GCI Equipper

“As for Me and My House…”

“…We will serve the Lord.” This quote from Joshua 24:15 is only part of Joshua’s admonition to stay focused on who God is.

As a young student of the Bible, I could not understand how Israel could get caught up worshipping other gods. I’d seen pictures of Baal, Dagon, Asherah, Moloch and others and wondered how a nation who had been delivered from slavery fall for worshipping a pagan statue or carving? How naïve I was. I didn’t ask about the gods behind the statues and images Joshua and others were referring to.

Egypt had as many as 40 gods that were feared and/or worshipped. But they weren’t just images— they represented many things. Amon was the god of the air. Thoth was the god of writing and wisdom. Anubis was the god of the dead, Hathor the goddess of motherhood and fertility, Ptah was the god of craftsmen and builders, and on it goes. There were economic gods, commerce gods, builder gods, weather gods, hunter gods, gods of the underworld, gods of floods, gods of violence, gods of health and wealth. The many gods were there to cover all aspects of life. Imagine the surprise when Israel was told there is only one God and he was to be worshipped alone.

As an adult, I’ve travelled to India, Bangladesh and Nepal and I’ve seen that the practice of worshipping or honoring many gods has not changed among some religions. I marvel how the practice has continued and wonder why. Then I come home to America and realize it is much the same here. In this country we may not have a lot of statues or images, but we do have a lot of things that we pay more attention to than God. Let me share some examples.

We may not have a god of economics, but we have people making big decisions solely on the market. I’ve heard people declare they want this person or that person to be president because of how their retirement portfolio is being affected. This is just one example. This is what Joshua was referring to when he talked to the Israelites. He reminded them of all the things God had done for them in the previous verses of Joshua 24.

  • I took your father Abraham and led him. I gave him Isaac, and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau.
  • I sent Moses and Aaron to Egypt to bring you out.
  • I led you through the Red Sea and drowned those pursuing you.
  • I gave you the land of the Amorites, the Moabites, the Canaanites, and many others.
  • I took you over the Jordon and “I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built… you eat the fruit of vineyards and oliveyards that you did not plant.”

Today we might say things a bit differently. Today Joshua might remind us that Jesus is the one who forgives us. He is the one who redeems us and reconciled us to the Father. He is the one who sanctifies us and calls us his brothers and sisters. He is the one who rescued us from ourselves. He is the one who saves us and takes us to the throne of God. He is the one who invites us to participate in the communion he shares with the Father and the Spirit. He is the one who invites us to participate in bringing many sons and daughters to glory.

So Joshua might address you and me a bit differently. Allow me to paraphrase verses 14-15:

Now therefore, love and live in the presence of this God. Put your focus on him and acknowledge who he is and who you are in him. He already is the center of the center, focus on him as your center. Don’t allow the gods of economics, health, social injustice, possessions, pride and ego, accomplishments, naturalism or self to draw you away from him. Revere and serve our one true God. Join with me and my house, and together, let’s participate with Jesus in what he is doing as we live and share the good news that he is our God.

As I continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, I pray I recognize all the false gods that can cause me to lose sight of Jesus, who he is, what he is doing, and what he has invited me to participate in. It’s a prayer I encourage all to join.

This world will always have problems, and Jesus is not caught off guard with them. He asks us to remain focused on the truth that he has been and always will be in control. In GCI we continue to echo Joshua’s statement. “As for us and our denomination, we will serve the Lord.”

Still learning to follow him,

Rick Shallenberger

Liturgy – Worship through the Seasons of Life

 

By Daphne Sidney, Superintendent Australasia

 

Liturgy at first glance may seem a rather antiquated idea, but in examining it further, I have found that it can have deep relevance to our Christian walk today.

The world we live in today is full of despair for many. There is a general lack of trust and life has little meaning for many people. One author described this as people lacking a sense of belonging or being able to participate in something meaningful. He compared this to the participation we can have with the divine story as written by Jesus Christ himself, through liturgy within the community of a church.1

As a body of believers coming together, Christ-centered worship—worship based on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ as the Cornerstone of the church—is something from which we gain great encouragement and stability. Christ in that way is the center of our worship and our Rock upon whom we can rest secure through the storms of life.

Following a liturgy based on Christ enables us to participate in and internalize a very important story—God’s great story, which began before time and continues through eternity. This is revealed through the Son, and the work of Jesus Christ as he came down to meet us in our humanity and invite us into the great love and communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We build on this story by honoring Christ and participating in the Christ-centered traditions honed over many years, which provide stability, encouragement and hope. They also provide a form and a rhythm we can depend upon as we rehearse the familiar. We never tire of hearing about the great events of Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension and the receiving of the Holy Spirit. Notice what Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica during their time of hardship:

So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions we passed onto you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.  May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:15-17 KJV)

Our hearts are strengthened as we rehearse the seasons, and each time we learn something new. I was raised in Tasmania, known as the apple isle of Australia.  Our family had a large apple orchard and the seasons were marked—seasons for pruning, for spraying, fertilizing, irrigating and finally picking the matured fruit.  Beautiful fresh and crisp apples!

I remember how diligent my father was to follow the work of the seasons. He was deeply vested in the healthy growth of every variety of apple in the orchard.  Healthy trees would bear healthy fruit and would be able to endure the long journey as they were exported around the world.

Likewise our heavenly Father is deeply vested in each one of his children and in his church, collectively, that we may be healthy and bear good fruit, coming to a maturity and ready to be sent.

The English word liturgy comes from the Greek word leitourgia, which means the work or service of the people within the church community.   Yet it is not simply the people’s work, but it serves to bring focus to the work of Christ, done on our behalf as the ‘supreme leitourgos’2

The point of what we are saying is this:  We do have such a High Priest; who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven and who ministers (leitourgos) in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man. (Hebrews 8:1-2 KJV)

We can only respond with thanks and worship for what Christ has accomplished, and very grateful that he continually ministers and intercedes for us today.

One of our most sacred traditions over the years has been participating in the Lord’s Supper (communion) as a commemoration of the love and life of Jesus. He invites us to use the symbols of bread and wine to remember him.  We sometimes focus on his sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. Other times we focus on the promise of eternal life, or the hope we have in him. There are also times we participate in communion as a time of rejoicing as we remember we are one because of Jesus. Jesus didn’t want the disciples to focus on the manner of his death or how much he suffered, rather on how much he loved them and what his death would mean in making them “one” even as the Father and the Son were one. He wanted them to understand what he was willing to do in order to show them his love.

As members of his body, we are given the honor and grace to enter the communion shared by Father, Son and Spirit and to participate in their mutual love for each other. Every time we participate, we do so gratefully and always mindful of who Jesus is, what he has done, is doing and will do. As Paul reminded us, we give thanks as we partake of the bread and the wine—symbols of Jesus sharing his life and love with us. He called himself the bread of life, and the “cup of thanksgiving,” as Paul calls it, is symbolic of Jesus’ shed blood—given so that we might have life in him.

As a body of believers, we are drawn ever closer into communion as we honor the work of Christ, being reminded of who we are:

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6 NRSV)

Through Jesus, we receive forgiveness, which brings hope and renewal, something we need continually. Erickson explains that the sacrament is not being generated by the participant, but rather, it is brought to the sacrament of Christ himself. By taking the elements the participant receives anew and continually the vitality of Christ3

Taking communion through the seasons of the liturgy helps keep us focused on Christ. Adding the study of the Word, particularly reading the four Gospels, and resources such as the Christian calendar can help deepen our understanding of the seasons of the life of Christ that we celebrate. We can enter the seasons with preparation and rejoice whole-heartedly in them, in communion with Christ and with one another. Jesus is our all in all, and each season of his life brings a new excitement and a yearning to become more like him.

 

Church Hack: Setting up a Church Communication Plan

As we continue to gather digitally, or we transition to meeting in person, it is even more crucial to have clear and consistent communication about your congregation and church life. With increased live streaming of services, a communication plan is important for current members, as well as for guests that are connecting with you online. Check out our August Church Hack with four fundamental systems for your church’s communication plan. #GCIchurchhacks

The GCI Worship Calendar

God’s clock—centered on Jesus—determines how we set our life clocks.

 

By Emmanuel Okai, West Africa Regional Director, National Director, Ghana & Church Pastor Akim-Oda, Ghana

 

 

In the diagram produced by GCI that shows the annual cycle of Christian worship activities and themes, we see the name of Jesus Christ in the inner center. There is a theological reason for that central location of Christ in Christian worship.

 

God, the Creator, wants mankind to seek him diligently[i] and to worship him in spirit and in truth[ii]. He desires that humanity will come to know him as he truly is.[iii] For that reason, the New Testament Scriptures make it clear that God became human in order to bring humanity back to himself. That the man Jesus Christ of Nazareth is God incarnate is the consistent theology of the New Testament.[iv]

When Paul had the opportunity to speak at the Areopagus, the apex court of Athens in his day, he pointed to the centrality of Jesus in the ultimate plan of God for the redemption of humanity. Paul taught the Athenians that the “Unknown God” who is creator of all things[v] and the One in “whom we live, move and have our being”[vi] has “appointed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising him from the dead.”[vii]

The pre-eminence of Jesus Christ is so abundantly demonstrated in the Bible that most Christians take it as a given— self-evident truth of Scripture. A few Scriptures will demonstrate this fact:

  • Ephesians 1:10—In the fullness of times all things will be gathered together in Christ.
  • Philippians 2:9-11—Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.
  • Colossians 1:27—Christ in you is the hope of glory, a mystery now revealed to humanity.
  • Colossians 1:19-20—God is reconciling all things, in heaven and on earth, through Christ.
  • John 3:16—Salvation and eternal life is received through faith in Jesus Christ.

Practically, what is our response to the pre-eminence of Christ?

  • Our first public declaration is to confess that Christ is our Lord and Saviour.[viii]
  • Next, we publicly declare our “death” and “resurrection” with Jesus through baptism. [ix]
  • Our regular sacrament of holy communion is to remember (proclaim) what Jesus’ death means for all.[x]
  • The way of the Christian life is to imitate Jesus Christ, God incarnate.[xi]

It begins with a focus on our true identity. Who are we in Christ?

  • Acts 17:28—It is in God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) that we really exist. Therefore, without God our lives’ endeavours are meaningless, vanity and chasing after the wind.[xii]
  • Colossians 3:3-4—Due to our “death” with Christ, our real life is hidden in Christ; and we are looking forward to the revelation of the new life at Christ’s second coming. Therefore our life cycles must be mediated through the larger cycle of Christ—our hope of glory.
  • Galatians 2:20—Paul wants us to regard our lives as non-existent and to allow Christ to live his life in us. Therefore, his celebrations should over-shadow ours; remembrance of his life story must be prominent in our lives’ priorities.

The clock analogy

There are often three arms / hands on an ordinary clock – seconds, minutes and hour. The first time a child sees the clock, her attention will most often be arrested by the fascination of the rapid movement of the seconds hand. She probably won’t notice the slow movement of the minute hand; and certainly won’t perceive the much slower crawling of the short hour hand. However, the movement of the seconds hand is meaningless if its movement is not in relationship with the other two. Can you imagine a clock with only the seconds hand jogging around the face? It might be useful for measuring a few things, but not for telling the time of day.

Similarly, our story has meaning only within the bigger divine story. Our life’s cycle of birth, marriage, work, achievements, failures, retirement, old age and death have meaning only if they are synchronized within the clock of God’s plans and purposes. When we rush around in our little corners of the earth within the limitless universe oblivious of the grand agenda of the Creator God, in whom we live, move and have our being, then our 70 to 120 years become like vapor. As humans, and more importantly as Christians, we need to understand that our story becomes meaningful only in context of the bigger story that God is working out through Jesus Christ, whom we recognize as Lord and Master. The GCI Worship Calendar helps us stay within that context.

The GCI Annual Worship Calendar keeps us focused on God’s story by focusing on Jesus—his birth, his life, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, his identity, and his church as well as his promised second coming.

  • His birth (Christmas)
  • His life (Epiphany)
  • His love for the world (Palm Sunday)
  • His passion – suffering and death (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday)
  • His resurrection (Easter/Resurrection Sunday)
  • His ascension (Ascension Sunday)
  • His body—the church (Pentecost)
  • His identity (Trinity Sunday)
  • His return (Christ the King Sunday)

Not only does the GCI Worship Calendar keep us focused on God’s story, it also gives us several reminders in worship and church life.

  • It reminds us that we are not our own; we have been bought at a price by God.[xiii]
  • It makes us remember that God loves us to the point of coming down to tabernacle with us
  • It retells the story, every year, of how we are saved because of the love of God for us.
  • It reminds us that there is something greater than our personal, national or earthly priorities
  • It places our current story in context and in the right (eternal) perspective[xiv]

In his article entitled, “Focusing on Hope,, Equipper Editor, Rick Shallenberger, pointed out that our GCI Worship calendar ensures that “we acknowledge, through worship, preaching, and living, that Jesus is the center of the center.” His “central clock” must be the one we use to set our tiny life clocks.

[i] Hebrews 11:6

[ii] John 4:23 – 24

[iii] John 17:1 – 3; Jeremiah 9:23 -24

[iv] Matthew 1:20 – 23; John 1:1 – 14; Hebrews 1:1 – 4

[v] Acts 17:22 – 24

[vi] Acts 17:28

[vii] Acts 17:31

[viii] Romans 10:9 – 10

[ix] Romans 6:3 – 4

[x] 1 Corinthians 11:26

[xi] 1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 John 2:6; 1 Peter 2:21

[xii] Ecclesiastes 1:2, 14; Ecclesiastes 12:13 – the whole book makes this point that without our recognition of God all human endeavour amounts to nothing in the ultimate sense.

[xiii] 1 Corinthians 6:19 – 20

[xiv] Romans 8:18, 28

Wake Up! w/ Timothy Brassell

Video Transcript

Wake Up! with Timothy Brassell Listen in as host, Anthony Mullins and guest, Timothy Brassell, unpack these lectionary passages:

September 6       Romans 13:8-14        “Wake Up!” September 13    Romans 14:1-12         “Disputable Matters” September 20    Philippians 1:21-30   “The Good Life” September 27    Philippians 2:1-13     “The High Calling of Low Living”
If you get a chance to rate and review the show, that helps a lot. And invite your fellow preachers and Bible lovers to join us!

Wake Up! with Timothy Brassell

Listen in as host, Anthony Mullins and guest, Timothy Brassell, unpack these lectionary passages:

September 6     Romans 13:8-14           “Wake Up!”

September 13   Romans 14:1-12            “Disputable Matters”

September 20   Philippians 1:21-30     “The Good Life”

September 27   Philippians 2:1-13       “The High Calling of Low Living

If you get a chance to rate and review the show, that helps a lot.
And invite your fellow preachers and Bible lovers to join us!

Donna & Timothy Brassell

Worship Leading w/ Keysha Taylor

Video Transcript

“God doesn’t waste anything. It is not that no one will be touched by you being “led by the Spirit.” Because he uses us, he knows we are dust. And he is loving and kind to us. But I think that he takes a lot of time showing us that he is a preparatory God. He is a God who prepares. So we want to take the time to emulate our God. We want to imitate his ways. ... From the beginning of time, it is laid out for us that preparation is vital. Preparation during the week, you are taking your time to hear what the Lord wants to say. -Keysha Taylor, Worship Leader
Main Points:
  • Why do you believe that Spirit-led competent worship leading matters in a Healthy Church environment? (2:10)
  • What does an invitation to worship look like on a practical level? (6:00)
  • How do you build camaraderie on your team? (19:46)
  • How do you select songs that reflect the theology of the God revealed in Jesus? How do you create an invitation to worship rather than putting on a concert like a performance? (25:01)
  • Why is collaborating with the pastor and Hope Venue Champion vital for a healthy expression of worship? (32:58)
Resources:  

In this episode, host Anthony Mullins interviews Keysha Taylor, who serves in GCI’s congregation in Miramar, FL. Together they discuss what it looks like to lead worship in a Healthy Church environment.

“God doesn’t waste anything. It is not that no one will be touched by you being “led by the Spirit.” Because he uses us, he knows we are dust. And he is loving and kind to us. But I think that he takes a lot of time showing us that he is a preparatory God. He is a God who prepares. So we want to take the time to emulate our God. We want to imitate his ways. …
From the beginning of time, it is laid out for us that preparation is vital. Preparation during the week, you are taking your time to hear what the Lord wants to say.
-Keysha Taylor, Worship Leader

Main Points:

  • Why do you believe that Spirit-led competent worship leading matters in a Healthy Church environment? (2:10)
  • What does an invitation to worship look like on a practical level? (6:00)
  • How do you build camaraderie on your team? (19:46)
  • How do you select songs that reflect the theology of the God revealed in Jesus? How do you create an invitation to worship rather than putting on a concert like a performance? (25:01)
  • Why is collaborating with the pastor and Hope Venue Champion vital for a healthy expression of worship? (32:58)

Resources:

 

Sermon for October 4, 2020

Video Transcript

Speaking Of Life 2045 | The Cornerstone Question Greg Williams I am no carpenter by the stretch of anyone’s imagination. Even though I did contract my own house in Fayetteville, North Carolina, I was there from the day we dug the footings until the locks were set on the front door. In my construction experience, I crossed paths with many people in the building trade – framers, cabinet makers, brick masons, and others. A universal lesson I learned is that it is extremely difficult to get square corners and straight lines. And throw out the idea of ever building a perfect house. In God’s self-revelation in the person of Jesus, the answer to square corners and straight lines is addressed. Notice the metaphor Jesus uses in Matthew: Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?  Matthew 21:42 (ESV) When the stonemasons looked through the quarries, they looked for the cornerstone which had the exact lines, weight, and shape to hold a whole structure together. They might use rejected or misshapen stones somewhere else in a building, but the cornerstone had to be flawless and fit the gap exactly or the whole structure falls. This is how we might frame the question of Christ in our own minds and in our conversations with those who don’t know Jesus. Come at it from one direction, and it might seem absurd: an itinerant peasant preacher from nowhere is actually God? But if you see the gospel as the cornerstone—as that foundational starting piece that makes all the other pieces hold together, then the cornerstone—originally rejected because he didn’t seem to fit—holds up the whole structure. The gospel doesn’t always make life easier, or even happier, or even more exciting, but it does enable life to make sense. That’s why Jesus is the answer to the cornerstone question. And it is in him that you and I are fitly framed together and made strong. And it is him the perfect house is being constructed. I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.  

Psalm 19:1-14 • Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20 • Philippians 3:4b-14 • Matthew 21:33-46

The theme this week: God’s gracious hedge. The call to worship, Psalm 19, sings the praises of God who gave these instructions for how best to be human. Exodus 20 gives us the original Ten Commandments—a hedge of godly behavior setting apart God’s people. In Philippians 3, Paul describes the climactic end of all rituals and markers of being God’s people: knowing Christ. Our sermon, “The Self-Emptying Love of Christ,” is based on this reading. Matthew 21 tells the painful story of the vineyard management gone bad, and the vineyard owner sending his son there, and son’s resulting murder.

The Self-Emptying Love of Christ

Philippians 3:4b-14 ESV

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. It’s one of those cliché phrases that a middle-aged dad might use to describe a kid burning by on a motorcycle. I already did that—I’ve already had that experience. It’s often used to describe negative experiences as well: Divorce? Car accident? Colonoscopy? It’s a way of saying: I’ve had that experience, it’s nothing new. No need to do it again.

Ask the members to share a been there, done that kind of experience. This could be a fun discussion, or you can relate an anecdote from your own life. After this discussion, read the text.

In a way, Paul is saying the same thing here. From what we can tell, there seems to be a movement of old Israelite rituals entering the new church of Christ. People, as people do, were starting to draw the in-and-out lines. It was becoming US (circumcised, following Mosaic law) versus THEM (Greco-Roman in background, uncircumcised).

There was a movement of people trying to tack other works and rituals onto the free grace of belief in Christ. Paul’s reaction screams off the page—as if he was calling them every name he rightly can to show that these old rituals are no longer needed. He is emphasizing that the Jesus movement isn’t just a call back to more stringent Judaism or more stern obedience; it is something new.

And to those who are congratulating themselves on keeping the old ways, Paul offers this vivid description of how he has been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

“They think they are faithful? I am Hebrew’s Hebrew! I’m a poster child for Israel, from a high-end Israelite family—all ducks in a row, all t’s crossed!”

But then Paul calls it “rubbish” (v. 8) compared to knowing Christ.

Let’s zero in on this dramatic passage today to see the story Paul tells here and how the story can intersect with our own.

The context of this letter is important. Paul is writing to the fairly young church community in Philippi. This was a city known for Roman nationalism, and a retirement spot for Roman soldiers after they had completed their time. The Roman culture there was strong: They had bled for it and were supported by its taxes.

So calling Jesus the true king, and Caesar not, had proven to be a problem for a lot of people in the community. Rome didn’t care much about which gods you worshipped, but they cared very much who you acknowledged as the rightful king and emperor. They also had a mandatory cult that worshipped the emperor, which was one of the ways that he kept his power over a gigantic kingdom. The early Christians got in far less trouble for worshipping Christ than they did for NOT worshipping Caesar.

I think it’s also important to see the context of Paul’s life. The Philippian church is beleaguered, persecuted and trying their best to make it, and he is imprisoned. Not only that, he’s in a Roman prison. As a Roman citizen, he would have had a meager diet that wouldn’t keep you living very long. He was otherwise completely dependent on friends and family, or in Paul’s case on a church community. He’s writing to thank them for their financial help, a gift brought by Epaphroditus (ch. 2), because he needed it to survive.

So we have a small powerless community supporting a malnourished, banished prisoner. Not exactly the backdrop for one of the most enduring pieces of literature in history! But it is here, with the guards staring at him and the rats scurrying across the floor, that Paul writes what’s been called the happiest book of the Bible!

But it couldn’t happen in a better context, really, when you think about the contents and the theme. Philippians finds its center of gravity in a poem or hymn about Jesus that makes up most of chapter 2:

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 2:6-11 ESV)

This is by far the most famous part of this book. It was likely a hymn or poem that was already in use in the Christian community that Paul relates back to them. It focuses on Jesus’ self-emptying love to come to earth—to give up all his rights and privileges as the Son of God to live in helplessness.

And that’s the center of this book that echoes through the whole thing: what Jesus gave up for love. That’s such an important angle, of loving someone, isn’t it? There’s plenty that people do as parents—protecting, providing, disciplining. But what about the things they do without? They give up their freedom, their choices, their spare time. They give up their pursuits and career when the children are young, nights of sleep when they are teenagers, never-returned-loans when they are young adults.

Kids can crush your heart. That’s no secret.

We know what you do for romantic love. Long walks and conversations, special gifts, romantic gestures. But what about what you give up—especially when a relationship gets serious? You have to share space and life with someone. Your decisions no longer just affect you. You have to support someone in sickness and health, through rigors of old age and death.

It is this self-emptying love that forms the central theme of Philippians. That’s why Paul could write the happiest book in the Bible from prison. In terms of chapter 2, we might break it down into bestowed honor and earned honor.

In terms of bestowed honor:

 If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. (Philippians 3:4-5 ESV)

He is an eighth-day one, a real Israelite among Israelites. When people found out his heritage, they stopped what they were doing and listened. He was of high pedigree and he turned heads. This is a powerful, even intoxicating, power to have. Who doesn’t want to be the hero in the western movie who strolls into the saloon and stops all the action, commands the attention?

In terms of earned honor:

“As to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Philippians 3:5-6 ESV)

Not only was he an Israelite—he was really good at it! Paul was a rising star, on the road to the corner office, winning the religious, social and cultural game. And he gave it all up to become a nobody. He gave all that up to become a spokesman for a strange new sect that nobody believed would last.

Do you see the theme? This self-emptying love which Christ showed in coming down to us, was imitated by Paul as he gave up all that he once counted as his greatest achievements. There’s an old cliché, well-worn for a reason: “humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” We see this in the example of Christ and the example of Paul, giving up their legitimate rights to enter into God’s work.

Back to the parenting analogy. The longer people are parents, the more they realize it’s not about being perfect or chummy or even memorable, it’s about being THERE. That’s what shapes the kids, that’s what leaves an impression years later. The gifts they are given will fall apart, they will forget 80% of the grand wisdom the parents bestow on them, but they will remember whether there parents were there for them. They will remember that they turned off the TV, put down the phone, skipped that work meeting to spend some time with them.

And in a marriage, it’s better to show up on time than to show up late with flowers. This is one of the deepest currents of love, and it’s what Jesus—legitimate Lord of the universe who became a lower-middle class kid—showed us immensely. Paul followed suit and encouraged the Philippians and all of us to follow suit as well.

The conclusion of our reading today offers us another clue as well. The Jewish and Greek parts of the ancient world didn’t always get along. The Jews thought of themselves as the chosen, the Greeks looked down their noses at the Jews and thought of them as unrefined and barbarian. They weren’t always at odds, but there was tension nonetheless.

The gospel comes along and tells them all to break the same bread and sit at the same table. All are included in Christ, and the ground is level is at the cross. These divisions were something Paul dealt with often in his letters, telling them that these old signs of status and religion are obsolete now. We see a subtle hint at that in these next few verses:

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14 ESV)

Paul gives this picture of himself as practically a Jewish hero and says it’s all meaningless. He follows it immediately with the metaphor of a runner—the Olympic hero of the Greeks. He says, I used to be the ideal Hebrew, and now I want to be an ideal Christ-follower, pressing on like an ideal Greek! And he declares with honest courage, “I’m not there yet!”

Paul gave up a heritage and a place in society that a lot of us can relate to: a recognized name, a good career, some solid accomplishments. These things were in no way bad in themselves, but God called him to freedom from them. God called him to pack light and be part of something new, to empty himself of everything but love for Christ and his people.

What does it mean to have this self-emptying love?

  • Everyday love—Paul wasn’t describing anything dramatic or otherworldly. He was called to lay down daily conveniences and comforts. Many of us might idealize giving up our lives in martyrdom or mission work, but God calls us to simply put others first, give a listening ear, be present. This is the everyday love of emptying yourself for others.
  • True love for true self—Paul walked away from so many status symbols and other reasons for cultural pride. It’s easy to let these things gather and cling to us, even in church. I’m part of this group or this ministry or I’ve been here for 30 years. Religious pride is one of the worst kinds. It’s hard to recognize the smell and rout it out.
  • Our identity is not in our heritage nor in what we do, but in who we are. We often spend a lot of time trying to achieve what we already have—a relationship with God, forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation. Rather than focus on the self, we are called to focus on Jesus and those whom he is focused on, and then love them as he loves them.
  • “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.” (v. 13)—What a blessing to read verse 13! Paul calls us to that true life and true love that isn’t afraid to admit its own imperfection. He doesn’t chide them, or us, for not having our act all the way together. He says, “Press on, I’ll be doing the same.”

Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for Speaking of Life:
  • Let’s read this quote from British thinker GK Chesterton about how the gospel answers the human question: “…in answer to the historical query of why it was accepted, and is accepted, I answer for millions of others in my reply; because it fits the lock; because it is like life.” Do you agree? How does the gospel “make sense” of life?
  • Why do you think people routinely rejected Jesus—“the stone the builders have rejected” (Matthew 21:42)? How might we have rejected Jesus if he came in our time? How do we reject him when he does?
Questions for Sermon:
  • Have you ever had a been there/done that/got the t-shirt kind of experience? What’s it like to watch someone—especially one of your own kids—having that experience themselves?
  • Philippians 2 gives us the picture of Jesus emptying himself of power and strength for love and Paul gives the same picture of himself throughout the letter. Have you ever had to “do without” something for a relationship? Was it worth it? Were you glad you gave that up?
  • Look again at verses 12-14. The gift of salvation is free through God’s grace—absolutely and completely. Why is Paul talking about strenuous effort, which he likens to an athlete in training, in this section here? What is he getting at?
Quote to ponder: “Humility is the displacement of self by the enthronement of God.” – Andrew Murray, South African Missionary

Sermon for October 11, 2020

Video Transcript

Speaking Of Life 2046 | Dissolving Disagreements Cara Garrity I have a friend with two small preschool boys, and because they’re so close in age, they have a tendency to fight over toys. To keep her sanity, she told them that if they can’t resolve their disagreement without fighting, they have to work on a 100-piece puzzle until they finish it. For two preschool boys, a 100-piece puzzle takes an eternity to finish. They have to work together, and by the time they’re done, they’ve forgotten what they were angry about. This story reminds me of a reference in the Bible to two adults who were at odds. It appears in the letter to the Philippians where Paul writes, I urge Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. Philippians 4:2-3 (NRSV) The Bible is silent about what caused division between these two women, but it’s clear from the text that they had worked together well, even against difficulties, to promote the good news about Jesus and his love and acceptance. Their disagreement can make us pause when we think about holding grudges or having a negative attitude against others, particularly those who are believers. While many things can cause disagreements in relationships, this passage presents a challenge to be “of the same mind in the Lord.” This shifts our perspective. It’s like the story I told about my friend’s little boys who were fighting over toys. When the little boys had the same goal in mind—finishing that puzzle—they remembered that they really loved each other, and their fight over the toys didn’t really seem that important anymore. As believers, much of what we disagree about might be important to us, but probably isn’t a dealbreaker when it comes to whether or not we believe in Jesus’s acceptance and love for everybody. It’s our human tendency to focus on smaller issues. These might seem easier to control or judge in ourselves and others rather than holding on to the reality of Christ’s mind being in each of us through the Holy Spirit. Paul’s correction to Euodia and Syntyche is to lift their eyes from their disagreement and see the goodness of God’s Spirit at work in them and through them. This is having “the same mind in the Lord.” If we’re spectators to a disagreement, our role is like the “loyal companion” Paul addresses and encourages us to help those at odds to see each other in a different light. Rather than listening to complaints, we point to Christ and call one another up to be of one mind in him. So, the next time you feel irritated at a brother or sister in Christ, you don’t need to do a 100-piece puzzle. Instead, look to Jesus and focus on the goodness of the Holy Spirit. Notice the same Spirit that is working in you is also working in them and through them. He is there; you just need the right mindset to see.   Praying for you “to be of the same mind in the Lord,” I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 • Exodus 32:1-14 • Philippians 4:1-9 • Matthew 22:1-14

The theme for this week is when doing changes thinking, which helps us remember that engaging in helpful practices and spiritual disciplines can deepen our connection to God. The Psalm 106 call to worship, and Exodus 32 tell the story of how Aaron and the Israelites tried to dispel their worries and fears by creating a golden calf, an unhelpful practice. While we might not engage in outright idolatry like this, we can recognize our tendency to seek comfort and guidance in externals. This week’s sermon outline is based on Philippians 4:1-9, and it focuses on how doing certain practices (or disciplines) can help transform our thinking, especially during periods of worry. Lastly, Matthew 22:1-14 tells the parable of the wedding guests who weren’t ready. This encourages us to think about what practices we could engage in to ready our hearts so that we can be transformed by the love of Jesus.

When Doing Changes Thinking

Philippians 4:4-9

How many of you have heard before that smiling more makes you feel happier? I’ve heard it before, too. My next question is how many of you intentionally try to practice that habit of smiling more? If you’re like me, it’s the follow-through that sometimes trips me up.

There was a recent video on Ted Talk about the value of smiling. Let me share some highlights:

  • We are born smiling. Using 3D ultrasound technology, we can now see that developing babies appear to smile, even in the womb. When they’re born, babies continue to smile—initially, mostly in their sleep. And even blind babies smile to the sound of the human voice. Smiling is one of the most basic, biologically uniform expressions of all humans.
  • Being around children—who smile frequently—makes us smile. A recent study at Uppsala University in Sweden found that it’s very difficult to frown when looking at someone who smiles.
  • British researchers found that one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate.
  • Wait! The same study found that smiling is as stimulating as receiving up to 16,000 pounds sterling (nearly $20,000) in cash.

With smiling being this valuable, you’d think we would naturally do it more often. By not having a thought-out plan or practice to smile more, I forget. By not having a discipline or practice, we lose sight of how we want to think and feel. So what does this have to do with today’s text? For one thing, smiling is a sign of someone rejoicing. It’s a sign of joy—a joy that comes from the Lord. And the book of Philippians is known by many as the happiest book of the Bible.

Our scripture reading for today comes from the 4th chapter of Philippians. Paul starts off the chapter addressing a couple of women in the church at Philippi who had worked together to promote the good news, but who had a falling out. The rest of the letter Paul uses to help us understand the connection between how we behave and how we think or feel. He concludes by reminding us to rejoice. Let’s take a look:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9 ESV)

What can we notice about the passage?

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. (Philippians 4:4 ESV)

We can notice that Paul encourages us to rejoice—always. This can also be translated “at all times.” He doesn’t qualify it by saying we should only rejoice in the good times or when things are going our way, but he says…always. This doesn’t mean that we won’t experience suffering, grief, or loss, or that when we are suffering, we have to put on a “happy face.” Instead, Paul is referring to an attitude of joy that isn’t tied to our external circumstances—where we are or what we are doing, it is tied to Christ—who he is and who we are in him. It’s interesting to note that Paul wrote this letter to the church at Philippi from prison, so he is walking his talk. In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul refers to himself and his situation as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10 ESV).

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. (Philippians 4:5 ESV)

The idea of “gentleness” can also be translated “reasonableness,” and the concept means living as a Christian within the larger community, not isolating oneself or being difficult to get along with, but living our lives “in a manner worthy of Christ” (Phil. 1:27). The next short sentence, “The Lord is at hand,” captures the idea that God, through the Holy Spirit in us, is as near as our next breath.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 ESV)

These verses address the issue of worry and prescribe the antidote: prayer and thanksgiving. These are practices that we can engage in to move our thinking from ruminating on problems toward the peace of God. When we make our requests known to God and trust him, we can rejoice. He guards our hearts and minds with that trust.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9 ESV)

Paul offers practical ideas for breaking the grip of fear in our lives. In addition to prayer and thanksgiving, he suggests that we replace worried thoughts with what we know is true, excellent, beautiful, and positive in our lives. What is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise? Jesus! Keep our mind on him. By doing these disciplines of prayer, thanksgiving, changing thoughts to rest on Jesus, we can feel and know his peace more fully.

Application:

  • Know that real joy is not connected to your external circumstances. Despite being in prison, Paul was an example of knowing joy and peace. God’s peace is not held captive by our circumstances but flows generously and freely to us. “Be still and know” (Ps. 46:10) encourages us to see that because our life and citizenship is not bound up in this world, but is bound up in Jesus, we’re OK and we’re going to be OK, despite the pain we encounter as human beings.
  • We can engage in spiritual practices or habits to break the hold that fear and worry often have on us. When a fear or worry grips us, rather than dwelling on it, we can choose to pray, place the worry before God, think of what we’re grateful for, and lift our thoughts to who is in our lives. We can “be still and know” (Ps. 46:10) that we are never alone, and that God is as near as our next breath. We can choose to smile more (remember the illustration at the beginning?), and by engaging in these practices, we can change our thinking and feeling.

Doing something doesn’t mean we lack faith. We are physical beings, and we need practical strategies to break the hold of negative thinking. In Phil. 4:4-9, God gives us examples of helpful disciplines so that we can be released from fear, focus on Jesus, and live lives of rejoicing and peace.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • The Speaking of Life video focused on the importance of resolving our differences by having “the same mind in the Lord.” What does this phrase “the same mind in the Lord” mean to you?
  • The video talked about how smiling more can make us happier. Have you heard of other practical strategies that have been scientifically studied to boost our moods or happiness? If so, please share.
  • Paul talks about rejoicing always, even in the midst of difficulty. What do you think that looks like? How do we allow ourselves to feel sadness or disappointment (which is a natural part of being human) yet still know the nearness of God’s joy?
  • Paul talks about praying, expressing thanksgiving, and thinking about what is positive in your life as a way of breaking worry’s hold on you. What ideas do you have to implement these strategies? Any practical tips or ideas you’ve tried?

Sermon for October 18, 2020

Video Transcript

Speaking Of Life 2047 | Whose Likeness Greg Williams This is the coin in use around the time of Christ. Look closely at it and you see a major problem for the Jews of the day. The inscription reads: “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus.” This puts Caesar in a divine place, which—in the Jewish and Christian mind—could only be occupied by God. According to the scribes, to own and handle this coin was a violation of the first commandment. The moneychangers in the famous temple cleansing were changing blasphemous Roman coins for those which would have been acceptable for use in the temple. When Jesus asked to see the coin in Matthew 22:19, he exposed the fact that they all carried the Roman coins on them because they had to. He then asks his famous question as they look on the coin in verse 20: “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”. They answer that its Caesar’s and he diffuses the tense conversation: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Matthew writes this with a wink toward Genesis 1:26, “Let us make humans in our likeness.” That Greek word for “likeness” is the same in both places. The question behind the question is this: whose likeness is stamped on you? Whose image and likeness do you bear? So yes, we do “render to Caesar” our taxes; property tax, federal tax, state tax, sales tax, etc. but we are to give—or render—ourselves unto God, whose likeness we bear. What does that mean? Part of that rendering or not rendering hinges on where we place our trust. Do we place our trust in Caesar—government—realizing there is no perfect, complete form of government—or anything or anyone—on earth? No, we know we cannot trust in a government to bring in “heaven on earth.” Only God can forgive us, save us, redeem us, and shape us. His is the likeness we bear, and through the power of the Spirit, we are continuing to be transformed into his image. I’m Greg Williams Speaking of Life.

Psalm 99:1-9 • Exodus 33:12-23 • 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 • Matthew 22:15-22

This week’s theme is God’s glory goes with us. In Exodus 33, Moses asks God to send his glory with Israel and then to show Moses his glory. Psalm 99, this week’s call to worship, is a historical poem of God’s glory going with them through the desert as a pillar of cloud. Matthew 22 tells about Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees overpaying taxes and Jesus reminds us that God’s imprint is on us, so we belong to him. Our sermon is based on 1 Thessalonians 1, in which Paul talks about God’s glorious transformation of us and the life he has called us to live in response.

Paul’s Three-Dimensional Witness

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Have you ever had a mentor? A person in your life who sat with you and walked you patiently through learning something they themselves already knew very well? Most of us don’t have to look too far in our own history to find that coach, pastor, boss, older cousin or whoever it was who taught us how to pick up a skill, but more importantly how to live life.

How did that mentor approach you? Were they careful, calm, and patient? The ones we remember usually are. We can also remember the abusive, driving bosses and authority figures, but we wouldn’t usually call them mentors.

Discuss a mentor who was important to you and took time to teach you patiently, even while holding high expectations. Do you know someone who gave you high support, high challenge, and grace always? This could be an interesting discussion, depending on the size of your fellowship.

Paul approached this fledgling church in Thessalonica as a loving mentor. That’s one of the main themes that threads through this introductory section: he loves them dearly and is praising the progress they’ve made.

We often think of Paul as a bit of a fighter, often speaking the voice of rebuking and correction rather than consolation. We’re used to his near-violent rebuke of the false teachers who are trying to infiltrate his communities and undermine the high standards he lives by and expects of those he’s been ministering too.

But Thessalonians shows us a different side of Paul, which I think is probably the side he prefers to live in if he can. He starts this letter with gentle praise and great love.

Read 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Let’s look at three points Paul makes in this passage. He talks about:

  • Identity
  • Imitation
  • Imminence

Identity

We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 ESV)

This sounds like a normal and warm greeting, but then as you read the letter, you might wonder about Paul. The letter was written to people who are preaching other doctrines and preaching against Paul. They lived in a promiscuous culture, and men were free to engage in sexual activity with almost no boundaries. Their theology is messed up—seemingly inserting different gods into their daily lives. Yet Paul praised them for their work of faith, labor of love and steadfastness of hope.

Let’s keep in mind that for the Jewish believers, the gospel was completely scandalous. We know from Acts 17 that the members of the Jewish community in Thessalonica followed Paul to the next town where he ministered so they could start a riot and endanger his life!

The believers in Thessalonica had bad theology, bad morality, and a distorted opinion of Paul. Yet, Paul is thankful because of what he’s heard about their faith and growth in Christ. He’s thankful because of their growth, not their perfection.

Every 12-step meeting you go to you will hear the phrase: “We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.” That’s where Paul meets this community—I’m so thankful for you! I hear such good things about you! You are following Christ; you know who you are.

He thanks God for them and reminds them who they are.

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 ESV)

He comes in as the loving mentor here, starting with genuine praise and joy in the progress this community is making. The smoldering wicks and bruised reeds abound here—Greeks just in from their licentious religious life, Jews who’ve been rejected by their community for their newfound faith.

Paul gently blows on the embers of their faith, encouraging them to continue. Not to be perfect, just to keep going, to know their identity in Christ.

Have you ever had someone encourage you like that? (Take a moment to think about this and say a short prayer of praise to God for bringing that person into your life.) Is there someone in our lives that we need to encourage in this gentle way—meeting them where they are?

Imitation

You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. (1 Thessalonians 1:5-7 ESV)

As new Christians, this community was an unheard-of blend of Jews and Greeks worshipping in the same house. For the Jews, the theology of Christ was a scandal. For the Greeks, the moral demands of this new faith were a scandal. Both people groups had been broken out of their background and community.

Think of walking into a new school or job or culture. You’re disoriented and don’t know what to do. You can research online before you get there—read, download articles—but when you get there it’s like a bucket of cold water to the face.

Your first instinct is to imitate. Look around, see what other people are doing. No one was more disoriented than Paul. He was a model Israelite, even to the degree of killing people of this new Jesus cult. Then he’s miraculously converted, losing every point of reference he has, and he is called to associate with Gentiles, whom he had looked down on his whole life.

In a matter of a few years, he lost every coordinate he’d ever known. He can easily relate to people who are coming into the church and are disoriented by the social differences. More than anyone, he can say: “If you’re a little lost, I’ll show you the ropes!”

Imitation. One of the most important parts of mentoring. We learned  from what our mentors did more than what they said—we watched and mimicked.

Paul can confidently say: you watched us live this Jesus life. You saw our integrity, love, boldness and joy. He was a three-dimensional witness to them. He didn’t put on a church face or a church act, but he lived alongside them.

That, brothers and sisters, is our greatest witness. That is fulfilling the new commandment to love as Jesus loves. We are called to present not just a theology or a belief system, but a life worth imitating.

There’s a fun story of Billy Graham, a devotee both of Christ and golf. He went on celebrity golf tours and had plenty of pictures of himself swinging as well as preaching.

On one private golf outing, the caddy didn’t know who he was. Billy got off to a rough start and maxed out on strokes on the first hole. The caddy, used to hearing a loud chorus of profanity and abuse when this happened, was surprised to see this golfer just quietly keep playing.

Finally, he asked, “So are you some sort of preacher or something?”

Billy casually said, “Yeah. I’m sort of a preacher.”

Maybe a silly example, but an exchange someone wrote about decades later! Billy Graham, the most famous pastor in the world, quietly practiced what he preached. He didn’t claim who he was and then put on his perfect face. He lived with the gentleness and self-control of the Spirit because that’s who he was!

So, Paul is able to confidently say, “You saw our witness in 3-D. We were there with you. You’ve seen how this plays out.” Further, he praises them because their example inspired others to imitate them.

For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God… (1 Thessalonians 1:8-9 ESV)

Imminence

… and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:10 ESV)

Imminence is a five-dollar word to describe the very-soon coming of Christ. Christ is coming imminently; he will be here soon. Paul taught that Christ had come to begin the kingdom and he would come back someday to finally establish it.

But the issue became, as you can see later in the Thessalonian letters, that people really liked the idea of escaping the world when Christ came. They thought: Great, now we don’t have to work or pay back our credit cards or figure out our various church tension issues—Jesus will be back any time now!

People had quit working and otherwise looking after their living, and Paul was explicit in his correction. To know Christ isn’t just to have some kind of apocalypse insurance or escape hatch, it’s not to be in the “in crowd” and give up on the difficult journey of being human. To know Christ was to have a new kind of life.

To know Christ isn’t to escape life, but to fully live it.

To jump ahead, Paul lays out that life for them later in this letter:

And to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 ESV)

This is not some kind of picture of an elitist cult hiding away until the end, nor a caustic band of doomsayers cursing the world. This is a life very much in the world, living in the simplicity of confidence in who the true Lord of the world really is.

  • Because we believe the return of Christ is imminent, so we live life fully today.
  • Because we are in touch with the Creator, we can fully enjoy the creation as it was meant to be enjoyed—with all the good foods and good relationships that it includes.
  • Because we know the Redeemer, we can live as redeemed people, sharing that grace and believing that those who are counted lost can be restored.
  • Because we know love, we can show love.

So today, let your witness be three-dimensional, showing grace to those who are growing and an attractive love to those who don’t know Christ yet.

To recap:

Identity: Paul rejoices because of this church’s fledgling growth—as misdirected and imperfect as it is. Christ rejoices that we are identified by him and celebrates our growth even though he knows our confused and misguided hearts.

Imitation: Let’s live the gospel just as much, if not more so, than sharing it verbally. May people see us as Christ-followers before we even have a chance to tell them we are.

Imminence: To know Christ is to be fully and wholly human, to live our daily lives in a way that shines his glory while drawing on his strength.


Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for Speaking of Life:
  • Our Speaking of Life episode focused on the conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees about taxes (render unto Caesar). What does it mean in our normal 21st century lives to render to Caesar and render unto God?
  • God’s likeness is stamped on us, just as Caesar’s likeness was stamped on these coins. What does it mean to be made in God’s image and likeness? Does that change our understanding of God and ourselves?
Questions for sermon:
  • Have you ever had a mentor who changed your life? Did they strike the balance between graceful encouragement and high standards?
  • The Thessalonian believers had had to make a break with culture and heritage to embrace their identity in Christ (see v. 9). Have you ever had to make a similar change in thinking/direction? What were the results?
  • Because we know where history is going, we can live more fully and joyously in the present (see John 10:10). Is this your experience of the Christian life? Why or why not?
Quote to ponder: “This sense of being made in God’s image calls us all constantly to look for it in others and to do what we can to help them acknowledge it and to realize it by joining in worship. We thereby carry to others the answer to their inmost longing, a yearning for union with the Trinity, a thirst to respond with adoration to the God who made them.” ~~Marva Dawn, theologian and professor

Sermon for October 25, 2020

Video Transcript

Speaking Of Life 2048 | Ministry With Jesus Jeff Broadnax Samuel Logan Brengle was an influential spiritual leader for the Salvation Army early in the 19th century. He was once asked, “What are the greatest temptations you face in ministry?” After a moment of reflection, Brengle responded with this insight: “There is really only one temptation in ministry. If we succumb to it then it opens the door to all the others.” That one temptation, Brengle described, was the temptation to do something for God before spending time with God. Whether you serve in a formal ministry capacity within the church, or if your ministry is carried out in the context of your daily routine; this is a temptation we all face. Especially in our busy, fast-pace society where task or doing can edge out relationship. Maybe we should go one step further with Brengle’s insight. Not only should we place priority on spending time with God before doing ministry for God, but we should see ministry itself as another way of spending time with God. This is how Jesus talked about ministry when he said, Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. John 5:19-20 Jesus and his Father are still doing ministry today by the Spirit, and Jesus invites us to participate. He doesn’t need us to get some task done for the Father. Rather, he wants us to come to know the Father’s love as he knows it as we participate in his ministry. Like a friendship, we come to know the other best as we share life together. Ministry should not be a task that interferes with our relationship with the Father. Rather, it is another way of participating in that relationship where we come to know the Father’s love for us and the whole world. What a difference it makes to move from doing ministry for Jesus to participating in ministry with Jesus. I’m Jeff Broadnax, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 • Deuteronomy 34:1-12 • 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 • Matthew 22:34-46

This week’s theme is shared ministry. In Deuteronomy we witness Moses passing the baton of leadership to Joshua accompanied by a call to worship Psalm that reflects on life’s transience while calling on God’s compassion to the faithful. The New Testament lesson comes from First Thessalonians, where Paul recounts his own ministry and preaching in Thessalonica providing a pattern for ministry and a window into the Father’s heart revealed in Jesus’ ministry. The Gospel reading in Matthew provides Jesus’ own teaching concerning God’s great commandment of loving God and neighbor followed by Jesus teasing out his identity as the Son of David.

An Approved Messenger of Faith, Hope and Love

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 (NRSV)

Today’s text comes from what may be the earliest document in the New Testament. Paul and Silas had spent one month in Thessalonica telling people the good news about Jesus, which resulted in the first church community in Thessalonica. The church was made up of Jewish and Gentile believers. It didn’t take long before this group of believers who worshiped King Jesus instead of the local favorite, Caesar, got the attention of the community and local authorities, leading to intense persecution. The persecution eventuality ran Paul and Silas out of town. 1 Thessalonians is a letter written to this church plant as a way for Paul to reconnect with his beloved new church. He writes a letter of thanksgiving, encouragement and exhortation.

The portion we have for our text today will provide us with Paul’s account of his own ministry among those in Thessalonica. But Paul is not just walking down memory lane or patting himself on the back. He links how he ministered to them as an example of how they are ministering to one another, which is linked to how Jesus ministers among us by the Spirit. Paul states in his introduction of his letter, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord…” and he adds in chapter 4:1, “Finally, brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more.”

Although Paul is the founder of the community, he sees his ministry as a “participation” in Jesus’ ministry. In this way, we can look at this passage for insight into how Paul and his gospel partners in Thessalonica were doing ministry, and ask how we should be doing ministry in our own Christian communities as we participate in King Jesus’ ministry among us. We are also planted and called to participate in the ministry of Jesus to those in our community and beyond. But even more important than this, we will use this passage to help us see a little more of who Jesus is in his ministry to us. Just how does the Father relate to us in Jesus by the Spirit? The way Paul and his early church conducted themselves in ministry tells us a lot about the God they worshiped and believed in. So with that in mind, we will proceed by looking at some characteristics of ministry that are laid out in this passage by dividing it up between Paul, ourselves, and Jesus.

Let’s start from the top.

You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. (1 Thessalonians 2:1-2 NRSV)

Paul: The first characteristic we see in Paul can be described as fearless faith. Paul’s courage was in God and his word to us in Jesus Christ. Paul had plenty of reasons to be fearful of proclaiming God’s word in his day. Under the rule of the Roman Empire, where allegiance and worship of the Roman ruler was an expected social norm, proclaiming the coming of another king who is Lord of Lords would certainly invite trouble. Paul had already experienced suffering and shameful mistreatment on account of proclaiming the word in Philippi. But Paul was bold in coming to the Thessalonians with that very message and he was confident that the message of the gospel “was not in vain.” God’s word to us always gets a response. As with the Thessalonians, it was a response of faith and repentance. But it also got a response of rejection in the form of persecution by the onlooking cultural bystanders.

Ourselves: If we are to “imitate” Paul and the Lord, then fearless faith will undergird all we do in ministry. We will put our full trust and weight on the Word of God spoken to us in Jesus Christ. We may not live under the rule such as the Roman Empire, but we still have many other “gods” our culture expects us to endorse and worship. Many of these gods run counter to the true Lord and King of all, and there can be no compromise. It may be a fearful thing to reject such cultural positions and even more scary to speak a word that amounts to God’s righteous judgment against them. But as we come to know more and more God’s Word in Jesus, we come to see that Jesus is the only Word that is “not in vain.” He is the one who gets the final word. Every other word is passing away. Perhaps you and your church community have already experienced some suffering and shame by standing firm on God’s Word. Paul indicates that this is more of the norm than the exception. But we do not have to fear because Jesus is the true King, the final word and the only Lord and Savior.

Jesus: Jesus is our fearless faith. Just as Paul’s “coming” to the Thessalonians “was not in vain,” Jesus’ coming to us in the Incarnation was not some isolated event in history that made no difference for us in the present or for the future. Jesus brought his fearless faith in the Father to be unleashed in our world held captive by fear, guilt and anxiety. Jesus did not back down from his own suffering and shame at the hands of our evil and sinful resistance of him. In fearless faith in the Father, Jesus went all the way to the cross to speak a final word of reconciliation and redemption. His word did not go unheard but was answered by the Father in resurrection. Now we who believe can participate in his fearless faith shared with us by the Spirit.

Let’s go a little further now and look at two more characteristics Paul lays out for us:

For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. (1 Thessalonians 2:3-7a NRSV)

Paul: The second characteristic we see in Paul is uncompromised hope. Paul begins by listing a few things that were not characteristic of his preaching that indicate being “approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel.” The message of the gospel is a message of hope. This changes the orientation and motive of preaching to point away from one’s self in the direction from which that hope comes. Notice the first three things Paul lists—“deceit, impure motives and trickery.” All three indicate that the real aim of the preacher who is not “approved by God” is not the gospel message of hope but how they can twist that message in hope of getting what they want. Paul will add to this list that he did not come to “please mortals” or to flatter out of “greed.” Paul is contrasting himself with the widespread religious and philosophical charlatans operating in the ancient Mediterranean. These deceivers would travel around using their polished oratorical skills to either line their pockets with money, take advantage of women or to gain personal popularity. Paul’s hope is in the gospel message. He has already suffered greatly for it, which is proof he is not like the charlatan preacher seeking self-promotion. His aim is to please God by an honest proclamation of the gospel, not to please mortals by distorting the message for self-interest. He is motivated to share the message of hope out of concern for others rather than manipulating them to his own ends. He is not deceiving or mispresenting to become popular in public opinion but rather, he proclaims the gospel out of the hope that flows from God’s approval.

Ourselves: If we are to “imitate” Paul and the Lord, then an uncompromised hope will establish our motives in ministry. One challenge for churches is to test and discern whether one is being “entrusted with the message of the gospel” in a vocational calling. This should come by much prayer and deliberation, as the consequences or benefits are not slight. This may not be an easy process, but a proper discernment will place people of hope into positions of proclamation. But even outside of vocational ministerial calling, each member in the body of Christ is called to proclaim through word and deed the message of hope found in the gospel.

Do we make gospel proclamations with an uncompromised hope? Can we point to Christ for the sake of others even if it costs us popularity and favor? What if not compromising on Jesus’ word to us means we will face persecution by being passed over for that job promotion or by being branded as a “goody two shoes”? Will we compromise or will the hope found in Jesus motivate us beyond self-interest?

When we interact with others inside and outside the church, do we see them as children of the Father whose true hope lies in Jesus, or do we see them as obstacles or tools to manipulate for our own self-promotion? As we do ministry with uncompromised hope, we will be free from trying to manipulate others for our own gain or preservation. Hope in Christ releases our grip on our desire to control and manipulate others. We can be secure that all we need and want and are made for is richly provided in Jesus beyond our wildest imaginations. In this sure hope we can boldly point others to Christ, who is their true hope as well.

Jesus: Jesus is our uncompromised hope. All that Jesus did in his ministry among us was done in hope. As you read through the Gospels, you will encounter Jesus as unwavering in hope. How often did Jesus speak boldly in the face of intense opposition? He never placed his hope in others or in himself. What a wonderful Savior we can lean into! We can trust that Jesus and the Father do not deceive us or trick us. They are secure in their relationship as the Triune God, so there is never a thought of “using” us or manipulating us for something that is not good for us. What a wonderful and freeing truth to know that God does not manipulate his people! In Jesus we see exactly who God is. No tricks. No gimmicks. No distortions. The Father is the same God we see in Jesus Christ who walked among us. Jesus didn’t manipulate or trick anyone, and he didn’t twist the Father’s words for his own gain. His entire ministry was to the Father for the sake of the world. He was the hope of the world and he never compromised himself in that proclamation. Now we who believe can participate in his uncompromised hope shared with us by the Spirit.

Paul wraps up this section by providing one more characteristic of his ministry that informs ours while pointing to Jesus.

But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 NRSV)

Paul: The third characteristic we see in Paul is shared love. Paul uses a domestic picture of a “nurse,” the nanny used in the elite households of his day for bringing up children. These nannies did more than just babysit. They were involved in most major decisions for the child’s upbringing regarding clothing, food and education. Their influence affected the child’s entire life and future. The “nurse” was intimately involved with the children as if they were her own. That’s how Paul related to his “children” in Thessalonica. He was “gentle” with them and did not tower over them with his apostolic authority. He was not harsh and heavy handed with them but instead treated them as if they were his own dear children. He did not love them in word only. His love was a shared love. It’s one thing to say you love someone, but to put your own life in active demonstration of that love is something else altogether. For Paul, sharing the gospel wasn’t just in word only but equated to a real sharing of their “own selves.” There was no true gospel proclamation detached from personal sharing.

Ourselves: If we are to “imitate” Paul and the Lord, then shared love will fuel our actions in ministry. If we say we love someone but have not shared life with them, then our love is devoid of knowing them for who they are. Love outside of personal knowing becomes shallow and anemic. It’s like the husband who buys his wife a fishing boat because he “loves” her, even though she hates fishing. Our love for others will shape our actions to fit the particularities of the people we serve. Love reaches its goal by being shared.

Whether we are involved in some church-directed ministry or in the personal ministry that comes with all our interactions with others, we aim to know the other person for who they actually are and not for who we want them to be. This does not mean we treat them less than they are. We love them with the same love the Father has for them. He loves them according to his good purposes for them, and that should shape our love for them as well. So, who they are in Christ shapes our love for them. This means we don’t just love them by “loving them just the way they are” but we love them by sharing with them in a way that fits who they are becoming in Christ. Notice, Paul said his deep love for them determined for Paul, Silas and Timothy to share both “themselves” and “the gospel of God.” The deep love of the Father will not settle for one without the other.

Jesus: Jesus is shared love. If we want to see what shared love looks like, we look no further than Jesus Christ. Jesus came among us, born into our flesh and blood, to share life with us. He shared in our humanity, coming to know us from the inside out, from birth to death. In this sharing he opens a way in himself to share his own shared life of love with the Father by the Spirit. It’s in Jesus that we are given a share in the shared life of love that has existed for all eternity as Father, Son, Spirit. When we see Jesus born into our chaotic darkness to share in all its suffering and sorrow from womb to tomb, we are confronted with the very love of the Father for his children. The Father has moved heaven and earth together in his own Son in order to have shared love with his children. The Father does not coerce his children into relationship with him. He is gentle towards us in his Son Jesus. He calls us to himself as the children he created us to be. He does not relate to us in word only but in word and deed in the life and work of Jesus Christ.

In our survey of this passage we come to see a pattern of faith, hope and love in the ministry of Paul as a pattern for our own ministry, which flows out of participation in the ministry of Jesus, who is our fearless faith, uncompromised hope and shared love.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Can you think of examples of the temptation to “do something for God before spending time with God”?
  • Discuss the difference between doing ministry for Jesus and participating in ministry with Jesus. Is this a new understanding of ministry for you? What are some implications?
From the sermon
  • The sermon identified three characteristics seen in Paul’s ministry. The first was fearless faith. How might fearless faith be expressed if we are to “imitate Paul and the Lord”? Can you think of personal examples from the past? Can you anticipate the need for fearless faith in the future?
  • The second characteristic was uncompromised hope. Discuss how uncompromised hope will establish our motives in ministry. How does uncompromised hope inform our proclamation of the gospel, whether in preaching or personal evangelism? When our hope is compromised, can you think of ways we cease to point to Christ and point elsewhere?
  • Discuss ways our hope in Christ releases our grip on our desire to control and manipulate others.
  • The third characteristic was shared love. The sermon claimed that “love” outside of personal knowing becomes shallow and anemic, lacking strength. Do you agree with this? Can you think of examples? Discuss.
  • The sermon located each of the characteristics of ministry, fearless faith, uncompromised hope and shared love, in Jesus himself. How did this make you think about these characteristics? Share how it moved your understanding of faith, hope and love from being characteristics that we must develop, to being a sharing in Jesus’ character of hope, faith and love.