Sunday, September 29, 2013

It’s Not about You

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:8-11, ESV)


This week we look at the final lesson from the book I am a Church Member. For those who are utilizing the book this lesson is based upon chapter three, "I will not let the church be about me." As we broach this subject and look at what the Bible says, we need to keep in mind two things about being a church member. First, as members of a larger body our preferences are not most important. In other words, its not about you. Second, what it is about is service, serving, and being a servant.


At the beginning of the book Rainer pointed out that there is a difference between a church and a social club. In a social club, because of the dues that are paid (among other things), personal preferences can be sought out, argued for, and accomplished. However, in the church, the body of Christ, we are not to exist for our own desires, but solely for the desire of the one who bought us and brought us out of darkness into glorious light. Though we know this truth at times we allow our individual preferences to eclipse our work for Christ. We all fall prey to this in one form or another and it is just selfish. In the realm of the church a selfish church is labeled an inwardly focused church. Rainer provides a list of areas that kept churches inwardly focused:

Survey of Inwardly Focused Churches

  1. Worship Wars
  2. Prolonged minutia meetings
  3. Facility Focus
  4. Program driven
  5. Inwardly focused budget
  6. Inordinate demands for pastoral care
  7. Attitudes of entitlement
  8. Greater concern about change than the gospel
  9. Anger and hostility
  10. Evangelistic apathy


In reading this list we may find the areas that we have been more inward focused than outward focused, falling short of the will of God in the great Commission. The way to ensure that we are not being inwardly focused is to make sure we are serving, as a church body and individually members of it. The topic of service is an integral element in the life of the church.

Service Helps us Love One Another

When we looked at unity we saw as God was adding people to the church as it pleased Him, he was also supplying two kinds of supernatural glue to bind us together. One mentioned in Ephesians 4:1-3 is peace (endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace). The second one highlighted here is love.


The beginning of the passage takes us directly to the way in which we are able to live together and serve each other: keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. We have discussed the interplay between the varieties of gifts found within the body, but they do not work well together without love. Paul exhorts us here to love one another because without love we are nothing (1 Cor 13).


Not only must we love one another, but we must do so earnestly. Found in this word is the concept of loving unfailingly. It is further highlighted by the next clause: love covers a multitude of sins. All of the problems of the inward focused church (made up of fallible people like us) go away when love abounds unfailingly. When we consider love first we begin to see each other as Christ sees us: forgiven. We find empathy with others when we love them first (we saw this last week as an effect of praying for others). Most of all we find that it becomes easier to serve with others in the church when we eagerly desire to love them.


The Bible elsewhere speaks of the need for the body to serve one another. In Mark 9:35 it says, And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all." We are not to seek to be first, but lovingly we consider others greater than ourselves. The greatest example of this is in the life of Jesus as presented in Philippians 2


Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

Jesus considered our humble estate and loved us by coming, but he also served us in coming as well. He came in the form of a servant in the greatest act of love ever presented in the history of mankind. We, as the church and church members, are to follow suit and be like Jesus. We are to be servants who love those we serve.


This means that we are to have an outward view of our church membership. Every other person we come across in our church needs to be an object of our love. This is not always easy, but it is necessary for the church to function properly and be healthy. It also is the only way we are going to be able to serve, and, consequently when we serve and love find it becomes easier and easier to serve and to love others.

Service Helps us Strengthen One Another

As just mentioned, the result of service in our lives and in our church brings great benefits to us. In a world that is always out for number one, the benefits of charitable acts are lost. Why would we spend time at a food pantry? Why would we give up a Saturday to fix someone's car? Why would we give away hundreds of dollars to people we do not even know? These are the questions of the world and often we believe them. However, those who know how to serve know the intangible benefits of serving.


Service is an attitude that is prevalent in the New Testament. We find servant 57 times and the word serve 58 times. So over 100 times in the New Testament we have the concept of service presented. Sure it seems necessary that we practice serving one another. Jesus did when he washed the disciples feet (John 13). We see it throughout the early church in the book of Acts. Christians are caring for one another and are being exhorted to care for one another. This is what our text in 1 Peter says as well. It is the common activity of the church.


We are to be those who serve each other because we cannot do everything. When we read: As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another (v 10), as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies (v 11), we are coming across the idea of the Body of Christ again. We each have different abilities and are to utilize them not only for the kingdom of God but also for the embitterment of each other. God has gifted us to take care of one another.


When we chose to be selfish with our spiritual gifts we are not only withholding needs from others we are also withholding the blessings that come along with serving. It is pure selfishness to keep these services to ourselves. We must remember that we are better together as a church body than we are as each individual members. When we practice our gifts in service to one another we all find strength from it. When we do not we only find weakness. We must strive to strengthen each other through service.

Service Helps us be the Body

Finally, we need to see that service helps is be the body. We have already mentioned this is in brief in the points above. When we are serving one another in love and finding strength from one another we are being the Body of Christ. When we are the Body of Christ we are able to fulfill the final part of our verse: in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. When we lovingly serve and act as God intended His churches to act, then we give Him glory.


With that being said, we must state a few things. First, by being inwardly focused, by seeking our preferences most of all, by withholding our gifts, we are limiting the glory God receives from the church in that the church is more our reflection than His. We are limiting the ability of God's church to worship Him. We are limiting the ability of the church to do what it needs to do. A service-centered attitude in the church is a Christ-centered attitude. We are no better in the Body of Christ than we are doing Christ's work as the Body.


Second, we must make sure that we are doing the work and not expecting others (or hiring out) to do our work. In many churches the answer to more ministry and service is a new staff member. Hire a new pastor and then we can do many more things. Sure there will be a productivity increase, but not to what it needs to be. In Acts 6 we have a passage that I believe introduces the role of the deacon. The apostles could not give proper attention to leading the church in the ministry of the word because they were waiting tables. They chose out men to help with this so they could teach. It is true to this day. Pastors are to function in the church as the leading and training agents for the rest of the church to do what God has called them to do. In Ephesians 4 Paul presents this:


he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Ephesians 4:11-14, ESV)

Notice that the job of these offices is to equip the saints. It is not their job to do everything. They are just one part of the body—a visible part—but just one part that relies upon the remaining members to do their part. Members are to share in the work of the church with their leadership, not leaving the work to church staff.

Find ways to serve others in the church. Encourage others to serve more. It will make our church more loving, stronger, and able to glorify our Lord and Savior greater.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Indispensability of Intercession

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2, ESV)


This is our third week in our Core Values Series and the third of four from Rainer's I am a Church Member. We will be addressing the chapter on prayer, chapter four. I think it is greatly valuable for all of our classes to hear the introduction that Rainer provides to this chapter:

It's Thursday morning. Pastor Mike [not Haley] has a clear calendar, an aberration in his busy schedule. Actually, the calendar is not really clear. He has set aside time to finish his sermon for Sunday. His Bible is open. Study aids are nearby. He begins to study.

Then the phone rings.

His assistant tells him about a car accident involving a family in the church. The ambulances are already on the way to the hospital. Mike leaves all his study material on his desk and jumps into the car.

On the way to the hospital, his assistant calls him again. The entire Godsey family of five were in the car. None are seriously hurt except for Gary, the father and husband of the family. His condition is grave.

Pastor Mike walks into the emergency room. The family has just been told that their husband and father did not make it. They see their pastor and run to him sobbing, in total shock. Mike is there for them. He stays with the entire family for three hours until he is certain enough people are around to care for them.

He stops by his home to see his wife and grab a quick sandwich. It is now afternoon. He's not sure if he can return to his sermon preparation, but he knows he must. He must fight the emotional exhaustion of the morning and finish the message. But as he walks back to the church, his assistant apologetically tells him that two people need to speak with him. They consider it urgent.

Mike meets with the two men. One of them is the worship leader of the church. He is struggling with his ministry and is considering giving up. For two hours Mike listens, consoles, and attempts to encourage the staff member.

The next visitor then catches Mike off guard. George is one of the key lay leaders in the church. Mike considers him a friend and an incredibly vital person in the overall leadership of the congregation. George struggles to speak: "My wife is having an affair . . ." There are no more words for five minutes. Just tears and sobs.

Mike stays with George for over two hours. They pray together and talk about the next steps.

It's nearly five o'clock in the afternoon. Mike is too drained to get back to his sermon. Instead he begins to look at his crowded e-mail inbox. He cringes when he sees one of the senders of an e-mail. But he cannot stop himself from opening the message. It's from one of Mike's most frequent critics in the church. She has two complaints. The first irritation was something he said in last Sunday's sermon. The second complaint addressed Mike's failure to visit her sister-in-law who had minor outpatient surgery yesterday. The woman is not a member of the church. And mike knew nothing about the surgery.

Pastor Mike shuts the laptop cover and moves to his car slowly. He'll stop by the house to grab a quick bite to eat. Then he needs to check on the Godsey family. He will stay with them for a while, but he must leave prior to 7:30, when he is to give the invocation for a local high school basketball game.

Several people corner him at the game, so he doesn't get home until after nine o'clock. He goes to his small study in his home, shuts the door, and begins to cry.

Gary Godsey, the father and husband who was killed in the car accident was Mike's best friend.

This was the first chance Mike had to grieve. (Rainer, 43-46).

I find this story to be a sobering glimpse into the reality of the life of a pastor. Sure not every day for a pastor is like the one Rainer pointed out, but these days exist.

In this lesson we will cover two different aspects of the life of the church member. First, we will look at the nature of intercession in a church member's prayer life. This is an indispensable job for every member of the body on behalf of every other member of the body. Second, we will look at the importance of that intercession especially applied to the pastor, the man for whom God has called, equipped, and gifted to shepherd the flock He gathered at a particular place. Because of this divine calling, this person has many demands and many adversaries. We need to be aware of the important ministry of intercession for these men in our lives.

The Nature of Intercession

If we are going to argue that intercession is a needed activity of the body of Christ, the church, then we should have an appropriate working definition of what intercession in our prayer lives is. The passage in 1 Timothy lists intercession alongside other types of prayers in which we are to be involved. So we need to understand what it means. To intercede means to change a person's standing by personal involvement in the circumstances at hand. In terms of prayer this means we take up the cause of another and pray as though it were our problem not theirs.

This means that we are to become a people that stand in the gap for others, so to speak. The prime example of this is our own salvation in Jesus Christ. Our sin left us in a precarious position before God since there was nothing we could do to save ourselves. Then in steps Jesus, the only one who could stand in the gap for us and overcome our sin problem. His life was an act of intercession to God, but He also has a continual ministry now as an intercessor for us: Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25). So just as Jesus is constantly making intercession to God the Father for us, so we should make intercession for others.

Last week we looked at the unity of the church from Ephesians 4, which encouraged us to bear with one another. Part of bearing with one another is found in the way in which we pray for one another. Often we are aware of the problems of those in the church and we long to pray for those people. This is intercession; it is us asking God to take care of others in our church. Now this raises an interesting theological question: Is God unaware of our church's problems? If not then why are we praying? Though one can argue because the Bible tells us to I like the answer that Philip Yancey provides in his book Prayer:

I once envisioned intercession as bringing requests to God that God may not have thought of, then talking God into granting them. Now I see intercession as an increase in my awareness. When I pray for another person, I am praying for God to open my eyes so that I can see that person as God does, and then enter into the stream of love that God already directs toward that person. (Yancey, Prayer, 303).

We need to realize that intercession is far more than petitioning God on behalf of others. In praying for others through intercession we are able to act as the body that rejoices and grieves together as 1 Corinthians 12:26 exhibits. In short, by interceding to God for others in the church we are able to come to love and support them in a manner similar to how God does.

The Necessity of Intercession for our Pastors

With the command from Paul for us to intercede on behalf of all people, we need to remember that within that grouping are those who are called to lead the local church. We as Baptists usually refer to these shepherds as the pastor. And though there are different job titles there really is only one set of qualifications for these titles.

This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; 3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; 4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence 5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); 6 not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)

There are a variety of practical reasons for all of the requirements for the life of the pastor of a church, but they all can be boiled down to the difficulty that comes along with the job. Managing people is never easy, but shepherding (that means managing lovingly so) people is even harder. Now add to that mix the constant assaults from the enemies of God and you have quite a difficult job. This is why the end of the text says, so that he may not fall into reproach, and a snare of the devil. Pastors are in need of our intercessions since the job is difficult.

There are quite a few lists of things that pastors personally deal with:


  1. Loneliness
  2. Stress
  3. Feelings of Inadequacy
  4. Depression
  5. Spiritual Warfare (Maxwell, Partners in Prayer, chapter 6)


In addition to these striking problems he also provides these statistics of pastors:

90 % work more than forty-six hours a week

80% believe ministry has affected their families negatively

33% say that ministry is a hazard to their family

75% report a significant stress-related crises at least once

50% feel unable to meet the needs of the job

90% feel inadequately trained

70% say they have a low self-image

40% report a serious conflict with a church member at least once a month.

70% do not have someone they consider a close friend (Maxwell, Partners in Prayer, 80)

Given these statistics and requirements for our pastors in the church we should definitely be interceding for them as 1 Timothy exhorts us to. The question that only remains is: How? Rainer provides four areas in which we can pray:


  1. Praying for Pastors, Staff, and Church Leaders
  2. Praying for the Pastor and His Family
  3. Praying for the Pastor's Protection
  4. Praying for the Pastor's Health


In addition the following is an exemplary prayer for pastors.

"Things I pray for pastors and leaders:

I pray that they would love Jesus with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and that their ministry would never steal from them their first love, Jesus Christ.

I pray that they would love and serve their wife and family with glad hearts and that their family would have love for the ministry instead of resenting it for "stealing" their husband and daddy away.

I pray for a passion; for conviction and dedication to their calling and to Jesus Christ.

I pray that they will walk in confidence while kneeling in humility as gentle shepherds who care for their sheep.

I pray for encouragement in their faith and ministry, and against those who attack, slander, harm, or speak evil against them.

I pray that their teaching and preaching will be accurate, true, bold, convicting, encouraging, anointed, and Christ-centered.

I pray that God will guard them from burnout and depression.

I pray that they will never fall prey to envy, jealousy, insecurity, or comparison.

I pray for their holiness and purity, and against lust, affairs, love of money, and pride.

I pray for rest spiritually and physically, and that they know that it is not their ministry they are leading, but God's.

I pray that they will finish better than they started.

I pray that they will take time to have fun, do things they enjoy, spend time with their wives and play with the kids, and get away often to find peace and solitude.

I pray for God to raise up people around them to assist them, serve them, honor them, encourage them, pray for them, admonish them, and protect them.

I pray that ministry, teaching, preaching, and leading will never become a chore for them, but that it would always be a joy and blessing to serve the Lord and His people with kindness and gladness, and that they would enjoy every aspect of leading, whether easy or hard, for the glory of God.

I pray these things for pastors or leaders. I hope all of us will pray them for one another." (Written by Pastor Dick Hester)

As you close out your time with your class let me suggest that you take time to pray for our pastor. Perhaps you can pray in groups or you may just want to pray altogether, but the best application to this lesson is to be an intercessor for our pastors.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What is a Church Member?

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:12-27, ESV)

True or false, the church is a volunteer service organization?

Church is the "ecclesia" the called out assembly, so to be in a church you need two things; one is to be called by God, and two is to assemble together, but many misunderstand the concept of assembled as just gathered (I went to church on Sunday) but in reality it means arranged and combined in a specific way for a particular purpose.


Based on our research of 557 churches from 2004 to 2010, nine out of ten churches in America are declining or growing at a pace that is slower than that of their communities. Simply stated, churches are losing ground in their own backyards. . . .

We can blame it on the secular culture. And we often do.

We can blame it on the godless politics of our nation. We do that as well.

We can even blame it on the churches, the hypocritical members, and the uncaring pastors. Lots of Christians are doing that.

But what I am proposing that we who are church members need to look in the mirror. I am suggesting that congregations across America are weak because many of us church members have lost the biblical understanding of what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.

(Rainer, I am a Church Member, 5-6).

Before we jump into this text let us be reminded of the context of the passage. The first letter to the church at Corinth was written by Paul as a way of reprimanding them for the practices they were allowing within their church. In short, Paul uses this letter to point out what was wrong with them and then teach them what is right. The topic he covers varies from spiritual gifts, to the Lord's Supper, and factions within the church. Overall, Paul wants the believers in Corinth to understand that there is a proper way for a church to conduct itself and Paul is giving them that model.


In particular to our passage Paul is redressing the concern he broached in chapter 1. There he states, I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, "I follow Paul," or "I follow Apollos," or "I follow Cephas," or "I follow Christ." (1 Corinthians 1:10-12, ESV). The divisions that are mentioned here are also highlighted in chapters 12-14 with special attention made to spiritual gifts. Apparently there were believers in the church who were touting their particular gifting as being the gift and division then occurred. In the middle of this discussion about who is better in the church Paul presents us with an illustration of how the church exists.

The Church has Many Members

We live in a place that still has cultural Christianity. Growing up I have seen people come to church for business, politics, and social status. And if you go to a really big church this is amplified due to the local celebrity status of Mega-church pastors. One Mega-church recently dis-invited about two thirds of its members. They looked at the records and found that one third of their families did all the giving and volunteering, and asked the others to get in or get out.


We must have a definition of a church member that sees its benefit beyond itself and exists in an outward functioning manner. This is where Paul's analogy of the body in 1 Corinthians 12 is extremely helpful. Notice what he says in verse 12, For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body so it is with Christ. Illustrations are often the best teachers and it is especially true in construing a correct construction of a church member. The body is appropriate not only because the analogy works, but because we all have one. All of us have (or have had) these various parts: hands, feet, arms, eyes, mouths, etc. So as we think through what a church member is let us do so by contemplating our physiological selves.

In verse 14 Paul mentions the diversity of the body but highlights that there is necessity in diversity. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?

Some people disqualify themselves from active church membership because they don't think they have one of the high-profile gifts like teaching or singing. But your body has more interior parts that go unseen then, those that get all the attention. People write poems about eyes not livers, but people function pretty well as blind, but you can't survive without your vital internal organs.

We must affirm with Paul that God has beautifully and perfectly built us together, But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. Practically speaking, this verse means that even though everyone has a different gifting (and maybe even not the one most desired at times) each gifting is necessary for the church to operate as God wants. John Calvin states it well on how the diverse members of the church are to work together, "each member ought to rest satisfied in its own station, and not envy others." Calvin goes on to show the result of those who do not rest satisfied, "That member, therefore, which will not rest satisfied with its own station, will wage war with God" (Calvin, 1 Corinthians, 409-10).

But as we affirm the necessity of diverse gifts and callings we also need to expect diversity in service. If God is fitting the church for service with each one he calls, what ministry did he have in mind when he called you? The inescapable conclusion of diversity is that it is there of necessity as a part of God's plan, so we must embrace diversity in service so we don't waste God's gifts, allowing the uninvolved to stay uninvolved.

The Church is One Body

The second part of what Paul wants to show us in the illustration of the body is that we are not only many different members, but we are one body. In verse 13 we are reminded that we have all been baptized into one body . . . and made to drink of one Spirit. Many scholars disagree about what Paul is particularly referencing here (some say water baptism, some spirit baptism, some say the Lord's Supper), but it is clear that the common unity that the church has is its connection to Christ, as the end of verse 12 shows—so it is with Christ. Paul could have said "church" here, but he said Christ. This is the completion of the picture of the body, for we must remember that our unity is found in our commonality, which is in Christ. We are the community of the faith, whom God has called, and we responded in repentance (change your mind), confession (surrender), and belief (trust).

In Colossians 1 we have a picture of Jesus as the head of the body, the church. Paul here is making this same connection to the church and the body, and in both we have our headship in Jesus Christ. Our unity to Him as our Head is most important for us as a church and as individuals. For what Augustine said long ago still is true, "Since we are in Christ, a fruit-bearing vine, what are we out of him but dry twigs?" Our unity is in Jesus Christ alone.

So the relation then between various body members, that are church members, is their relation Christ. That is to say, we are to find unity with one another because we are unified with one another in Jesus Christ. In that unity then we need not be ashamed of our giftings (or purposes in the church) thinking that some giftings are better than others. All giftings are needed for a healthy church body. This is why Paul mentions the relationship to the weaker body parts, On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. All of these body parts, though some weaker or more modest, are integral for the body of Christ to function properly.

Not only can we make that simple statement that we are needed and necessary in the unity of the whole body, but Paul encourages us with the note that God has placed each of us in our positions for His great purposes. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. That unity exists so that there is not division in the body (as the Corinthians had been facing). We must exist as unified members of the body in the way Paul mentions it here. When one suffers all suffer, when one rejoices all rejoice. This is what it means to be unified in one body.

The Church Serves in Love

God can replace anyone at any moment (and often does). What I am saying is that God wants us to do a job in our church and our spiritual health and that of the church depends on us doing our part.

Rainer points out in his book that only about one third of church members actually serve, or are functioning members in their churches. He concludes from this, "But if we are true biblical church members, we will be functioning members . . .

Sometimes people ask, "How can God use me?" I often answer them that they probably already know, for God gives us the desires to do His will. But if you do not know there are many programs that can help you figure out how you can be used and serve in the church. We have utilized in the past spiritual gift inventories, and most recently a program called SHAPE (put out by Saddleback Church). These are tools and by no means are authoritative on where and how you should serve, but they greatly help. In reality, if you are not serving the answer to what you should is to just do something; there is plenty of work to be done.

Second, we must remember that when we serve in the church as functioning members we must do so in love. Following chapter 12 is the famous Love Chapter
1 Corinthians 13. In the same context relating to divisions in the church, Paul presents to us the need to be a people of love. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Though we may think we are serving God and the church sometimes, we must be mindful that all our serving must be done so in love. Love is the unifier of the church and the motive that keeps us serving. It was the motive for Christ to die for us and will always be our motive to "die" for others as members of the church body.

The only true church members are those united by Christ (called) and assembled to serve his purpose.

That's right: membership in the body of Christ, the church, is a gift from God. It's not a legalistic obligation. It's not country club perks. It's not a license for entitlements. It's a gift. A gift from God. A gift that we should treasure with great joy and anticipation. (Rainer 71)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Firm Foundation

Matthew 7:24-29

1 September 2013

24 "Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.

26 "But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall."

28 And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, 29 for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. (Matthew 7:24-29, ESV)


Live with purpose

Begin with the end in mind

Put first things first.

These are the first 3 of "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", a book that has sold 25 million copies, and they are all represented in these 6 verses.

We have finally come to the last lesson from the Sermon on the Mount. This has been a half-year trek through three chapters of the Bible. At least that is one perspective of what we have done. Though you could have this perspective and be critical of the time spent in the text I believe that we should take a different perspective, that is: We have spent seven months unpacking the core of Jesus' teaching so that we can now spend the rest of our lives trying to do it. Jesus claims the teaching of this one sermon as foundational. If you understand His purpose, then you also understand yours. And once you understand your purpose you must choose what kind of life will achieve it, and what will be its end. Finally with any purpose or goal, we must prioritize; put first things first, and put some things away altogether.

Below we cover the content of this passage, but we must note here that this is the summary statement of Jesus. The phrase that we have, "these words of mine," references the entire Sermon, all three chapters. All throughout this series we have reviewed what has been taught before, but I think there is no better place to do that than the beginning of this lesson. First, because this is the summary application section (note the word therefore in verse 24) and, second, because the verse that immediately follows the text points to the nature of the teacher of the Sermon. Verse 29 states that the crowds were astonished and noticed that Jesus had authority, and not as their scribes. The connection of these two thoughts brings together all of the Sermon on the Mount as well as the teaching of Jesus. This is not the last time that we will see Matthew speak about Jesus' authority. In the Great Commission we also find the authority of Jesus. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. (Matthew 28:18). He is a great teacher because He is divine. This means that when we listen to the Sermon on the Mount we are hearing the best teaching there could be and therefore must strive to accomplish what it has for us.

As we look at the allusion to the two foundations we must keep in mind that Jesus is giving us two paths to live our lives. The wise path is the followed by the one that respects His authority and hears and does these words of mine. The foolish path is the followed by the one who ignores these words either wholly or partially. This lesson is intended to encourage all of us to follow the wise path and build a foundation on Jesus Christ.

Don't Live in the House of Folly

This text clearly presents two different houses: one that is wise and one that is foolish. Before we look at the differences between these two homes we must see what is common in both allusions. First, we notice that both are homes or houses. When we read this we must think of our house or home. For many the house is the place where much time is spent away from work and with the family. Once the work day is over it is the location to which the family returns. As such, it becomes a place from which we find rest, love, enjoyment, encouragement from family members, and it becomes the launching point for more days of work. This is why we call it a home sometimes instead of just a house. It is the place where we start and finish each day. So what we have in mind in this text is a place that represents the way in which we live.

This is not the only place in the Bible where the connection between our household and our living is found. In the Old Testament we find this connection especially in reference to the Law. A transgression of the Law meant not only punishment for the lawbreaker, but for his family too. Ezra 6:11 provides a vivid example of this thought: Also I make a decree that if anyone alters this edict, a beam shall be pulled out of his house, and he shall be impaled on it, and his house shall be made a dunghill. Needless to say that the way in which we live affects our homes, which means our families. This is why one of the qualifications for leadership in the church is related to the home: He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? (1 Timothy 3:4-5). How we live is directly related to our home, which is why Jesus uses the analogy of the building of a house in this passage. In fact the manner in which we live our lives functions as a foundation for our homes. In short, conforming to Jesus' message is wise and ignoring it is foolish.

The picture that Jesus provides for a foolish way of living is a house built upon sand. Now at first thought this may not seem like a bad idea. Sure we do not want to keep dragging sand into our homes, but we can deal with that if the view is worth it. After every Hurricane and every flood we look at the ruin and wonder why so many people lived in harm's way? For when the rains come and floods afterwards we soon find that his house that was built upon sand has had its foundation destroyed and without a firm foundation the entire house is ruined. This picture is a simple way to see the foolishness of our lives. Just like we would tell people not build a house in a flood plane we need to remind ourselves that we must not build our spiritual lives on something that will not endure.

So the obvious question is, what are the false foundations upon which we build our lives? What is the sand? The answer to that will be different from person to person, but in short we can say that anything that would not fit into the life picture Jesus paints in the Sermon on the Mount would be sand. For instance, if we are self-reliant we are building upon sand. For when things are going well we are good, but when struggles ensue we worry and fret and have nothing to trust in but ourselves and ultimately implode. Another "sand" could be our outward righteousness. We believe that because we come to church, tithe, and attend other churchly functions we will be blessed and/or saved. However, the Sermon clearly points out that these actions of outward righteousness only reward us momentarily and may even leave us saying "lord, lord" and hearing in return "depart…" We must strive to stay away from the "sand" in our lives and the only way to do that is to make sure our foundation is built on the rock.

Live in the House of Wisdom

The wise thing for any of us to do is to live in the house of wisdom. Notice this is not the house of knowledge, though that is important, it is wisdom (applied knowledge) that we must seek. In this particular picture we see that the wise person is building their house upon the rock. The rock here is a firm, solid foundation, for when we know that the house has a solid foundation we know that the house will stand.

If you have ever gone shopping for a home you know (or should know) that the foundation is one of the things to pay attention to, especially here in Texas. With the nature of our soil and the extreme weather often we find that foundations shift and crack, which causes great problems for the house. So when you are looking over a house you need to look for cracks in walls to see if there is a bigger foundation problem. If there is you may want to reconsider buying the home. Foundations matter greatly for our physical houses.

We also know that foundations are greatly important for our spiritual houses. We need to find a rock upon which to build our spiritual house. Jesus lets us know that the foundation we need is found in a life that is hearing and doing the things He has told us. This means that we are living out the principles of the Sermon on the Mount. We are seeking true blessings, we are striving to be salt and light, we acknowledge that we must keep the Law that is written on our hearts, we practice our righteousness for God alone and ultimately we live lives by the Golden Rule, and most of all begin with conversion to become a follower of Jesus.

Throughout the Bible God has been telling us about the foundation we are to have in His Son.

Psalm 118:22—The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

Isaiah 28:16—therefore thus says the Lord God,

"Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion,

a stone, a tested stone,

a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation:

'Whoever believes will not be in haste.'

Acts 4:11—This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.

Ephesians 2:19-22—
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

1 Peter 2:4-?—
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Sandcastles can be cool, but everyone understands that they are temporary. We don't live in sandcastles because we know that eventually the storm will come. Only a strong dwelling with the right foundation endures through the storms of life.