STEP(S):  LEARN: What motivates you to give or not to give? What motivates you to give the amount you give? Is it duty? Is it habit? Is it love? Is it something else? Take time this week to LEARN what motivates or inspires you to give. Then ask God to help you remain faithful or to fix your life in whatever way it needs to be fixed to allow you to give as God wants you to do.

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.