GCI Equipper

Faith Avenue: What Is Your Reality?

One of the most important things for a Christian to know is about identity. Who is Jesus? And who am I in Jesus?

For most of my life I referred to myself as a sinner in need of a savior. I would often focus on my challenges, my shortcomings, my sins, and I always knew I fell short of the man I believed God wanted me to be. I spent hours and hours praying, days fasting, constantly studying, continually trying to prove myself to God—trying to prove my worth to God. It was never enough. There were times I wondered if trying to be a Christian was worth all the effort. But fear of failure kept me going. Knowing God wasn’t pleased with me kept me trying. I just wanted to be forgiven, be included, be loved.

At this point some of you are saying, “But you are forgiven, you are included, you are loved.” And that’s the point. I was trying hard to get what I already had because I was living under a false reality. I was living under a plethora of lies that told me “You are not…” I was so focused on myself and trying to be a disciple, that the idea of discipling someone else scared the daylights out of me. Why would anyone want to go through the constant angst I was putting myself through? (Actually, it wasn’t so much me putting myself through the angst, as the enemy constantly lying to me, and me believing those lies.)

We often use a tool in leadership called Know Yourself to Lead Yourself. Let me use this tool to talk about our true identity and the reality Christ wants us to live under. First, let’s start with the false reality, because this is where many believers and nonbelievers live.

If you see yourself as a sinner…

For the many years I lived under the lie that my identity was that of a sinner, it affected the way I lived. My tendency was to try hard to live according to what I believed God wanted me to be. Sometimes I would do well, other times not so well. I developed patterns of behavior based on those tendencies. When I was doing well the patterns were more positive. When I failed, the pattern went into a spiral that simply convinced me further that all God saw in me was my sin and failure. This affected my actions—more prayer, more Bible study, a day or two of fasting, withdrawing so that I could focus more on God, etc., etc. Those actions reinforced the fact that I did not measure up, that my sins controlled my life, that God couldn’t possibly love me the way I am. Those consequential thoughts affected my reality—they further re-enforced the lies about who I am in Christ. And it kept me focused on myself. I can’t make disciples when I am such a poor excuse of a disciple. As a pastor, writer, and regional director, I see so many living in the lies of that false reality.

If you see yourself as a beloved child of God…

Let’s start with this truth—and there are many, many scriptures that speak this truth. (You can see a brief list at the end of this article.) When you begin in the reality that you are chosen, forgiven, included, and loved, it affects your tendencies, your patterns, and your actions in a positive way. The consequences will then reinforce the reality. Let me lay this out in a practical way.

Knowing I am loved, included, and forgiven, I am soon spending a lot less time focused on the self, and much more time focused on how I can share this good news with those who are living under the lies that they don’t matter, or they don’t matter until… My tendencies are focused on others: how can I help this person understand, how can I be a light to that person, how can the love of Christ flow through me to this group, how can I join in what Jesus is doing in that person’s life? These tendencies become patterns of outflowing love. I develop—or better said, Christ develops in me—a pattern of sharing God’s love and life with others. My actions flow out of my desire to bring others into a new reality. The consequences are joy, experiencing the abundant life Jesus talked about, peace that surpasses understanding, kindness and gentleness displayed to others. In other words, the consequences are congruent with the fruits of the Spirit being lived in and through me and displayed to others.

When I know God loves me just the way I am, I confidently walk with him. I am more confident he won’t leave me the way I am, and he will change me and even discipline me because he loves me and wants the best for me. I am more confident about participating with him in reaching out to others. I make it my goal to please him because I love that he loves me. In fact, I start loving him more as I realize how much he loves me and what he has gone through and is willing to go through to help me become more like Christ. I start to experience the love of Christ compelling me to love others because I am convinced that Christ died for them just as much as he died for me. I am convinced they are forgiven, included, and loved. Then I start to see them as God sees them—as beloved children—and no longer view them from a worldly point of view. What am I doing? I am participating in the ministry of reconciliation; I am helping others see the reality that they are in Christ—they are becoming the righteousness of God. (See 2 Corinthians 5)

May I leave you with a challenge? For the next two weeks start your prayers by praising God for the truth of your reality. Ask him to help you see yourself as he sees you. I believe it will change your life. It will change your tendencies, your patterns, your actions and bring you to the true reality he wants you to see. Then ask God to help you see others the way he sees them. This will change your mission and your ministry; you will see more opportunities to participate with Christ; you will be a disciple dedicated to making disciples. But it starts with you living in the truth of who Jesus is, and who you are in him.

  • Christ came because of the Father’s love for you (John 3:16)
  • You are buried and raised with Christ (Romans 6:4)
  • You are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:24)
  • You are a fellow heir with Christ (Romans 8:17)
  • You have been saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9)
  • You are forgiven (Ephesians 2:4-6; Romans 3:23-24, 8:1)
  • You are redeemed (Galatians3:13)
  • You have been set free (Ephesians 1:7; Romans 8:2)
  • God will complete his good work in you (Philippians 1:6)
  • You are a child of God (Romans 8:16; John 1:12; Galatians 3:26, 4:7)
  • You are a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20-21)
  • You are the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21)

May you live in the truth and reality of who you are in Christ,

Rick Shallenberger

Pentecost: The God of Great Reversals

By Bill Hall, National Director, Canada

We are all familiar with the story of what happened on the day of Pentecost: people gathered for the Holy Day, strong winds, fire and then the miracle of speaking in different languages.

When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.

There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were blown away. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, “Aren’t these all Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues? Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes; Even Cretans and Arabs! They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!” (Acts 2:1-11, MSG).

Taken by itself, this event speaks to the wonderful signs that God performed that day. It certainly drew the attention of those in Jerusalem that the Holy Spirit was involved in the lives of that small group of Jesus’ followers.

But there was more going on here than meets the eye, and more to this story than the birth of the church.

Many commentators throughout the ages have stated that this event was a great reversal of what happened at the tower of Babel:

God took one look and said, “One people, one language; why, this is only a first step. No telling what they’ll come up with next—they’ll stop at nothing! Come, we’ll go down and garble their speech so they won’t understand each other.” Then God scattered them from there all over the world. And they had to quit building the city. That’s how it came to be called Babel, because there God turned their language into ‘babble.’ From there God scattered them all over the world” (Genesis 11:6-9 MSG).

Others also see the events recorded in Acts 2 as a fulfillment of the words found in Zephaniah 3:9. As Gordon J. Wenham writes:

In that day all the redeemed will unite in the worship of God. Zephaniah 3:9 seems to envisage an end of the confusion of Babel when he says: “At that time, I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech that all of them may call on the name of the Lord and serve him with one accord.”

And Luke evidently looked at the day of Pentecost when all could understand each other’s speech as a sign of the last days when all who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Acts 2:8-21). The hopelessness of man’s plight at Babel is not God’s last word: at least the prophets and NT look forward to a day when sin will be destroyed and perfect unity will be restored among the nations of the world. (Word Biblical Commentary, Genesis 1-15, Gordon J. Wenham. p.246)

This familiar pattern of failure or fall and restoration is found throughout Scripture. It even starts with the two book-end writings that make up our Scriptures, Genesis and Revelation. In Genesis we see God leaving humanity outside of the “garden”; in Revelation we see that humanity is again brought into the dwelling place with God (Revelation 21).

More importantly we see it in Paul’s use of the first Adam and the restoration of humanity through the second Adam, Jesus Christ:

We follow this sequence in Scripture: The First Adam received life, the Last Adam is a life-giving Spirit. Physical life comes first, then spiritual—a firm base shaped from the earth, a final completion coming out of heaven. The First Man was made out of earth, and people since then are earthy; the Second Man was made out of heaven, and people now can be heavenly. In the same way that we’ve worked from our earthy origins, let’s embrace our heavenly ends. (1 Corinthians 15: 45-49 MSG)

When we celebrate Pentecost as the day the church began, may we also use this day to remind ourselves that we worship a God of great reversals and restoration.

Why Connect Groups?

A healthy church is always creating spaces where multiplication takes place. Connect groups provide one of those spaces.

By Heber Ticas, Superintendent, Latin America

These past twelve months have been extremely difficult for many people around the globe. The pandemic has claimed many lives and has disrupted the flow of life for all. One of the most difficult aspects of dealing with the pandemic has been the isolation that we have had to endure.

For congregations, it has not been any different. Many of us find it quite challenging to express being the church through virtual means. The inability to come together, worship, and fellowship has fractured the rhythms that we once enjoyed as a church. One of the components of our congregations that I miss the most is our connect groups. While the pandemic has given us the opportunity to take a deeper look at our rhythms and consider a reboot for certain elements of ministry, it has also shown the value of these connect groups.

These groups are a fundamental piece of the faith avenue for any congregation. They afford us the opportunity to grow deeper in our relationships with one another and with the Lord. I believe that connect groups are also the best place for disciple-making to occur, and a great space for developing other leaders. Let’s take a deeper look:

In creating a healthy rhythm of connect groups in a local congregation, I propose it should be done with the following purposes in mind.

  • Design the connect group in such a way that it builds up the believer and it creates an environment of community where relationships can be strengthened. There is a space for everyone—where we can lift each other up through the Word and prayer, and we can be part of each other’s life journey in Christian kinship.
  • It has often been stated that the ministry avenues are not isolated from each other. There is a symbiotic relationship between the avenues. Connect groups grant us a pathway from the love and hope avenue and into the faith avenue. Let us keep this in mind as we design our connect groups.
  • Connect groups afford us a connecting point for new believers. As we live out the love avenue as individuals and as a corporate body, connect groups are a key connecting point where seekers and new believers can experience the intimate element of the body of Christ.
  • Connect groups will also serve as an entry point for non-believers into the life of the fellowship. A connect group can become a safer entry point for those who are hesitant to connect with a larger gathering. I would also encourage connect group leaders to always look for ways to connect the small group back to the hope avenue (corporate gathering).

A healthy church is always creating spaces where multiplication takes place. Connect groups are one of those spaces created for greater multiplication.

  • This is the best space where multiplying disciples is better attained. The relational nature of a connect group allows for shared life experiences and for a deeper interaction with God’s word. These elements are crucial for the healthy participation in disciple-making.
  • A connect group requires the participation of a host and a leader. These are great spaces that afford a healthy church the opportunity to develop and empower emerging leaders.
  • Connect groups are not meant to become redundant and stagnant. A healthy connect group will always have multiplication in mind. A healthy connect group leader along with a faith avenue champion, should always have the goal of multiplying the connect group.

It is also important to note that connect groups can be customized to the needs and size of each congregation. As we consider sharpening our focus in the faith avenue, there is freedom in seeking the lead of the Spirit in guiding us as we take initial steps towards greater health.

We have discussed just a few aspects that need to be considered when thinking about connect groups. As I mentioned earlier, this season of pandemic has revealed the need to be in community with one another. It is a good opportunity for the church of Jesus Christ to step up and create these spaces where healthy community can be experienced. I pray that as we begin to restart some aspects of in-person ministry, we are ready to launch healthy connect groups.

“Extraordinary Ordinary”

This next season in the Christian calendar is when we allow the extraordinary to become ordinary and the ordinary to become extraordinary.

By Cara Garrity, Development Coordinator

During the first half of the liturgical year, we focus on the story of Jesus Christ. Through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter Preparation, Easter, and Pentecost we bear witness to Christ in anticipation, incarnation, revelation, death, resurrection, and ascension. Then we enter the season of Ordinary Time, when we respond to what we have seen and heard in the story of Christ by joining Jesus in his mission to make disciples and build his church.

What does it look like to participate with Jesus in his mission to make disciples and build his church? I believe we can learn from testimony of the birth and early growth of the church in the book of Acts. In a sense, it gives an account of the first “ordinary time” as the new church responds to the reality of Jesus. While the entire book of Acts is rich with disciples participating in Jesus’ mission, I want to focus on the compelling description we find in Acts 2:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

The newly born church responded to the reality of Jesus with whole-life discipleship: teaching, fellowship, awe, generosity, self-sacrifice, provision, public worship and witness, hospitality, and inclusion. By the power of the Spirit, they grew as disciple-making disciples in fellowship with one another. The everyday moments of their lives were transformed by Jesus and reoriented around participation in his mission. This is both an inspiring and challenging expression of what it means to participate with Jesus in his mission. Ordinary Time urges modern disciples to respond to the reality of Jesus with such devotion.

I like to think of Ordinary Time as the season when we allow the extraordinary to become ordinary and the ordinary to become extraordinary because of who Jesus is. The extraordinary reality of Christ becomes the new ordinary as it is embodied by his church and the ordinariness of humanity becomes extraordinary as we are transformed in Christ.

The book of Acts is full of accounts of ordinary people seeing God do extraordinary things as they join Jesus in mission. The worship calendar reminds us that Jesus is still building his church and drawing ordinary people into participation in his extraordinary mission. It reminds us to respond to the story of our extraordinary Jesus by surrendering every ordinary moment to him.  Ordinary Time invites us to take seriously the reality that Jesus calls us to a life that is anything but ordinary.

My prayer this Ordinary Time is that we would allow Jesus to draw us into deeper participation in his mission; that we would respond to the extraordinary reality of Jesus with whole-life discipleship that transforms every ordinary moment. Consider adopting both personal and corporate practices that can nurture a posture of joining Jesus in mission during this Ordinary Time.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Join, launch, or host a connect group (visit resources.gci.org for connect group resources)
  • Create opportunities for fellowship within your local church
  • Join Jesus’ mission in the neighborhood together as a church: host a neighborhood event, attend a neighborhood event, invite a neighbor for dinner, volunteer in the neighborhood
  • Prayerfully discern an area of discipleship that God is calling attention to
  • Mentor or find a mentor in your local church

Ordinary, But Not Mundane

The time between Pentecost and Advent is an essential part of the Christian calendar.

By Tim Sitterley, U.S. Regional Director West

Like many people, I love the big event. Any excuse to celebrate. New Year’s Eve, Fourth of July, St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo…I don’t care. Give me a colorful hat and some seasonal music and I’m happy. Appropriate beverage helps. When it comes to the sacred celebrations of the life and ministry of Christ, I am no different. Getting lost in the deep meaning behind centuries of liturgy and tradition keep me longing for the next event on the annual worship calendar. I’m even OK with the fact there are no colorful hats.

As I write this, we are coming off the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection, and looking toward the excitement of the birthday of the Christian church—Pentecost. In GCI’s worship calendar this period is called the Easter season, and it’s the culmination of themed seasons, starting with Advent, and running through Christmas, Epiphany and Easter Prep—each with its own focus and anticipation. (If you would like more information on these seasons and why they are part of GCI’s worship calendar, check out the links at the end of this article.)

But just as soon as the songs and messages dealing with wind and fire and the coming of the Holy Spirit die down, we enter the time known as “Ordinary Time.” Other than Trinity Sunday and Christ The King Sunday, there are no big sacred celebrations until the calendar begins again and we start the Advent preparation for Christmas.

Some have questioned how ANY portion of the year can be considered “ordinary.” “Abolish Ordinary Time,” insists K. E. Colombini in an article by that title. “In the Christian life and in this age,” he asks, “how can any time honestly be deemed ordinary?” Theologian George Weigel agrees: Ordinary Time, he laments, is a “terminological abomination.”

All these critiques assume that the adjective in the title “Ordinary Time” refers to that which is mundane, unexceptional, and humdrum. After all, none of us would feel all that flattered if someone referred to us as “ordinary.” But are they right?

The word “ordinary” here does not mean “routine” or “not special.” Instead, it refers to the “ordinal numbers” (first, second, third, etc.) used to name and count the Sundays (such as the Third Sunday after Pentecost). This term comes from the Latin ordinalis, meaning “numbered” or “ordered,” and tempus ordinarium, “measured time.”

How absurd would it be for the church to treat Ordinary Time as nothing more than run-of-the-mill time? To proclaim Jesus as the center of the center, to focus on the sacred mysteries of Christ’s birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit, only to then take a time-out for almost half the year?

What should the focus of this important season of the year be? How do we proclaim Jesus to be the center of the center without some celebration? Simple. We celebrate Jesus as the center of the center of our lives every day. To seek the extraordinary IN the ordinary, and to grow deeper in our relationship with our Lord.

The liturgical readings and prayers of Ordinary Time emphasize discipleship. What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus in matters involving money, time, priorities, etc.? How do we encounter the kingdom of God and perceive it in our daily lives? What are the conditions of discipleship? How do we grow deeper together in our individual and collective faith? These are the very elements we focus on when we speak of the Faith Avenue.

In our preparation for the “next big thing” it is far too easy to miss God in the ordinary. We simply become too busy. There is an old saying that goes “I have only just a minute / only sixty seconds in it / forced upon me / can’t refuse it / didn’t seek it / didn’t choose it / but I will suffer if I lose it…” In our daily and weekly busyness, how much do we lose?

Too often I have seen and experienced what poet and author Kathleen Norris calls “the quotidian mysteries.” (Don’t feel bad, I had to look up “quotidian” myself). Norris reminds us that we can contemplate God in the everyday moments of our lives. She quotes Theresa of Lisieux, who wrote that Christ was most abundantly present to her not “during my hours of prayer … but rather in the midst of my daily occupations.” Norris talks about the value of repetitive activities like walking, baking bread or doing laundry. She notes that these ordinary activities are well-suited to contemplating and listening for God.

Concerns about the future often distract us from the day’s work to which we are called. The responsibility of addressing what is within a given day can be discharged more readily without concern for what lies ahead. Jesus addresses the importance of leaving the future in his hands in the following:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34)

Finding Jesus, then, involves looking for him in the present moment and place. The past is gone, and the future beyond. Walking with Jesus requires us to be present in the ordinary. There will be plenty of time in the future to prepare for the next big celebration. But for now, we focus on discipleship, on fellowship, and on community. And finding and walking with Jesus in the midst of our ordinary lives will never become mundane.

GCI Worship Calendar

The Church’s Worship Calendar

Church Hack: Faith Avenue Connect Groups

An essential part of Healthy Church is the Faith Avenue. The Faith Avenue creates spaces outside of the Sunday service where discipleship can occur. Connect groups are the core of the Faith Avenue. Check out this month’s Church Hack that outlines the role and purpose of a connect group, and features our new connect group curriculum, On Being: A Neighbor.

On Being is a four-part interactive connect group curriculum, designed for biblically-based, dynamic discussions around being a disciple. We will be rolling out a different curriculum quarterly throughout 2021. Each curriculum has a Facilitator Guide and a Participant Workbook.

The Gift of Rest

Have you ever gone an extended period of time without sleep? It’s awful! My wife, Afrika, and I have two wonderful children who are around 12 months apart. While they were both in diapers, they decided to stagger their schedules. Neither child could talk, so I am not sure how they coordinated their efforts. Nevertheless, our daughter Serena would be quite active during the day, but she would sleep through the night. Our son Cairo was relaxed during the day, but would fight sleep like his life depended on it. As a result, my wife and I were sleep deprived for a couple of years, and there were many days where I thought I could lose my sanity. If you are a parent or guardian, you can, no doubt, empathize with this level of exhaustion. Most parents, while awake in the middle of the night with their baby, would never imagine that the tiredness they felt in that moment would one day be their child’s norm.

Research indicates that young people (Gen Z) are sleep deprived at disproportional rates. There is evidence that this lack of rest contributes to a higher chance of accidents, problems in school, depression and other mental health issues.* Electronics play a major role in driving youth sleep deprivation. Many young people stay awake late into the evening watching videos, interacting with friends, and playing video games. While all of these activities are fine in moderation, studies show that teens spend over seven hours each day in front of a screen — that is more time than most students are in school. Now, before you start locking away phones and video-game systems, this same research indicates that Gen Z’s use of electronics is a coping mechanism — a way to deal with stress and trauma. Taking away electronics without addressing the reasons why young people spend so much time in front of screens can damage relationships and exacerbate the problem. The answer does not lie in talking something away; rather, we should give the young people we love something better.

Notice Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

In his love and mercy, God provides us with an eternal source of rest: Jesus Christ.  In his wisdom, God knew we would need the rest only he could provide. This provision of rest is not just after Christ’s second coming, when our Lord will free us from all toil and trouble. Rather, we can experience a foretaste of that eternal rest now (see Hebrews 4). Since Christ is our rest, relief from all forms of weariness is always available for those who follow him and can never be exhausted. The way in which we access our rest in Jesus is through incorporating the concept of a sabbath rest into our life rhythm. A sabbath rest is a regular time we set aside from our work and the other ways we typically occupy ourselves to make room for God, knowing that we need him in order to feel refreshed and rejuvenated. God had to command Israel to keep a weekly, 24-hour sabbath, because he knew it was needed. It was designed to be a gift to them. But like other gifts, they turned it into something burdensome.

What I’m referring to should also be a gift for your family. What if you set aside some time each week where you spend time with family and friends without electronics or other distractions. If you are artistic, what if you did something creative like art, music, crafts, etc. What if you and your family went on a walk, hike, or bike ride to appreciate creation and to spend time together. These are all wonderful ways to find rest in Christ. Setting aside time to journal and process the events in one’s life in light of Christ is another way to experience a sabbath rest. The point is, every family needs to prioritize some time to slow down, focus on God, focus on the family and properly order our life around Jesus.

Dishon Mills
Generations Ministry Director

*Beebe, Dean W. “Cognitive, Behavioral, and Functional Consequences of Inadequate Sleep in Children and Adolescents,” Pediatric Clinics of North America Volume 58, Issue 3 (June 2011): 649-665. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031395511000186?via%3Dihub

Gospel Reverb – Small Potatoes w/ Kristen Deede Johnson

Small Potatoes w/ Kristen Deede Johnson

Small Potatoes w/ Kristen Deede Johnson

Listen in as host, Anthony Mullins and theologian, professor, and author Kristen Deede Johnson, unpack these lectionary passages:  

June 6 – Proper 5
2 Corinthians 4:13 – 5:1 (Message)  “Small Potatoes”
(10:49)

June 13 – Proper 6
2 Corinthians 5:6-17 (NRSV)  “Our Right Mind”
(21:40)

June 20 – Proper 7
2 Corinthians 6:1-13 (NRSV)  “The Day of Salvation!”
(38:44)

June 27 – Proper 8
2 Corinthians 8:7-15 (Message)  “The Heart Regulates the Hands”
(54:52)

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!

Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcasts.

Team Based Leadership in the Faith Avenue w/ Mike Rasmussen

Team Based Leadership in the Faith Avenue w/ Mike Rasmussen

In this episode, host Anthony Mullins interviews Mike Rasmussen. Mike is the Superintendent for GCI churches for North America and the Caribbean. Together they discuss how the Faith Avenue practically fits within the larger GCI leadership structure.

Video Transcript

“It is so much better to have a team of people working, and serving, and doing ministry together. It is actually more freeing, even though it is scary in the beginning. It is actually more freeing when you a team of people that you trust, you empower, you support, you cheerlead from the sidelines and say, “Go, be the best Avenue Champion you can be!”. There is great joy and excitement in that, once you get past that fear.” -Mike Rasmussen, GCI Superintendent of North America & the Caribbean
  Main Points:
  • How does the Faith Avenue support the Health Church vision? (4:10)
  • What is the role of a Faith Avenue Champion? (7:20)
  • Who would be a good fit for a Faith Avenue Champion? (10:15)
  • How do you build a team and what does the Faith Avenue Team accomplish? (12:48)
  • What does a healthy Faith Avenue look like in a church setting? (20:29)
  • What is the purpose of a Ministry Training Center (MTC)? (27:29)
  Resources:
  • Team Based – Pastor Led – An infographic the outlines the Avenues that make up the GCI, team based leadership model.
  • Team Based – Pastor Led Videos
  • Faith Avenue Tools – Additional resources for pastors and Faith Avenue Champions to prayerfully and strategically build out their Faith Avenue Teams.
  • GCI Discipleship Pathway – Click on the “Believe” tab for GCI Curricula and other Faith Avenue Resources 
Follow us on Spotify, Google Podcast, and Apple Podcasts.

In this episode, host Anthony Mullins interviews Mike Rasmussen. Mike is the Superintendent for GCI churches for North America and the Caribbean. Together they discuss how the Faith Avenue practically fits within the larger GCI leadership structure.

“It is so much better to have a team of people working, and serving, and doing ministry together. It is actually more freeing, even though it is scary in the beginning. It is actually more freeing when you a team of people that you trust, you empower, you support, you cheerlead from the sidelines and say, “Go, be the best Avenue Champion you can be!”. There is great joy and excitement in that, once you get past that fear.”
-Mike Rasmussen, GCI Superintendent of North America & the Caribbean

Main Points:

  • How does the Faith Avenue support the Health Church vision? (4:10)
  • What is the role of a Faith Avenue Champion? (7:20)
  • Who would be a good fit for a Faith Avenue Champion? (10:15)
  • How do you build a team and what does the Faith Avenue Team accomplish? (12:48)
  • What does a healthy Faith Avenue look like in a church setting? (20:29)
  • What is the purpose of a Ministry Training Center (MTC)? (27:29)

Resources:

  • Team Based – Pastor Led – An infographic the outlines the Avenues that make up the GCI, team based leadership model.
  • Team Based – Pastor Led Videos
  • Faith Avenue Tools – Additional resources for pastors and Faith Avenue Champions to prayerfully and strategically build out their Faith Avenue Teams.
  • GCI Discipleship Pathway – Click on the “Believe” tab for GCI Curricula and other Faith Avenue Resources

Sermon for June 6, 2021

Speaking Of Life 3028 | Deep Weeping

Emotions can be overwhelming, stirring within us, causing us to feel heavy, overwhelmed, and isolate. In Psalms, we are reminded that God continues to work us in the waiting. Through our pain, he will reveal himself to us and restore us in his perfect time.

Video Transcript

Speaking Of Life 3028 | Deep Weeping Heber Ticas Have you ever felt like you are at the bottom of the ocean crying for help? In my many years of pastoral ministry, I have encountered many people that find themselves in this circumstance. Expressing their deepest pain through a fountain of tears. Maybe you are in over your head but no one even knows you’re struggling. Or maybe you have sunk so deep in despair that you think no one could possibly hear or understand you. Sometimes it’s a deep wound in our soul that, even we, can’t wrap our mind around or see any possible healing from. Or maybe we have fallen into some deep-seated sin that seems impossible to overcome. For many of us, we may be looking around, reading the headlines, and feeling that the entire world is too broken, torn, and distorted to be pulled out of the mire. We all have a cry from the deep. The question is, “will we be heard?” The Psalmist encourages his soul and ours with the reminder that the Lord does not keep a record of sins but rather he forgives and therefore can be trusted with all our deep brokenness. Listen to his cry from the deep: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications! If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered. I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning…”  Psalm 130:1-6 (NRSV) When God forgives, he doesn’t just overlook our situation with a flippant dismissal. Neither does he observe us in our deep pit and ask us what we did to fall in. No, he climbs down into the pit with us in order to lift us out. How far will he climb? All the way to the very bottom! Further in fact than we think we have fallen. He gets below our brokenness, underneath our wounds, as far down as necessary in order to completely redeem us. He descends below our depths to raise us up into new life without any hidden deep-seated scars to leave behind. This process sometimes requires waiting on our part, but we can wait in hope knowing that the Lord does hear us and answers us according to his deep, redeeming love. Redemption is the Lord's work and he has already heard our cries from the deep. Jesus voiced those cries for us on the cross and our Father answered him with resurrected life. The Father’s redeeming touch can’t get any deeper than the death of his own son. The answer of the resurrection assures us that not only does he hear our cries from the deep, he will also answer. Mi nombre es Heber Ticas, Hablando de Vida.

Psalm 138:1-8 • 1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15) • 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 • Mark 3:20-35

This week’s theme is Words of faith. The call to worship Psalm reminds us of many reasons to have faith in God. Samuel shares Israel’s request for a king and how Israel wanted to put their faith in a king, rather than in God. 2 Corinthians has Paul linking faith and speaking during times of trouble. The Gospel text from Mark has Jesus’ family trying to restrain Jesus because of the words they hear from his opponents.

Speaking of Faith

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1

Do you ever feel pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted and struck down? If so, you will be in good company with the author of our passage for today’s sermon. The apostle Paul’s life certainly doesn’t make him a poster boy for any “health and wealth” gospel. Paul is no stranger to pain and misery. Throughout this second letter of Corinthians, we find accounts of Paul experiencing all kinds of afflictions from beatings, shipwrecks and other near-death situations. But Paul seems to take all of this as par for the course in a life of faith. That’s why he can identify with being pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted and struck down. In fact, this is the list he makes just prior to our text we have today. Only he doesn’t list these afflictions alone. He adds to each one a “but not” statement: “pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8-9). The eyes of faith do not blind us to suffering but enlighten us to see that suffering doesn’t get the last word. For Paul, and all who live a life of faith, all afflictions can be acknowledged with a “but not” attitude.

 

With this “but not” attitude Paul begins our section of 2 Corinthians with, “It is written.” Paul does not attempt to speak about suffering and affliction apart from what is written in the Scriptures. We will do well to follow suit. Our sufferings can often speak so loudly that we get confused and lost in the noise. When we are struggling with being “pressed on every side,” we can read what is written to help us not be crushed. If we are “perplexed,” God’s word speaks a wisdom that keeps us from falling into despair. Are you being persecuted? God’s word speaks to us personally with the reminder that we are not abandoned. And if you are struck down, there are plenty of accounts of renewal and resurrection to remind you that you will not be destroyed.

Now let’s look at what Paul wants us to hear from what “is written”:

“I believed; therefore I have spoken.” (2 Corinthians 4:13)

This is a quote from Psalm 116:10. The rest of verse ten adds, “but I was greatly afflicted.” Psalm 116 is part of a section of psalms known as the Hallel psalms. These psalms depict the righteous who suffer but who rely on God as they cry out to him in their affliction. Faith, even during times of great affliction, enables us to speak to God and to speak to others about God. Paul has been having to defend his calling and authenticity as an apostle and therefore his calling to proclaim the gospel. In the culture of Corinth—as well as in our culture today—suffering and affliction would not be considered as evidence of someone worth following or listening to. Paul is referring to this psalm to establish that his speaking the gospel flows out of the same faith those of the psalms were speaking from. In other words, it is not “success” and culturally approved status that enables one to preach the gospel. It is faith in the one who is faithful and has called us to speak. In fact, speaking about the goodness of God and his faithfulness to us while we are in a trial is a huge testimony that God can be trusted. It’s one thing to praise God when things are good, but quite another to praise him when pressed, perplexed, persecuted and struck down.

Paul continues:

Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. (2 Corinthians 4:13-14)

Paul here finds solidarity with the psalmist as having the “same spirit of faith.” Notice he is not pointing to his own faith as qualifying him to speak. Faith itself is from the Spirit just as it was for the psalmists. Paul, the psalmists, and you and I are participants in that same faith. We may ask, then, whose faith are we talking about? Whose faith are we participating in? That would be the faith of Christ. Only Jesus had perfect faith in the Father, trusting him completely even as he suffered death on a cross.

This is the “same spirit of faith” given to the psalmist, to Paul and to you and me to participate in. We do not, indeed cannot, produce our own faith. It is a gift of the Spirit. And notice the connection of belief with speaking. Speaking the gospel is possible only because of this belief that comes as a gift from God in Jesus Christ. So, proclaiming the gospel is grounded in the faith of Christ, not in one’s own success or superiority. This kind of “faithful” proclamation does not point to one’s own faith or an attempt to work up faith. Rather, it speaks of the one who is faithful, Jesus.

In this faith, Paul also finds solidarity with the Lord Jesus and with other believers. Notice how his language is very communal. He uses “we” instead of just “I” as he writes. The solidarity he finds with Jesus, that includes others, is in the resurrection. Because we know that the Father will raise us up in Jesus’ own resurrection, our tongues are loosed to speak, even when life looks like it is on the brink of death. Paul mentions how this will benefit us, namely that grace will spread, resulting in thanksgiving to God. Thanksgiving is a form of speaking; faith and speaking are connected.

All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. (2 Corinthians 4:15)

The benefit Paul is speaking of here is our access to the Father through the faith of Jesus. It’s a reversal of the fall of humanity (Genesis 3). Jesus’ gift of forgiveness through his death, and his gift of life through the resurrection, enables us to be in personal and intimate relationship with the Father. This is something glorious to be thankful for. This is not just good news for some future time when we will talk with God face to face, but it is good news for us right now in the present day. That is true even when we find ourselves pressed, perplexed, persecuted and struck down. Even during our times of great sorrow and suffering we can still speak to the Father in faith, knowing that he hears us and will answer. We can also speak to others about this God in whom we trust. Our circumstances do not deceive us into thinking the Father is not trustworthy.

Because of this Paul can boldly say, “Therefore we do not lose heart.” For Paul, that is not just trying to put spin on a bad situation. He’s not saying just grin and bear it or offering some trite, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps comment. He has a real and solid reason to not lose heart—the reality of what God has done in Jesus Christ for the sake of the world. Because of this Paul wants us to know that we will look at our sufferings very differently. He uses comparative language to make his point:

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Paul is not making some dualistic statement here that discards our bodily existence in favor of some ethereal “spiritual” existence. Paul knows and teaches the real hope of a bodily resurrection. What Paul is doing is contrasting that which is temporary with that which is permanent. This is clear with our last verse for the day:

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. (2 Corinthians 5:1)

The faithfulness of God frees us to not put our faith in things that do not last. They are only “earthly tents” made for temporary purposes. This is a word of encouragement where we do not lose heart as we experience suffering. Compared to the eternal and weighty reality God is building in us, we can see our troubles as “light and momentary.” I don’t know how often our troubles feel “light and momentary” when we are in them, but that is indeed what they are, especially compared to what God will complete in us. When we “fix our eyes” on this reality then we will be free to speak in a way that brings glory to God in our troubles. Imagine how little weight we will place on things and circumstances that would normally weigh us down. Whether it be our bodies and health, our homes and finances, our cities and our nations or anything else that is temporary, we can hold onto them lightly. When they become hardships of the kind Paul is listing, they cease to have any power over us that can keep us from speaking to God or about God. We will still be free to call out to God knowing he is faithful and good to us and we will be free to speak to others about the gospel that has set us free.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life
  • Are there times in your life you can relate to the “Speaking of Life” description of crying for help at the bottom of the ocean? Do you ever feel like your crying out for help will never be heard?
  • How does knowing God is a forgiving God help us trust that he will hear us in our deepest time of weeping and calling for help?
From the sermon
  • Can you relate to the description of being pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted and struck down? Share any examples of this in your life.
  • What did you think of Paul’s “but not” attitude from 2 Corinthians 4:8-9? “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” What are some “but nots” you can think of for any troubles you may be facing right now?
  • Discuss the connection between faith and speaking. How does faith in God free us to speak to him and about him?
  • Discuss how thankfulness, praise and speaking to God while in a trial bears witness to God’s faithfulness even more than when things are rosy.
  • Does it seem possible to see your troubles as “light and momentary”? Why does Paul put it like that? Is he out of touch?
  • Discuss how fixing our eyes on what is permanent and not what is temporary can keep us from losing heart.

Sermon for June 13, 2021

Speaking Of Life 3029 | The Cutting Takes Root

Gardening takes a lot of time, dedication, and patience. Like the care that it takes for a gardener to replant and grow a mighty cedar tree, Ezekiel reminds us that God himself nurtures us and prunes us for our own good. He walks with us through our journey in life and includes us to participate in the advancement of his kingdom.

Video Transcript

Speaking Of Life 3029 | The Cutting Takes Root Greg Williams If you’ve ever done any gardening, you know it can be frustrating. You have to strike the right balance between caring for something and leaving it alone so it will grow and not be smothered. One technique for growing that takes quite a bit of care and attention at first, but can really be successful, is growing from a cutting. With a tree, you cut off a green branch and carefully plant it in rich, fertile soil so that it forms roots and grows into a new tree. The prophet Ezekiel talks about this as a metaphor for God replanting Israel after exile: This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it. Ezekiel 17:22-24 This parable follows a discussion of Israel’s efforts to ally with its pagan neighbors. Their disobedience brought them into exile and despair. But God gives them this very tender image of himself as the gardener who gently takes a cutting from what’s there and grows in the familiar soil of back home. The image would have been comforting to an exiled Israel. God’s plan for Israel was not to destroy or start over, but to build from what was already growing. He took Israel in his hands, even after all their efforts to make their own way failed. They were frail and completely dependent, but he saw the mighty strength in their future that would bless all nations – “birds of every kind will nest in it.” Jesus no doubt drew on this image in Mark 4, when he told the story of the tiny mustard seed that grows larger than all the garden plants. God, the divine gardener, took a cutting every time the great tree of humanity fell and he replanted it. From Adam and Eve to Abraham, from Abraham to Isaac, then Jacob, then Moses, then the people of Israel. Finally, from all this imagery, all of this promise of growth in the future, God’s plan comes together in one person, born of the lineage of the kings and priests. From Jesus grew the mighty family of faith that keeps growing through the centuries despite its own mistakes and the devastating winds of time. God’s plan is connected throughout. Nowhere in it did God change his mind or start over again or make up for some mistake. Redemption and restoration, yes, but the same consistent story always moving forward. The story, like the tree, grows and keeps on growing just from the tiny beginning until it crescendos into the all-encompassing Kingdom of God. You and I are part of that replanting, part of that story. I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 20:1-9 • 1 Samuel 15:34 – 16:13 • 2 Corinthians 5:6-17 • Mark 4:26-34

The theme this week is God doesn’t play by our rules. The call to worship Psalm tells of trusting in the Lord rather than chariots and horses that the other countries trusted. In 1 Samuel 15-16, the prophet goes on a secret mission to choose Saul’s replacement. The Lord who looks on the heart has him skip over every likely candidate, finally settling on the youngest brother, David. Mark shares two parables that remind us that God has things under control and doesn’t need our help. Our sermon looks at 2 Corinthians 5. In this intensely personal letter, Paul appeals to a community that has been distracted by flashy teachers to tell them that image fades, and God’s kingdom is upside down.

Image Isn’t Everything

2 Corinthians 5:6-17

Read 2 Corinthians 5:6-17.

Some of you may remember the 1990s tennis pro, Andre Agassi. He is celebrated as possibly the best tennis player who ever lived and was in so many advertisements back then his face was recognized throughout the world.

One of his more memorable ads was for Canon, the camera brand. After a few action shots of him swinging his long hair and smiling at you, he pulls down his shades and says, “Image…is everything.” The simple tagline was imminently memorable, and most of us are surprised to learn that those ads are 30 years old!

Years later, in one of those odd twists of fate that only celebrities have, Agassi admitted that his trademark long hair was a hairpiece! The hair which had established him as a bad boy icon in the button-up world of tennis was fake the whole time. The image that was “truly everything” turned out to be false. In his autobiography, Agassi also revealed a life troubled by strained celebrity relationships and drug use and overshadowed by an abusive childhood. Under the image, the reality wasn’t quite so pretty.

Paul dealt with some similar issues in the circumstances and conversation surrounding believers in Corinth. One of the major themes Paul discussed was the Corinthian community’s infatuation with sleek, wealthy new teachers who had come their way. Distracted by these interlopers, the believers had become ashamed of Paul, who was not concerned with image, and they were enamored with the polished presentation and prestige associated with this new group.

In his typical style, Paul addresses this head-on in this letter. Specifically, in this passage, he addresses a fixation with earthly image and prowess as a distraction from the deeper reality of knowing Christ. He casts this not in simply moralistic terms (“don’t focus on your looks”), but in metaphysical terms (“this image is not our final image”).

Let’s look at Paul’s response to one of his most difficult and also most beloved communities. We’ll break it down into three I’s:

  • Image
  • Inversion
  • Inclusive

Image

We’ve already talked about Andre Agassi’s somewhat humorous story of image that wasn’t quite everything. Have you ever had a moment when you got fixated on your image and presentation and found out, quite suddenly, that it wasn’t “everything”?

Share a story of a time you found out your image wasn’t important. The funnier the better. One good place to look is former styles that now look pretty silly – bellbottoms, Bugle Boy jeans, embarrassing hair styles. We all have these stories!

As we mentioned, the church in Corinth had become enamored with some new teachers, who Paul later jokingly calls “super apostles.” They come with the looks and slick delivery that Paul openly admits he doesn’t have to offer, and they are distracting the Corinthian church from the transformation of their hearts and minds through the gospel.

Corinth was a cosmopolitan city to say the least. One of the interesting features of the area in the ancient world was a short road called the “Diolkos” (pronounced dee-ol-kose). Instead of navigating the treacherous waters around the south of Greece, sailors stopped their boats near Corinth, put them on wheels, and were pulled across this ancient road from one harbor to another. The going was treacherous, but it was better than the much longer trip around the southern horn.

This feature and the placement of Corinth made it a stop for travelers and traders throughout the ancient world. This meant the culture, the religions, the languages and the bad habits of these different people groups often found a home in Corinth. The resulting culture was complex, hedonistic, and—you guessed it—image-conscious.

The word “Corinthian,” when applied to a woman in the ancient world, meant she was promiscuous and reckless. Their culture in general, along with religious practices that involved fertility and virility, was marked by sexual brokenness. The image-consciousness that goes along with an over-sensualized society was no doubt burdening the souls of these people.

One top of that, Corinth was a relatively young culture. The city had recently been re-established after laying in ruins for a century. Many of the Corinthians were transplants and didn’t have a long heritage. Many were also wealthy because of the constant trade. All this added up to people searching for identity—following the latest new teachers or the new perspectives that (sometimes literally) rolled into town, trying on worldviews like clothes.

Into this walks Paul. He comes to them with scars to show for his determination to go against the culture, and he questions their fixation with image.

“For we live by faith, not by sight,” Paul says in verse 7, pointing them toward the coordinates they’re supposed to live by as children of God. They aren’t to be distracted by every pretty face that comes along, by every boat that rolls by on the Diolkos. They are to hold to the truth of the gospel and see through the fog of trendy philosophies and fashionable beliefs.

Through his letters to the believers in Corinth, Paul has asked them not to just add Jesus to their crowded shelf of gods, which was the practice in the ancient world, but to clear the shelf entirely. He asks them to hold to a reality that’s more coherent and permanent than the latest fad. “We make it our goal to please him…”

Our modern world is very similar to Corinth in some ways, and very different in others. Historically, most people would not know many outside their immediate circle. The digital superhighway of the internet exposes us to different cultures and points of view in a few seconds. And, like Corinth (and perhaps even more so), we are image-conscious and entertainment-saturated; new trends are available every time we go online.

Dissimilarly, the Corinthians often added new gods to their belief system, according to who was coming through town. They looked, or at least glanced, toward figuring out why we are here and what powers are at work in the universe. Their world was fairly cynical toward any one belief system, wondering if it was all completely out of reach, or even relevant. It is much the same today.

In a sense, like in Corinth, in the modern world, all we have left is image.

Paul’s message here stands in stark contrast. Those who are distracting the Corinthians with new presentations, even though they claim to be Christian teachers, have the gospel upside down. They are “those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart” (v. 12), and they aren’t living in the freedom from image-addiction that pervades Corinth and our world today.

Inversion

Christian author Thomas Merton, a monk whose books made millions and who lived in one room in a cabin his whole life, wrote insightfully:

The last thing in the world that should concern a Christian or the Church is survival in a temporal and worldly sense: to be concerned with this is an implicit denial of Victory of Christ and of the Resurrection.

The Corinthian community was deeply addicted to status, and they had made their newfound faith into part of that status machine. They were following different teachers around to try to angle their way into the “in crowd.” Even the phenomenon of tongues was something they desired to assure their status among the elite.

Paul uses himself as the example to show that the kingdom of God doesn’t run on this kind of social one-upmanship. The Jesus kingdom, in which the last shall be first and the weakest are the strong, runs on inversion. By the world’s measure, it is upside-down. Paul even said some will consider a believer “out of his mind.” Some things just don’t make sense to others. Things like leaders being servants, the first being the last, take my tunic and my cloak, let me turn the other cheek, loving others as Jesus loves—in other words, putting others first.

Our identity as individuals and as a community can’t be tied to this temporary, fleeting earth, this constant vying for the center-stage. To live like this, and to waste our energy seeking this, is to deny the victory of Christ and the resurrection.

Jesus broke us free from ourselves and our desire to lift up our image, our importance, our value. He broke us free from the world where image is everything. Think of the sadness of Hollywood heartthrobs from years ago who’ve spent a fortune on plastic surgery. Think of the aging high school star who keeps hanging around the games after graduation because he doesn’t know what else to do with himself. Think of the high-power executive who one day finds himself getting older, walking slower, and wearing last year’s suits. The image world is merciless; it doesn’t celebrate humanity—it suffocates it.

In the ancient world, the scars on Paul’s body were an embarrassment. The body was venerated, and physical health was a prime value in that society. But Paul bears his scars with pride, as an example to the people he led. “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus,” he wrote in Galatians 6:17. He celebrated his wounds, and called us to live honestly in this impermanent, image-obsessed world, so that we might be truly free.

Inclusive

When we realize our freedom, we focus less on the self and more on others. Note how Paul finished the comment about others thinking we are “out of our mind.”

If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. (2 Corinthians 5:13-16)

We don’t judge people by their image, by their religious practices, by their lifestyle—we judge them by the truth of who they are—children of God, many of whom do not know their Father. Christ’s love compels us to see others differently, to be convinced that Christ died for them and was raised for them. We cannot view them from a worldly point of view based on image, or occupation, or status, or race, or religious beliefs, or anything else. All are children God created who are suffering in one way or another from the fall of humanity. All have lived in a false image—a series of lies that have been told in so many different ways: You are not loved; you are not good enough; God doesn’t love you; you are worthless; no one cares about you, and on and on it goes.

Whenever we focus on an earthly image to imitate or to follow, we will fall short. There is an image, however, that we want to hold on to. You were created in the image of God. We look to Christ to see what that true image looks like. He is the image we hold up for ourselves and for others.

And this is Paul’s message to the believers in Corinth. Because of Jesus, we see everyone through his eyes. Because of Jesus, we are new. “The old has gone, the new is here.”

Welcome to your real image—a beloved child of God.


Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for sermon: “Image isn’t Everything”
  • Do you have any embarrassing stories about seeking after image in your own life?
    • Exchange stories of an outdated style you used to love and think was the pinnacle of fashion – sideburns, leather pants, rhinestone jean jackets. Your culture and age will provide ideas, for sure! The funnier, the better.
  • Paul’s issue with the Corinthian community is that they had become image-focused and distracted by being in the in-crowd. Is this still a temptation in our modern world? How can this distract us from the way God sees us or the way we are supposed to see each other?
  • In verse 15, Paul writes: And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” Why is it that living for Jesus is the only way to truly find fulfillment for ourselves? How do we live out that paradox?
  • We talked about how Paul celebrated his scars in the ancient world in which scars, especially on teachers and leaders, were an embarrassment. Is that still true today – not just in physical but emotional scars and “scars” on other levels? How can we “celebrate our scars,” so that the light of Christ shines through us without us getting in the way? What would it mean to “bear the marks of Christ” (Galatians 6:17) for us in the 21st century?
 Questions from Speaking of Life: “The Cutting Takes Root”
  • We talked about how God’s plan, like growing a root from a cutting, is connected with what came before. God didn’t demolish it and start over; he took from what was already there and grew it. Have you seen him do this in your own life? In your church community? In the community of GCI?
  • Ezekiel’s description of a tree, as with Jesus’ tree in Mark 4, ends with an image of generosity: “Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind” (Ezekiel 17:23, NRSV). This is a picture of generosity and shelter. Is the church perceived that way? Are we a place that gives shelter and shade, refuge, to those who need it? Or are we known as standoffish or cold?
Quote to ponder: “Hence I do not find in myself the power to be happy merely by doing what I like. On the contrary, if I do nothing except what pleases my own fancy I will be miserable almost all the time. This would never be so if my will had not been created to use its own freedom in the love of others.”~~Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

Sermon for June 20, 2021

Speaking Of Life 3030 | The Power of His Presence

Do you ever wonder if the Almighty God is present in your daily life? Like the disciples, have you been through a storm and doubted Jesus’ presence? Michelle shares her story about how she experienced God when literal waves were crashing around her. You may go through furious storms and harsh waves but rest in the assurance of God’s peaceful embrace that appeases all chaos.

Video Transcript

Speaking Of Life 3030 | The Power of His Presence Michelle Fleming Do you believe that God is with you? Do you believe that the Creator of the universe hears you when you call and is present for every moment of your life? As unbelievable as it sounds, most Christians would say “yes.” We believe in a God who cares for us as his children. Yet sometimes, still, we find ourselves doubting that God is with us when we find ourselves in precarious situations. A few summers ago, I decided to train for a Sprint Triathlon. At the time, I was an avid runner and enjoyed biking, but wanted to challenge myself through the swimming portion of the race. I followed a training program for a few months and swam laps at my parents’ community pool on swimming days. They joined in the process, counting laps for me, and cheering me on. My mom even watched YouTube videos to help coach me through my stroke. I felt the love of God through the support and encouragement of my parents. On race day, we arrived at the beach and the waves were pounding.  I had trained but not in open water. I tried my best to play it cool until race participants in the more experienced groups were rescued by boats to get out of the water. When my group’s turn came up, I entered the water and was immediately forced to swim harder than I had in any of my practice sessions. Determined not to quit, I began praying and swimming, “God, why do the waters have to be this rough. Please, please, please get me to shore safely!” It was easy to trust the power of God’s presence in the smooth, clear swimming pool with my family around me, much more difficult alone in the choppy, rough open water. Because of this experience, I can relate to this lesson, Jesus’ disciples had to learn about trusting the power of God’s presence. In Mark 4:35-41 we read: That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, "Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?" They were terrified and asked each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Mark 4:35-41 Jesus was with the disciples in the storm, but because he did not react in the way they expected, they doubted if Jesus cared about their situation. After performing a powerful miracle, Jesus asked the disciples why they doubted. Since Jesus was the one who told them to sail to the other side of the sea and he was with them, they should have trusted in him. They should have rested in the power of his presence. We can often act like the disciples. If we are in a trial and God does not react the way we expect, it is easy to doubt his care for us. At times like this, we should remember that God is with us and there is power in his presence. In a moment, God can speak a word and change everything. His power is supreme and even the forces of nature must obey him. This does not mean that we will never suffer. Rather, it means that God will be with us even when we suffer, and he has the power to bring us through any storm. In case you were wondering, God did not calm the waves during my race, but he calmed me with the peace of his presence and he brought me back to shore. I am Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 133:1-3 • 1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 18:10-16 • 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 • Mark 4:35-41

The theme for this week is God is supreme. Our call to worship psalm speaks of God’s blessing that even leads to eternal life. The passages in 1 Samuel show God’s ability to elevate David and give him favor despite the scorn of King Saul. In 2 Corinthians, Paul names the many trials the Lord brought him through as evidence of God’s favor. Finally, Mark recounts Jesus’ power to rebuke the storm.

God Reigns Over Hardships

2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Uncle Pete was the beloved old caretaker of a small church in a small town. One day while Uncle Pete was trimming the church’s hedges, a man walked by. The man said, “Excuse me. My name is Michael Jones. My wife and I just moved into town and we are looking for a new church. Can you please tell me about this one?”

Uncle Pete smiled pleasantly and said, “Sure! What was the church you used to attend like?”

The man frowned and said, “I did not like that church at all! The people were annoying and phony. I would have preferred if they kept to themselves. Plus, on Sundays they played weird music. What’s wrong with the old hymns? It was nothing like you would expect church to be.”

Uncle Pete thought for a moment and answered, “This one is pretty much like your old church.” The man shook his head and walked away disappointed.

A little while later, a woman walked by the church and saw Uncle Pete working in the yard. She stopped and said, “Pardon me, Sir. I’m Mary Jones. My husband and I are looking for a new church home. We’re new in town. What’s this church like?”

Uncle Pete smiled and said, “I’m glad you asked! What was the church you used to attend like?”

The woman beamed. “God blessed us with a wonderful church! The people were so friendly and really tried to get to know me. They tried their best to follow Jesus as a family, not just as individuals. Going there stretched me to appreciate people who were different from me. Even the music was different, but I truly felt God in the worship. It was nothing like you would expect church to be.”

Uncle Pete thought for a moment and smiled. “This one is pretty much like your old church.” The woman thanked Uncle Pete and ran to tell her husband.

This story shows how our perspective reveals our reality. The husband and wife saw the same church in very different ways. Because of his perspective and attitude, the husband would likely never find a church that satisfied him. He prioritized his preferences over following the leading of God. Yet, the wife would likely see God everywhere because she trusted that he was the giver of good things. How we experience our lives depends on what we believe about God, ourselves, and the world around us. Our perspective also determines the extent to which Jesus can be the Lord of our lives. In his second letter to believers in Corinth, Paul sets an example of how to have a proper perspective on God, himself, and others. He writes:

As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also. (2 Corinthians 6:1-13)

Let’s review some of the bad things Paul experienced in ministry—situations that had to be endured—troubles, hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, riots, hard work, sleepless nights, hunger, dishonor, false claims, false accusations, being ignored, near death experiences, more beatings, sorrow, and poverty. Ah, the glamorous life of ministry! Imagine if these things happened to you because of your job? Would you continue to do that job? For some, there is no option. For others, a job search might be in order. For ministry? Honestly, I would love to put on my most pious face and tell you, “Yes, if God willed it so.” However, I fear I might not have the same character as Paul. Unless I am a boxer, I can’t imagine tolerating being regularly beaten as part of my job. It would take the work of the Holy Spirit to help me stay completely focused on Jesus and on moving forward in ministry.

Not only did Paul continue to participate in ministry despite the awful things that happened to him, but he spoke boldly about how God blessed him and brought him through his trials. For each negative thing that happened, Paul presented something God did to not only counteract the bad thing, but completely overshadow it. God’s activity was Paul’s reality, which helped the actions of humans against him to fade to the background. Paul used his story to encourage the church in Corinth to open their hearts to God—the one who can bring them through the trials they are facing.

Notice how he started this passage:

As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)

Paul considered himself and other believers as recipients of God’s grace and favor. Christ and his redemptive work was the lens through which Paul saw himself and the world. Paul considered himself already blessed and already favored. God’s favor was not something that came or went or was something for which Paul was waiting. Because of Christ, God’s favor was a permanent possession. Paul’s truth and reality was founded upon God’s goodness and grace. Negative experiences did not alter Paul’s belief in God’s character or his own blessedness. How easy it would have been for Paul, after he was stoned and left for dead, to find reasons to distrust God? Yet, in this passage Paul uses his hardships to affirm God’s righteousness.

I wish I could say the same thing. Too often, when I experience what I perceive as a trial or tragedy, I am reflexively tempted to diminish God in my own eyes. It is easy to believe him to be less loving, good, and concerned about me than I previously thought. Hard times can cause me to doubt my calling and purpose in the Lord. I can, at times, be that rudderless ship, cast to and fro by the wind and the waves. Part of the reason for this is that I give my feelings too much power.

We are wired to interpret pain and discomfort as “bad.” In many cases, this works in our favor. If I touch a hot stove, I experience pain, letting me know that something harmful is happening. In that case, pain works in my favor. However, getting a shot also causes me pain (especially since I hate needles), yet shots can be beneficial. In that case, pain does not work in my favor by implying something is bad. In the same way, a situation that causes us pain or discomfort does not indicate God is allowing something “bad” to happen. We have to develop the humility to resist being the interpreter of our story, deciding what is “good” and what is “bad.” Instead, we should seek God’s help in understanding the things that happen to us, trusting him with our very lives.

When it comes to God, it seems like we always find what we are looking for. If we are looking for a god who is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love, we will find him, despite our circumstances. Similarly, if we are looking for a god who is cruel, untrustworthy, distant, and oppressive, we will find him, despite evidence to the contrary. This is our curse from the time of the fall of humanity—our ability to see God and fellow humans clearly is greatly diminished. After sinning by eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve did two things: they hid themselves from each other by covering themselves, and they hid themselves from God. Two beings who had never known shame saw something unseemly in what was once beautiful. The man and woman, who had walked and talked with God in loving communion, now saw him as someone to be feared. The first casualty of corruption was Adam and Eve’s vision—how they saw God and how they saw themselves. Therefore, we cannot trust how we interpret pain because our vision is corrupted. We must rely on the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, to lead us into all truth, individually and collectively.

Our perspective is closely related to our faith. In fact, perspective is how we see things as a result of our faith. Faith is a relational term, rooted and grounded in who God is, as revealed by Jesus Christ. We Christians need to pay attention to our perspective, because it indicates who we believe God to be. If we tend to be negative and expect the worst in people, this says something about who we believe God to be. Likewise, if we tend to be hopeful and willing to extend others the benefit of the doubt, this also says something else about who we believe God to be. I am not saying that we should walk through life with proverbial rose-colored glasses, avoiding anything negative. If something is not good, we should not pretend that it is good. However, those who see God clearly will find hope in Christ in the most desperate of situations. Those who see God clearly will be able to access joy in the midst of tragedy. Those who see God clearly will feel his love in the face of persecution. God is that good! Paul was able to see God’s favor during his suffering because his faith would not allow him to do otherwise.

Even more important than what we believe about God is what he believes about us. From the moment God created humanity, he called us “good.” He determined that we were worthy of adoption in Christ, and he has not wavered from that belief, despite us providing mountains of evidence to the contrary. Christ put on human flesh because God believed we were worth saving. It is God’s beliefs about us that makes new life in Christ possible. We are changed and transformed because of what God believes about us. As Christians, it is essential that we regularly hear what God believes about us. Paul said that faith comes by hearing God’s message about Jesus Christ (Romans 10:17). Hearing God’s beliefs regarding humanity builds our faith, which shapes our perspective. In this way, Jesus and his work on the cross should be the lens through which we view all things.

How we view the world matters. I encourage us to look to Jesus so our vision can be clear. When we do that, we will see that God reigns over any hardship that can come our way. Looking through the cross, God becomes supreme in every moment, therefore, every moment, good and bad, will be sacred.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • What in creation reminds you that God is supreme?
  • What helps you feel God’s presence?
  • Why do you think Paul shared all of those terrible experiences with the church in Corinth?
  • To you, what is the connection between faith and our perspective?
  • What are some ways that you encounter God’s message about Jesus Christ?

Sermon for June 27, 2021

Speaking Of Life 3031 | Stopping Where Jesus Stops

We are constantly inundated with notifications and messaging from the world around us.. From our phones to LED billboards, from our smart TVs to our social media platforms, we are constantly distracted. Comparable to what happened in Mark 5, we see that Jesus stops to notice and care for the sick woman amidst the chaotic crowd. Let us follow Jesus’ example and take time to notice those who are lost and sick and love the ones who are hurting.

Video Transcript

Speaking Of Life 3031 | Stopping Where Jesus Stops Greg Williams In the 1970s, experts posited that we were exposed to 500 to 1,600 advertisements a day. Now the numbers are more like 6,000 to 10,000. And that’s just ads—it doesn’t count the texts, emails, phone calls, and shows we watch. We are flooded with information in the modern world, and all this at the click of a mouse or touch of a screen. We can experience more entertainment in a few hours than most ancient people encountered over a lifetime. All of this comes at us so quickly that we ignore much more than we take in and we’ve forgotten how to slow down. And sometimes we need to slow down; sometimes we need to stop and pay attention to a moment. Throughout His ministry, Jesus showed an amazing ability to stop everything when the moment was right. A prime example is found in Mark 5. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” Mark 5:28-30 (ESV) In the heat of a desperate crowd, Jesus stops everything to notice someone that no one else saw. This woman was not only chronically ill, but she was also socially and culturally outcast, and yet Jesus stops everything to address her, to call her “daughter”, and to graciously restore her to health. In other stories, during a hot day In Samaria, he sits by a well to talk with a lonely, rejected woman and has one of the most amazing discussions of revelation in all of scripture. In the bustle and scurry of the temple he pauses to watch a widow give pennies. He took a time out from the crowd of seekers to acknowledge and play with children. Jesus knew when and how to stop: especially for those who were in the margins and easily ignored—those who no one else stopped for. He shut down everything to share these concentrated, one-on-one conversations. Do we know how to stop everything like this? Are we in touch enough with Jesus to know when he is calling us to stop? Think of the elderly person who hasn’t had a complete conversation in weeks. Or the difficult teenager who needs you to explain things yet again. Or your spouse who needs you to share a conversation at the end of a busy day. This is often where Jesus calls us. Not to just do more stuff, but to stop everything and spend time with someone who needs our time. Are we paying attention? Are we willing to stop? May God help us be aware of those times when we need to stop so we can participate in what he is doing. I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 130 • 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 • 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 • Mark 5:21-43

The theme this week is God the great storyteller. In the call to worship Psalm, the poet connects his comfort in God to Israel’s comfort, weaving his own story into the epic. In 2 Samuel, David mourns Saul, not because the disgraced king was a particularly good man but because he was part of God’s great story of Israel. Mark tells how Jesus entered the sad story of a sickly woman and made her whole. Our sermon discusses 2 Corinthians 8, the transformative story of the Gentile churches financially supporting the Jerusalem church. This healing episode of faith-in-action invites us to see how miraculous the gospel story really is.

Paul’s Bottom Line

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 ESV

Religion has actually convinced people that there’s an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day…. But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He’s all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can’t handle money!—George Carlin

With trademark 20th century cynicism, comedian George Carlin describes an issue that many people bring up as a reason to leave the church: “All they ever do is ask for money.” Tithing, which has been part of life in the worshipping community since the dawn of faith, has been a touchy subject since the first time the plate was passed.

Like George Carlin’s caustic remarks, there’s a stereotype of the church as money-hungry and driven by finance more than anything else. Admittedly, some Christians have done plenty to earn this reputation—characters like Jim Bakker and Robert Tilton line the “Halls of Shame” in Christian history. It’s a trite story in which a pastor comes to prominence, then guarantees that people’s tithing will pay big dividends, and then jumps on a plane to a faraway island with his pockets full. It’s a sad reality that we need to acknowledge rather than shy away from. In terms of Christian history, it’s a long, jagged, permanent scar.

And this sticky discussion is squarely the main topic of the end of 2 Corinthians.

Let’s read the text: 2 Corinthians 8:5-17 ESV.

Paul is coordinating a collection—running a capital campaign. Yet unlike the fundraising efforts that we may have seen, or that George Carlin might describe, the details are different. There are no vague promises about God giving them more money back; there is no misdirecting language or bait-and-switch going on; there’s no guilt trips about earning God’s love.

Instead, Paul’s offering is a way to join in the life of God in the world. This gift isn’t a chance to line pockets or re-carpet the sanctuary; it is a dynamic invitation to participate in God’s kingdom coming in the here and now.

Let’s look at Paul’s bottom line, and how what looks like an afterthought in one of his letters is actually a crucial participation in God’s transforming work. We will break this down into three aspects:

  • Transformation
  • Participation
  • Narration

Transformation

But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. (2 Corinthians 8:7 ESV)

This “generous undertaking” that Paul describes is more than it may seem on the surface. As described here as well as in Romans 15 and other places, Paul asks his Gentile churches to support the primarily Jewish church in Jerusalem.

Supporting churches across international lines is nothing new for most of us. We might have a “special collection” for an impoverished church on the other side of the world, or a presenter might come to us on a mission-themed week to ask for support. But in Paul’s day, this was something entirely new.

This was a major distinctive of the early church. Religion was everywhere—there were temples and shrines and religious festivals as part of daily life. This was quite different from our modern world in which churches might be everywhere, depending on where you live, but faith is somewhat contained and relegated to the “private” part of life.

The major distinctive, then, was not being religious, even having the unique story that we have in Christ. The Christian world was distinct because it was diverse. Nowhere in the ancient world did they see Jews, Greeks, Macedonians, Romans and all manner of ethnicities in a worshipping, loving community together.

Theologian Tim Mackie describes this:

People had no idea what to do with his communities because the Roman world had never seen such a thing before. In Paul’s day, religion is something you’re born into, it’s completely bound up to the gods of your people group and of your city and of your family. And for people to break that identity and to choose allegiance to a new god and for a Greek and a Macedonian and a Roman and a Jew and a Libyan and an Egyptian and Cyprian to all eat meals together every single Sunday in allegiance to the one true God was absolutely unheard of.

Nobody had seen anything like this before! The Christian community connected people of all backgrounds and walks of life, bringing them together in one family of faith. However, this unifying was not without its issues, and that is what a lot of Paul’s writing is about. In almost every letter, there is a theme of unity—as Christ’s body, as Christ’s temple on earth, as the family of faith—trying to hold together this fledgling body of faith.

One of the major rifts, which Jesus dealt with in his ministry as well, was the rift between the Jewish community and the rest of the world. God’s people were meant to be a blessing to the world, the connection between God’s world and ours, and they had become an insular, scared-of-the-world group that was hostile rather than welcoming; arrogant rather than humble.

This division had carried over into the church. Some of the Jewish Christians demanded their Gentile counterparts to take part in practices made obsolete in Christ. Paul’s rebukes toward this kind of elitism were harsh, to say the least (see Galatians 5:12).

And now Paul asks these Gentile groups to support the Jewish church! That’s transformation! Far more than what might look like just a bit of church housekeeping to us, Paul is telling them to do something revolutionary: support a community that is not only not part of your lineage, but a community that is not so sure they want you as part of theirs. Support them anyway.

Paul calls them toward action. He’s calling them to do more than lip service to this revolutionary unity of people, but to put their money where their mouth is. Not only will they be unified as a church in some abstract way, but this act hits us all where it hurts: Right in the wallet.

Paul’s bottom line is commending the Corinthian church to be part of the transformation of the gospel—bringing about unity where there was division and melting hostility with grace.

Participation

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV)

One of Jesus’ few direct interactions with a wealthy person is in Matthew 19, when he tells the rich young man to give up all he has and follow Jesus. This is after the man lists out to Jesus how religious he has been—how he’s kept all the commandments from this youth.

One of the demanding aspects that Jesus then lays on him is not another thing for him to do, or another hoop to jump through—Jesus asks him to lack. Ah, there’s the rub. There’s where it hurts. Rather than something else this young man can do, some action he can add to his regimen, Jesus asks him to go without. This man was a religious athlete, a spiritual all-star, and Jesus asks him to do what he would normally seek to avoid—experience weakness.

Paul asks something similar of the Corinthian community. He asks them to participate in giving up something to support a a sister church. He doesn’t ask them to give with some promise of more money coming back their way. He doesn’t ask them to give in a way to earn God’s love or favor.

Paul’s bottom line offers them a chance to participate in the life of God in the world through experiencing emptying, just as Christ did. Jesus stepped into the vulnerable place of giving up himself, knowing that his gift could be forgotten, misused, ignored.

He gave up control and power; he gave up his rights. Paul calls the Corinthian community to take part in this kind of giving up. The bottom line here takes us to an important gospel theme: Jesus acted like us so we could act like like him. He left his throne at the Father’s side to show us that humility is the key to freedom and giving away is the key to true riches. Paul is asking them and us to love as Jesus loves.

In joining in Christ’s work to give up something to support someone else, the Corinthian church wouldn’t be gaining favor or prestige—they would be meeting Jesus. In participating with Jesus, they would know him better.

Narration

This may sound like a strange word for our last point, but what we’re looking at with narration is the sense of the larger story arc of God’s relationship with his favorite creation: us. This epic narrative finds its culmination, its centerpiece, in Jesus.

As modern Christians, we tend to disconnect the two testaments, as if God was a different person before Jesus came along. We don’t see the interlocking parts of the story—the story of Jesus that started with Abraham and even before that.

One of the difficult currents of the early church was the relationship with the past. Jewish factions pressed Gentile converts to practice Hebrew rites; pagan converts balked at restrictions on sexual freedom and other uncomfortable ethical codes. These cultures were two different planets coming together.

Paul touches on this narrative briefly in verse 15:

As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.” (2 Corinthians 8:15 ESV)

On the first pass, we see that Paul talks about the need for equality in the body of Christ. There is no longer any kind of hierarchy or quid-pro-quo; the family of faith supports each other.

Paul mentions the impoverished community of Macedonia (verses 1-6) participating in this work. He then appeals to Corinth, which was most likely a more wealthy community. These are two ethnic groups with two levels of wealth called to the same work.

Read verse 15 again and you’ll see that Paul quotes Exodus 16, referring to gathering manna in the desert. This was part of the defining narrative for Israel—the Exodus. Paul connects Corinth—pagan, licentious, worldly—with the narrative of Israel! He says the “chosen people” of God are not just one ethnic group, but all people in Christ. He refers to the Israelites centuries before and says, “Corinth, these are your people!”

So, how does Paul’s bottom line speak to us today? What does that mean to us centuries later in a crowded and busy world?

Transformation—Paul called the Corinthians to take action in the transformative work of healing ethnic divisions, something unheard of in the ancient world. There are supernatural transformations like this still happening, often inspired and spearheaded by Christians. Think of the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. that changed history—the vision for this was born in the church. Think of the international unity in the body of Christ and the transformation this shows to the world.

Participation—“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Following Christ is not some way to curry favor with the divine or sweeten the afterlife. It’s the way to fully enter into life, to have it abundantly. Giving to the church or other kingdom causes shouldn’t come from a place of guilt or obligation, but from a desire for the abundant life of knowing Jesus and participating in his kingdom breaking into the world. In humility, we are exalted with him. In being generous along with him, we find true riches and freedom.

Narration—You are part of the epic narrative of God and humanity. As a Christian, the story still flows in your veins. The great heroes you read about in Scripture are your older brothers and sisters who are in the heavenly courts right now. You are as much a part of the story as Moses, Joshua, Paul, Mary—any of these other heroes. There is no one thread in this tapestry that matters more than the others.

Paul called the Corinthians to participate in the life and kingdom of God through this collection for Jerusalem. He knew their gift wouldn’t only result in expanding the church or supporting the poor—their giving would result in them encountering Jesus.

And that, brothers and sisters, is the bottom line.


Small Group Discussion Questions

Questions for sermon: “Paul’s Bottom Line”
  • Why do you think there’s a stereotype out there that all the church is after is money? Is that a fair assessment? Have we earned that reputation?
  • The sermon talked about the collection for the Jerusalem church as a chance to enter into the life of God and experience a deeper relationship with him. Do you think of tithing as participating in that?
  • What are some unhealthy views of tithing? How do we grow toward a healthy attitude and practice of stewardship?
Questions for Speaking of Life: “Stopping Where Jesus Stops”
  • We talked about how Jesus stopped for the woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5) and several others. Why do you think he stopped for these outcasts? These “useless” people?
  • Why is it hard for us to stop, to slow down and listen?
  • Who could Jesus be “stopping for” in our lives? Is there someone he is calling us to stop for? Maybe someone we see every day?
Quote to ponder: “My piece of bread only belongs to me when I know that everyone else has a share, and that no one starves while I eat.” ~ Leo Tolstoy