Monday, September 28, 2020

WHO ARE WE? We are Moving Forward with God's Faithfulness

 Over the last several weeks we have been learning about our identity, purpose, and call as the church. So far in our “Who are We?” series we have learned that we are what we confess (in Romans 10:9-10), we are greater than the sum of our parts (1 Corinthians 12:12-26), we are exposed by what we do (Galatian 6:7-10), we are a product of what we are willing to invest for the kingdom of God (2 Corinthians 9:6-8), and we are driven by mission (John 20:26-29; Acts 2:42; Col. 1:28). Today we are going to wrap up our series by looking at Joshua 4:19-24. In this passage we will learn that as God’s people, we are those who move forward, confident of God’s faithfulness.

Recently I was inspired by a comment made by a pastor at a conference I attended. The conference dealt with the church’s response to COVID-19 and one seasoned minister said to the bunch of us, “I’ve told my people that I’m not in the least bit interested in ‘going back’ to the way things were before this all hit. Our goal ought not be to go back but move forward to where God wants us to be and use these circumstances to see where God desires to take us.” I could not help but be challenged to hear this and it caused me to reconsider the goals we ought to have as a body of believers. There is a consistent pull in our flesh to return to what is familiar or revert back to what is/was comfortable. This was not lost on the Old Testament Israelites. For instance, after God lead them out of Egypt, it didn’t take long for some of them to wish they were back in slavery.  In our passage today, another major transition takes place in the lives of the Israelites and what happens in Joshua 4:19-24 helps the people move forward in a way that I hope will inspire us to look ahead with confidence as we stand on the precipice of a new season.

I. The Movement of God’s People-4:19

To fully appreciate what is happening in this text we must consider where Israel is in her history. In Joshua 4 we find God’s people in a period of transition. First, Israel was fresh off a major leadership change (Moses had died and Joshua had recently taken his place as de facto leader). Second, the Hebrews had just witnessed a confirming miracle in which they were able to cross the Jordan river on dry ground. The account of the miracle reads as follows:

Joshua 3:14-17-“So when the people set out from their tents to cross the Jordan with the priests carrying the ark of the covenant before the people, and when those who carried the ark came into the Jordan, and the feet of the priests carrying the ark were dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks all the days of harvest), the waters which were flowing down from above stood and rose up in one heap, a great distance away at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan; and those which were flowing down toward the sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. So the people crossed opposite Jericho. And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan.”

After this miracle, the people followed behind their new leader away from the riverbanks of the Jordan, seeking what was next for them in their incredible journey.

However, there is a third major transition taking place in this passage. God’s people were in the middle of a big move (from wandering in the wilderness for forty years to settling the much-anticipated Promised Land). The text reads that all took place “on the tenth of the first month” (4:19b). While this might not seem like a major detail worth paying much attention to, this time stamp indicates that the forty years of wandering in the wilderness were now complete. God had said in his wrath that his people should wander forty years in the wilderness (counting the first year of triumph as they made their way out of Egypt). This extended “time out” was now over and I imagine was eager to move on to what was next.

What was “next” was a series of conquests of pagan nation states that currently occupied the land that was promised to Israel. First among these was Jericho which cast its intimidating shadow over God’s people currently camped on the eastern edge—“and camped at Gilgal on the easter edge of Jericho” (4:19c). No longer would God’s people be a wandering band of escaped slaves without claim to land; they would be the victorious people of God settling what was rightly theirs. However, before Israel turns the page and moves forward, time is taken to establish a memorial in verses 20-22.

II. The Memorial For God’s People-4:20-22

Memorials are commonplace in our world today (and not without controversy). Recently my family and I took a trip to Washington DC where many memorials have been built to remember and celebrate historical figures, groups of people, and world conflicts. One memorial that I was especially impressed by was the WWII memorial. Flanked on both ends by a set of pillars representing each of the states of the nation during the time of war and other components celebrating the various theatres of war, armed forces, and people who paid the ultimate price, it is a stunning construction that allows visitors to reflect on the victory and sacrifice of America’s finest. This memorial also include a beautiful water feature and stands in a proud spot directly in between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial.

The memorial found in Joshua 4 is quite different. First, it was constructed of “those twelve stones which they had taken from the Jordan” (4:20). Following the miraculous crossing of the Jordan on dry ground “the Lord spoke to Joshua, saying, ‘Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from each tribe, and command them, saying, “take up for yourselves twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet are standing firm, and carry them over with you,…”’” (4:1ff). Joshua takes these twelve stones retrieved from the river Jordan and sets them up at Gilgal where Israel is currently camped (4:20) to set up a memorial. Stacking stones in this manner for memorial purposes was an established practice among God’s people. For instance, Jacob in Genesis 28 sleeps on a stone, has a dream of a ladder to heaven. After waking up the next morning the account reads, “So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top...[and said] This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You” (Gen. 28:18, 22). Later, after God changes Jacob’s name to Israel “Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he had spoken with him, a pillar of stone, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. So Jacob named the place where God had spoken with him, Bethel” (Gen. 35:14-15).

It would appear as though memorials made of stacked stones were erected in an effort to remember and celebrate God’s intervention on behalf of his people—whether that came in the form of a dream (Gen. 28), a promise (Gen. 35), or, in the case of Joshua 4, a miracle.

The function of these memorials was simple. Those who would pass by in the future would see these stacked stones and wonder what they were there for, who stacked them, and why. The Lord himself anticipated that people, specifically the children of Israel, will see these stones for years to come and ask what they mean—“He said to the sons of Israel, ‘When [not if] your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, ‘What are these stones?’…” (4:21).

“then you shall inform your children, saying, ‘Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground’…” (4:22). The question these stones would raise will provide an opportunity for people to give an account of God’s miraculous provision for his people. What a thing to celebrate! Just imagine a young Israelite boy or girl climbing into grandma or grandpa’s lap and asking “what are these stones doing here?” I expect with a smile and great joy in his/her heart the grandparent would tell the story of the Lord leading his people out of their wandering and into the Promised Land by miraculously stopping the flow of the Jordan river during flood season so they could pass on dry ground. This is what the Lord expected would happen on multiple occasions for several generations. The memorial would remind God’s people of God’s activity on their behalf for years to come.  

III. The Message for God’s People-4:23-24

The third observation in this passage is the message for God’s people going forward. Certainly the reminder conjured by this memorial was one thing, especially as it pertained to what God did—“For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed” (4:23a), but why was this important? For starters, it revealed that God was with his people. Although they had been made to wander for forty years after they had proven unfaithful, insubordinate, ungrateful, and stubborn, God was with them and continued to pave the way for them to move forward according to his will. Part of the message of the memorial was the Lord was still their God and this he proved by miraculously making a way for them all to cross the Jordan River.

The miracle that Joshua and his people enjoyed in Joshua 3 was just the latest in a series of episodes that demonstrated God’s faithfulness and leadership for his people amid struggle. In fact, the miracle that Joshua enjoyed was similar to the miracle that his predecessor saw some years earlier—“just as the Lord your God had done to the Red Sea, which he dried up before us until we had crossed” (4:23b).

Exodus 14:21-22-“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided. The sons of Israel went through the sea into dry land and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.”

The same God who ushered Moses and his people out of Egypt through the Red Sea toward the Promised Land was the God who now ushered Joshua and his people through the Jordan River into the Promised Land. In both situations, it was God leading his people to turn a page and move on to what was next for them. In both cases it was God’s awesome power that came through to do what only he could accomplish. In both cases it was God alone who could receive the praise and glory. One might say that the memorial Joshua placed at Gilgal did not celebrate just one example of God’s faithful leadership, but a myriad of instances where God came through for his people.

But why? Why would and why does God come through for his people in special ways? The answer to this question is two-fold and is presented in verse 24. First, God comes through for his people in mighty ways so “that all the people of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty” (4:24a). There is an evangelistic component to the movement of God on behalf of his people. When the world sees God’s people overcome struggle, heartache, and insurmountable odds or when the world sees God’s people move forward in the midst of tribulation, the world reckons, either consciously or subconsciously, that something “mighty” is at work in and among that people. While the world may be stuck and stationary in the patterns of sin and death, God’s people are those who are always pressing onward toward the abundant life God has reserved for them. In this way, God’s people stick out in the world as lights in the darkness, as rolling stones gathering no moss.

The mighty hand of God does not just move on behalf of his people so that the world may know of his power. The second reason God comes through for his people in special ways is “so that [they—i.e. God’s people] may fear the Lord [their] God forever” (4:24b). When God comes through mightily, it ought to engender reverence and holy awe among his people. It ought to demand the kind of respect and trust in the Lord that keeps followers clinging to him forever. Such “fear” of the “Lord” ought to overwhelm the fear of anything else—things like the many nations Israel would come up against in the Promised Land and whatever the future may bring. The more the Israelites would fear their God, the less they would be afraid whatever they might confront. You might say that the memorial was both evangelistically useful in that it communicated a message of God’s power on the world’s stage and personally edifying as it instilled a healthy fear of God over everything else in the hearts and minds of Israel.

So What?

So why are we here in Joshua 4? How could this possible fit into our “Who are We series?” Why end this series in this peculiar Old Testament passage? The answer is simple. Like Israel in Joshua 4, we are in a period of transition today. Our world is changing. Major changes have come because of the pandemic and its pervasive implications. Cultural/societal turmoil has also ignited change in the way the God’s people are perceived in our world. While all of this change is popping up all around us, our church is transitioning from one fiscal year to another. However, before we take the first step into a new season, before we turn the page on a new year for our church, I thought we’d take the time to reflect and celebrate what God has done in our midst. Like Israel in the Old Testament, God has come through mightily for us. This past year, we met unexpected struggles and difficulties that could have paralyzed us in place. In the thick of winter, the boiler to our education building unexpectedly exploded. Shortly thereafter the pandemic hit, leaving us  scrambling to figure out how to handle all the new protocols and best practices while still continuing to meet. Major events that we typically host for outreach were cancelled. Fundraising efforts for planned renovations were postponed. In addition to these existential crises, spiritual warfare, tension, and struggle took advantage of the “new normal” we found ourselves in, seeking to cause discouragement and dismay. And yet! God showed up. The boiler was fixed and then our insurance unexpectedly ended up paying for nearly the entire replacement.  Courageous people rose to the occasion to help get our church up and running online with streaming services and zoom meetings for small groups and other events. Other opportunities for outreach presented themselves (like handing our food at Lincoln Terrace, a drive by food drive in our community for the Keystone Center). The yard sale fundraiser that was postponed was able to collect more donated items that translated into more sales that helped bring in more money toward the improvements that we hope to make on our second floor for our church’s children and the children in our community. God’s supernatural strength and perseverance was provided to your pastor and many others to weather the speed bumps and spiritual attacks along the way. Glory to God! In addition to these manifestations of God’s faithfulness for our church, this church came in well ahead of budget, donated tens of thousands of dollars to missions, partnered with another church to send over 100 Christmas bags to Guatemala, and witnessed growth in its membership. Glory to God!

It has been one crazy, unprecedented, and difficult year. But it has also been a year in which God has showcased his faithfulness in ways this church and her people have rarely seen (if ever) before. So, Who are We? We are a people that celebrate God’s faithfulness amid struggle. However, we are also a people on the move. We are pressing on to the future. We are turning a page, trusting that the God who has been faithful this past year will prove himself faithful in the year to come. We are praying that God will move mightily so that the world may take notice and so that our people may grow to fear him over anything and everything this new year may bring. In an effort to help us both remember what God has done and trust him in this next season, I thought we’d take a cue from Joshua 4. We have stones here for you to take (or we will have them delivered to you) with the year 2020-21 written on them along with the reference Joshua 4:24-“that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, so that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” It is my prayer that you will take this stone and place it somewhere conspicuous in your home so that every time you look at it, you reflect on God’s faithfulness and miraculous provision in your life and in the life of this church. Perhaps when you are growing discouraged by something taking place in the next year or in  the years to come, you will see this stone and be reminded of the same thing that God hoped the Israelites would be reminded of—the Lord is with his people and is faithful to lead them in any season according to his perfect will. It is also my prayer that whenever someone should ask you “what is that rock all about?” you will be able to recall how God has come through and give testimony of his faithfulness to those who inquire—“that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, so that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” I don’t know what this next season/year may bring, but I do know one thing, God’s faithfulness goes with us just as it has before. Let us follow him on into the future, wherever he may lead.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

WHO ARE WE? We are Driven by Our Mission

Over the last several weeks we have been learning about our identity, purpose, and call as the church. So far in our “Who are We?” series we have learned that we are what we confess (in Romans 10:9-10), we are greater than the sum of our parts (1 Corinthians 12:12-26), we are exposed by what we do (Galatian 6:7-10), and we are a product of what we are willing to invest for the kingdom of God (2 Corinthians 9:6-8). Today we are going to learn that in answering the question “Who are we?” we must consider that we are people of mission. When I say “mission” I’m talking about the mission of God that is articulated in places like Matthew 28:19-20-“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”


Though the mission is clearly articulated in the scriptures (see also Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8; Rom. 10:13-14), many believers today do not live as though they are a part of this glorious enterprise. Instead, many live like they are on retreat. Many so-called Christians today trade adventure for passivity or sacrifice and service for comfort and security. Instead of playing offense, they are perfectly satisfied exclusively on defense. However, when Jesus told Peter, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18), he envisioned hell as powerless against a robust offense, he assumed courageous action would be required, and he intended for mission to be at the forefront of the church and her people.


Therefore, in an effort to remind us of what our mission is, explain how our church is supposed to carry it out, and inspire us to action, we are going to peruse several verses today (carefully expositing each one). These passages will define and explain each of the components of our mission as a church (to see people Know Christ, Grow in Christ, and Show Christ to others). This reminder of our mission will have us looking beyond our walls to see those who are yet to be a part of the kingdom of God and considering how we can reach the lost with the gospel of Christ. Consider this quote by William Tyndale: “The church is the one institution that exists for those outside it.” But what about discipleship? What good is discipleship if it does not result in disciples making new disciples? What about fellowship? What good is fellowship (really) if those outside the church are not being invited to experience it? What about preaching? What good are the messages preached if they are not applied in our everyday lives and shared with those outside the church?


It is my prayer that as we reexamine our mission, we will turn our gaze outward and might be equipped through God’s word to extend our worship experience outside the walls of this church in the real world among those who are without a relationship with Jesus. After all, this is our mission. This is our adventure. This is our calling.


I. PHASE #1: KNOW (The Seed falls on Fertile Ground)-John 20:26-31


Phase 1 of the mission is KNOW Christ. In John 20:26-31. we read the account of someone who was not easily convinced that Jesus had indeed risen from the dead. Although we could make a compelling case that this account only teaches how we shouldn’t doubt, I believe that it also teaches us how God is pleased to provide more than enough evidence of Himself to doubters and skeptics in order that they might be know something about Him. Thomas, as a result of this encounter with Jesus Christ, knew Jesus  in the purist sense—in a deep and meaningful salvific kind of a way. “My Lord, and My God” is the exclamation that highlights the climax of John’s Gospel as He works to show Jesus is indeed God Almighty in flesh.


Knowing Christ is a theme throughout the New Testament that must be echoed in churches today, in this church today. If we want to be a church that is on mission, we will concern ourselves with bringing people to encounter Jesus Christ and experience His love so that they might Know Him in the same way Thomas came to know Him. This is the first phase of the mission.


John’s account continues with “Therefore, many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book, but these things have been written…” (John 20:30-31a). What was true of Thomas and true of everyone who comes to know Jesus is that they have responded positively to some sort of revelation. Revelation is, quite simply, anything that speaks of God’s character or will. In this passage, John speaks of “many other signs Jesus also performed,…” These signs that Jesus gave to the disciples were ways in which He divulged more about who He was, giving the disciples a chance to respond to that information. Today, many things testify to who God is in unique ways. The Bible says creation itself speaks of His glory. The talents and gifts of people also testify to the creativity and diversity of God Himself. While many phenomena are a revelation of God that has been made known to man, the greatest means by which God has divulged His character and will is the Word of God itself and Jesus Christ who is the WORD of God incarnate. John writes, “but these things have been written…” The inspired and perfect Word of God is the greatest resource of God’s attributes and will.  It is the primary source by which all things are judged and understood.


However, what is the purpose for God having made himself known to the world?


John 20:31 continues with “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name…”. Revelation has as its purpose the salvation of men. God reveals Himself in order that people may KNOW Him for who he is. This phase of the mission has as its purpose the salvation of men through a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.


Romans 10:17-“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of (that is from, about, concerning) Christ.”


Phase 1 of the church’s mission is to share the revelation of God—His Word about Christ—with others so that they might hear, understand, and believe the message of the gospel (KNOW Christ). The same transforming power that changed Thomas’ life is available to change the lives of those doubters, cynics, and disenfranchised that you know. Part of your adventure and this church’s mission is sharing the message of salvation with them! It is more than our mission, it ought to be who we are—sharers of the gospel message!


II. PHASE #2: GROW (The Seed Begins to Germinate and Develop)-Acts 2:42


Phase 2 of the mission is GROW. Growing in one’s relationship with Christ is paramount to seeing the mission completed. Remember, Matthew 28:19-20 does not say “go into all the world and make converts.” It says, “go into all the world, making disciples.” A beautiful picture of this is illustrated for us in Acts 2:42—“ They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” The verb “continually devoting” is important. It means to do something with intense effort with the possible implication of difficulty. The tense and form of this verb suggest that Luke is talking about a devotion that becomes a part of someone’s character and takes place continuously. Also, the connotation of this verb does not describe a passive activity (i.e. sitting in a service of some kind and listening to what is being presented and leaving unchanged). It describes vigorous action that leads to growth. The growth of the church or the individual believer is not the responsibility of some third party like a pastor or priest—it is the responsibility of every follower of Christ.


The first direction of intense effort and focus required in growth/discipleship is on the apostles teaching. For those in the Book of Acts, these were the words preached and spoken of by the twelve who ministered with Jesus. However, for you and me, the teaching that God decided to preserve in the Bible is the primary source of information that leads to growth and development in Christ (the same word that saves is the word that sanctifies). The teaching of the apostles for these new believers and for us today provides the nourishment and nutrition required to mature and grow in one’s understanding. Much like soil feeds a plant, the teaching of the apostles fertilized the hearts of their listeners.


The second direction of intense devotion is toward fellowship. Fellowship is an association involving close mutual relations and involvement. We read about this type of association in Acts 2:43-47.


CR: Acts 2:43-47 –“Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”


It is this type of fellowship that warms the heart of each believer and allows one to grow by association. Much as the sunlight gives a plant warmth and the ability to grow, fellowship involves a bunch of light-bearers coming together to encourage and love each other in a way that fosters growth.


The breaking of bread and prayer that follows fellowship renames or defines what the fellowship is/consists of.  It was customary for New Testament believers to gather and eat a meal. This was their primary means of entertaining and experiencing life together. One thing that often accompanied such meetings was the sharing of the Lord’s supper. Ultimately, fellowship and/or the breaking of bread simply means doing life together in spiritual community. Participating in this kind of community is crucial for proper spiritual growth.


Along with doing life together, prayer was understood to be an essential element to corporate meetings and integral to Spiritual growth. If the Word brings the nutrients, and fellowship is the sunlight, then prayer is the life giving and refreshing water that is necessary for the believer to grow in Christ.


“Prayer is where the action is”-John Wesley.


“The most important thing a born again Christian can do is pray”-Chuck Smith.


In Acts 2:42, commitment to the Word of God, community, and prayer, were understood as the only proper response to knowing Jesus. The picture of growth portrayed in this passage is spiritual and relational. All of these considerations make up the second phase of the mission and ought to preoccupy believers in the great mission to which God has called his people. Scenes of meaningful fellowship punctuated by Bible study and prayer ought to fill the motion picture of our lives as we see those who know Christ grow in Him. We ought to “do life” together, recognizing that our mission is “our” mission—not yours, not mine, ours, and that any great adventure worth having is one that is shared with like-minded people and any mission worth accepting is for the benefit of others.  Phase 2 is growing in Christ together. More than just a phase of our mission, it ought to be who we are—disciples. However, this is not where things end.


III. PHASE #3: SHOW (The Seed Flowers, and Spreads its Seed)-Col. 1:28


Now that we understand Phase 1 and Phase 2 (knowing Christ and growing in Christ), this leaves only the third—SHOW Christ. Understanding phase 3 takes us to Colossians 1:28. When one considers how insignificant of town Colossae was and how small the church that met there would have been, you might begin to wonder why this letter from Paul was preserved in our Scriptures and important enough to include in the Bible. The truth is, although this letter was addressed to an unlikely destination, the problem they were dealing with in Colossae was very disturbing to Paul and the message of the Gospel. Heresy and false doctrine had already begun to infiltrate the church and Paul wanted to confront this head on before it got out of hand. This is why, after introducing his letter, the apostle concludes his opening remarks with this exhortation—“We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ” (Col. 1:28).


The plural pronoun here refers not just to Paul, but to the church which shares the responsibility of showing Christ to others. While most people will readily insist that Paul and certain others are more gifted to proclaim Christ to others, some fail to realize that they are also included in this phase of the mission. After all, are we not all a “priesthood of believers” (1 Pet. 2:9)? Are we not all gifted by God for the purpose of showing him to others (1 Pet. 4:10)?


Showing Christ well involves two things: teaching and admonishing. While many think of “teaching” or “admonishing” in a formal sense, one need not limit these terms to popular connotations. Rather, anything that provides instruction or warning to the lost of this world is included in the call to show Christ to others. This includes, but is not limited to serving people in love, encouraging those around you, taking initiative to have conversations, and the like. This also involves discovering and using the gifts God has given every one of us. The truth is, there are as many ways to teach and admonish as there are people. Notice the repetition of “every” in this verse. You would think that Paul was trying to get something across.  Showing everyone around us who Christ is by anything and everything we say and do is how we show Christ to others.


The purpose for this mission is so that every man and woman might join God’s mission/great adventure and be taken through these phases themselves to maturity in Christ—“so that we may present everyman complete in Christ” (1:28). The end product of this process is maturity. Much as a flower matures and gives forth seed of its own after it blossoms, Christians who know and grow do not reach maturity until they show Christ to others and scatter seed of their own into the lives of those around them. The process began with believers responding to revelation by knowing Christ on a deep and meaningful level in phase 1, and ends with these same believers communicating that revelation in all wisdom to those around them so that others might join in on this glorious process in phase 3.


These are the three phases of the mission of Crystal Spring Baptist Church. These are the activities that ought to galvanize us to action in the great adventure to which we have been called. More than phases of our mission, these ought to be characteristic of who we are.


So What?

No matter how you label these three phases or what type of illustration you use to explain them, ultimately, the mission of this church is the mission spelled out throughout the New Testament. It is not something cute that I or somebody else cooked up to sound religious. It is not a meaningless phrase or slogan that looks good on paper or in a poster. It is the process every disciple is designed to complete. We have examined three passages in the Bible that have spanned the Gospels, Acts, and a letter from Paul that explicitly define a biblical understanding of evangelism, discipleship, and service both for the individual and the church. What will you now do about it?


 Many are content with just knowing Christ and coming to Church on Sunday Morning and leaving unchanged. Some are comfortable Knowing Christ and even praying with others and attempting to grow in His likeness. However, very few are willing to complete the final phase of the process we have described in an actively show Christ to others. May we choose today to be a church of the few. And may we begin praying for those we know right now who need to know Christ, grow in Christ, and show Christ to others.

Monday, September 14, 2020

WHO ARE WE? We are a Product what What We are Willing to Invest- 2 Cor. 9:6-8


Over the last several weeks we have been learning about our identity, purpose, and call as the church. So far in our “Who are We?” series we have learned that we are what we confess (in Romans 10:9-10), we are greater than the sum of our parts (1 Corinthians 12:12-26), and we are exposed by what we do (Galatians 6:7-10). Today we are going to learn that in many ways we are a product of what we are willing to invest for the kingdom of God. A sermon on giving/investing in the church and what she is doing is one of the most difficult to sit through and most tedious to prepare for in any community of believers. However, passages associated with giving and finances are among the most prolific in all of the Scriptures and must be addressed by any Bible believing church. With that said, let me immediately set your minds at ease by getting me off the hook. First, in no way am I made aware of who gives or how much any one individual or family has given to this church.  Second, I will be preaching as I always do, by using the Bible. In other words, the ideas, principles, and message you will hear are not from my own mind but from the mind of God. This means two things. On the one hand you can rest easy, knowing that I am not targeting any one person in this room with this message. However, on the other hand, whatever challenges or convictions you may or may not receive will  be from God by means of His Word and through the Holy Spirit. In other words, my agenda (as it is every week) is to preach the Word. God’s agenda may be to instruct, challenge, and correct as necessary. Therefore, without further ado, let us take a close look at a profound series of verses from 2 Corinthians 9:6-8.


A couple of weeks ago we provided some background on the church of Corinth. We explained that this church required a lot of attention from Paul (4 letters) because of its own internal struggles and because of the context in which it found itself. What we call 2 Corinthians is the 4th letter Paul writes to this church and by this time the church had successfully dealt with many of the problems that Paul had addressed in previous correspondences. With maturity and unity on the rise, Paul is prepared to give further instructions that are fitting for a healthier church kicking on all cylinders. The fact that Paul is able to address giving means that the church is spiritually capable of handling these kinds of discussions. A healthy church is a giving church.

Anytime giving is mentioned or discussed, the harvest is always in view. In order to illustrate this, Paul asks the Corinthians church to consider a farmer. Although Corinth was not known as a primarily agrarian region, ancient societies in Paul’s day had closer ties to farming than the West does today. The original audience’s familiarity with the field came also with familiarity with common-sense growing principles. Therefore, the image of a farmer sowing seed in the field, harvesting, and brining his produce to the marketplace would have been a no brainer for the recipients of this letter from Paul.  

Therefore, with this in mind, Paul presents two scenarios for the church’s evaluation. First, Paul simply states, “he who sows sparingly, will also reap sparingly” (9:6). In other words, the more seed you put in the ground, the more yield you are going to get.  To sow sparingly means to sow a limited or even negligible quantity of seed.

On the flipside, in scenario #2 we learn that “he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (9:6). The word “bountifully” actually means “blessing” or “benefit,” suggesting here that those who plant much seed in the ground are going to take in a huge blessing come harvest time. Such sowing involves great giving and a great reward. These two scenarios work together to give Paul’s first principle for giving, “godly givers give and receive proportionally.”

If you are getting lost in the fields, consider this modern day analogy. In our world of 401K’s, IRA’s, Stocks, etc. people attempt grow wealth by the same general principle. The more you invest in these different assets or ventures, the more you are potentially going to receive. Giving to anything always takes into consideration the return. The farmer does not plant seed and then walk away, saying, “Well, I’ll never see that again.” Although it is out of sight (hidden in the ground) he knows he will someday see the harvest. Similarly, no one contributes to their IRA thinking, we there is more money gone.  Instead she has the big picture in mind, hoping that there will be a large nest egg/return in the future. This might seem obvious, however, people fail to recognize that this same phenomenon exists in the practice of giving to the work of God.

However, how do we know Paul is talking about money and giving to the church? At the beginning of this chapter, Paul mentions an anticipated gift. This gift would be used for the ministry of spreading the gospel message and was expected to be big, “So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness” (9:5). Therefore, in order to encourage the biggest and best financial gift possible, Paul gives these four principles to the church for whenever they give toward God’s ministry. 

Applied today, this principle teaches that what we are going to experience this year, next year, and ten years down the line is going to be, at least in part, a direct reflection of what we are giving today. Here is a question: if everyone gave of their time, talents, and treasure in the same way you did, could the church expect great things? According to the first principles Paul offers the Corinthian church, Godly givers give and receive proportionally. The more investments that are made, the greater capacity there is to accomplish much for the kingdom of God.


The second principle Paul gives concerning gifts involves integrity and cheer. Though Paul desired a “bountiful gift” (9:5) (i.e. a big donation), what was more important to Paul was an honest and willing heart—“each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart” (9:7a). Honesty in giving begins with being honest with oneself. People ought not give out of compulsion, obligation, manipulation, or guilt. Instead, they must give in compliance with the will of God for their lives. They should not give more because their proverbial arm is being twisted. They should not give less because they are holding back and lacking faith for God to provide. How much should people give? Exactly as much as God wants them to and in keeping with the Spirit’s leading in their lives.

With that said, the Bible does provide some guidelines for godly giving elsewhere. The Old Testament is clear that a tithe (that is 10% of one’s income) is an acceptable gift to God (see Gen. 14:20; Lev. 27:30-33; Num. 18:28-29; Deut. 12:11). But wait, you say, if tithing is such a big deal in the church today, why didn’t Jesus have much to say about it. I thought we were free from the Law? The New Testament confirms that Jesus came to fulfill the law, not to dismiss it (Matt. 5:17-19). 

Matthew 23:23-“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law; justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these (tithes) are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”

In this verse, Jesus addresses tithing as something so understood/engrained/familiar that it is almost unworthy of a mention. While New Testament believers in Jesus’ day and in today’s world are free from the law, they have also been called to live by the higher standard of grace. A tithe was considered a starting point not an end goal. If anger was taught to be on the same level of murder and lust equal to adultery in Jesus’ eyes, does it not stand to reason that the tithe is now considered a base-level command—a minimum expectation.

“I never would have been able to tithe the first million dollars I ever made if I had not tithed my first salary, which was $1.50 per week.” –J.D. Rockefeller

Under the grace that we enjoy, the average, modern-day Christian gives only 2.5 percent of his or her income (not even a tithe). In Money, Possession, and Eternity, Randy Alcorn writes, “When we as  New Testament believers, living in a far more affluent society than ancient Israel, give only a fraction of that given by the poorest Old Testament believers, we surely must reevaluate our concept of …giving.”

Not only must a believer give with integrity according to Paul, he or she must give cheerfully—“not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (9:7). Motives play absolutely no role in the farming analogy Paul used earlier. It does not matter what kind of attitude the farmer had while he was sowing seed. If he sows good seed and has good weather, he will reap a harvest whether he is working for profit, pleasure, or pride. It makes no difference how he plans to use the money that he earns; the harvest will probably come just the same.

This is not so with giving in the church. Motives matter to God. As one commentator says, we must not be “sad givers” who cry as they see the money leaving their hands or “mad givers” who give because they feel like they have to. Instead, believers ought to be “glad givers” who cheerfully share what they bring because all that they have is a demonstration of God’s grace. God loves a cheerful giver.

Ask yourself these questions. How much do you give? Is it consistent with God’s will as expressed in His Word and according to His leadership in your life? Also, How do you give? Is it with great joy for your Creator and eagerness to participate with Him or is it grudgingly? Godly givers give with integrity and cheer.

“Giving should be an outward, material expression of a deep, spiritual commitment…an indication of a willing and obedient heart.” –Larry Burkett


The third and final principle in these few verses reflects Paul’s understanding of God’s grace. Ultimately, Christians can only dispense of what they have received. All that the believer has received is a gift from God, who, is capable of making every grace available to the believer at all times. The universals of this verse are incredible. First, “God is able to make ALL grace abound to you” (9:8a). Every grace of God is available to the believer. This speaks not only to the grace afforded to the believer at salvation, but the grace that is afforded to the believer for their everyday needs. This first universal reveals the potentiality of God’s giving capacity to the godly giver.

The second “all” statement comes next, “so that ALWAYS have ALL sufficiency in EVERYTHING…” (9:8b). Here, Paul communicates that the Christian who practices godly giving will have what he or she needs when he or she needs it. This does not mean that God awards giving with wealth and material possessions. Instead, it means that God blesses those who give with what they need to do what He’s called them to do! No one who gives to the Lord in a godly way is lacking anything to do all that God desires for him.

Finally, Paul concludes with one more universal statement saying, “you may have an abundance for EVERY good deed.” God’s grace seen in the time, talents, and treasure He has bestowed on His people do not exist for the benefit of those who already have them. Instead, they are to be used to do good works for others. In other words, the reason God has been so generous with people is so that they might be generous with others for His kingdom-building work!

Our church is all about doing the best work that there is, proclaiming the name of Jesus Christ and building his kingdom by reaching the lost and developing disciples (to know Christ, grow in Christ, and show Christ to the world). God’s grace will provide all that is necessary for us to be effective in seeing this happen in our context. However, we have some needs that must be addressed in order for this good work to be made manifest. The good news is this—we have all of the money necessary to do all that God has called us to do in making this place a place where people can come to know Christ, grow in Christ, and show Christ to the world. All we must do is be faithful invest it to be used to these ends.

So What?

According to 2 Corinthians 9, Godly givers give and receive proportionally, give with integrity and cheer, and give for good. In many ways, the church in Corinth and the church today is a product of what it was willing to invest in the kingdom-building endeavor and these investments came by means of the faithful giving of its members. So, what might we do in response to a message like this? Malachi 3:10 might have an answer.

“’Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.’”

As you consider the investments you make for the kingdom of God (your time, talents, and/or treasure), test God. That’s right! (Don’t worry, the Bible gives permission.)  Test God and see how He will bless you and this church because of your godly gifts. 

When was the last time you prayed about what you give? Often giving becomes so familiar that we do not give it a second thought. Maybe today we ought to revisit this in our lives and make any changes necessary according to the Spirit’s leading in our lives. Maybe this means beginning to tithe. Maybe for you this means giving an offering (beyond a tithe). Perhaps, if you have been already been giving an offering, this means considering giving even more. When we ask the question “Who are we?” may we be able to say that we are investors in what God is doing in his church for the glory of God and the advancement of his kingdom.

Monday, September 7, 2020

WHO ARE WE? We are Exposed by What We Do- Galatians 6:7-10


Over the last several weeks we have been seeking to understand how the Bible defines the church and her role in this world. So far in our “Who are We?” series we have learned that we are what we confess (in Romans 10:9-10) and we are greater than the sum of our parts (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). Today we are going to continue answering the question “Who are We?” by taking a look at four statements Paul makes in Galatians 6:7-10 that will ultimately reveal that, at least in part, the church is defined by what it does. The proof, as they say is in the pudding or the walk speaks more than the talk. Therefore, let us crack open this important passage and learn what it is the church ought to be doing and in what direction it ought to be focusing its activity.


The church in Galatia was established in Asia Minor during Paul’s time in the region (see Acts 13-14). The letter to the church of Galatia is one of the first letters Paul ever wrote and it is an important letter at that. Upon his departure from the region, false teachers infiltrated the area preaching a different gospel that insisted on keeping the Law of Moses as a means of salvation. Paul quickly corrects this at the beginning of this letter and then, after reestablishing accurate Christian theology, he provides some more practical things to keep in mind as they persevered in this part of the world for God’s glory. One of the things that is included in this lattermost discussion is a presentation on what the church (and those in it) ought to DO. He introduces his instructions on the church’s activity with a proverb in 6:7 that starts with a sobering reminder—“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked,..” (6:7b).

While some in the church in Galatia may have been able to fool their fellow brothers and sisters or those in and around their community concerning what they were all about and to whom they belong, God is able to see the truth. He sees through all pretense and hears beyond the rhetoric to arrive at the core of who a person or a church is.

Psalm 147:5-“Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.”

Hebrews 4:13-“And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do”

In this case, God knew the nature of his people in Galatia and what gave them away is what they did. After all, people are, in many ways, a product of what they do.

Paul intimates as much when he says, “for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (6:7c). This prediction is as old as the Garden of Eden, what you yield in the field is determined by what you plant in the ground. The function of the verb “sows” suggests ongoing and consistent activity in the life of the subject and in this case, the activity involves the investing/planting of a particular seed—different kinds of activities that have the potential of producing different results and shaping people in different ways.

As sports continue to return in various capacities you are beginning to hear a lot about something called “game shape” as in “is he/she in game shape?”To be in game shape means to be in optimum physical condition to perform a specific role in the team. As you can imagine, with COVID-19, postponed seasons, lack of access to training facilities/gyms, and extended time at home, many analysts are wondering if many of the players are physically prepared for the emerging seasons. There is a big difference between an in-season body (both in look, capacity, and endurance) and an off-season body. Why? Because when the season is not on, many relax a bit, and, as a result, they change. When it comes time for training camp or scrimmages, that same body changes again. We are in many ways a product of what we do. In this analogy “sowing” may take the form of regular trips to the gym and “reaping” is being able to lift a certain amount of weight or last so many minutes in a game. However, the same applies spiritually to what people do in the context of the church. What we do (or not do) shapes who we are.

Notice, in this context, it is not what we say, but what we do that gives us away to God. A church and her people can say all they want, but who they really are is ultimately given away by what they do.


While many might be led to believe that, spiritually speaking, one can become any number of things based on what they do, Paul simplifies things down to their essence by drawing a stark contrast between two general directions one might take with their behaviors/investments. The first way that one might direct/focus their activity is toward the flesh—“For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption” (6:8a). Paul wanted the church to remember that investments limited to or preoccupied with the body’s impulses/cravings/desires were ultimately futile because our bodies, in and of themselves, are limited, fallen, and degenerating. The words “his own” in “for the one who sows to his own flesh” also adds the connotation of self-centeredness. Given these insights, one might paraphrase the first part of verse 8 as “energies and activities that solely focus on oneself to the neglect of others and are more concerned about immediate cravings than they are about lasting values lead to corruption.” In fact, the word used here for “corruption” might also be translated “decay.” Yikes! If the church in Galatia (or if those in the church today) feel a sense of decay, maybe they are sowing in the wrong direction (in a selfish or self-satisfying direction). If, in part, you are what you do and you are corrupt and decaying, you might want to change your activities.

Thankfully, there is another option (ultimately the only other option)—“but [note the contrasting conjunction here], the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (6:8b). You can invest in things limited to yourself and your desires or in the things of God and his desires. The former yields death and corruption, the latter yields eternal life! Wow! Why the difference? Because when we direct our energies and activities toward the Spirit of God we are investing in something that is not limited by flesh and or stained by sin. As a result, these things are not encumbered by decay and will last into eternity. How awesome is that! What Paul says here is consistent with what Jesus said in his ministry.

Matthew 6:19-21-“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

So what does it mean to “sow in the Spirit” or to invest/act in ways that are in keeping with the Spirit? For starters, one must know who the Spirit is. He is the Holy Spirit of God that indwells each believer. It is he who draws, convicts, converts, equips, and grows us more into the likeness of Jesus Christ. In fact, the Holy Spirit has a singular preoccupation—Jesus Christ. Anything that magnifies, draws attention to, celebrates, or explains the person, work and word of Jesus Christ is a Spirit-filled investment. Activities focused in this direction are used of God to bring people from death to eternal life. Therefore, such activities ought to be the focus of God’s church. If we are what we do, may we be found as sowers who invest in what the Spirit of God is doing.


Because activities focused in this direction suffer eternal implications, Paul offers the following encouragement—“Let us not lose heard in doing good” (i.e. the kind of good in the latter part of verse 8). The verb means “do not grow weary” or “do not be discouraged” or even “do not lose enthusiasm.” The present tense also suggests a pattern of discouragement—a lingering funk if you will—that God’s people ought not allow themselves to slip into (i.e. “do not be slipping into patterns of discouragement”).

Friends, this is an easy thing to retreat to in today’s world. In our age of mass media, news alerts, the pandemic, economic crisis, social unrest, pressure/persecution, personal issues, social distancing, anxiety, and loneliness, the broken world has proven most recently to be a petri dish in which the bacteria of discouragement, despair, and depression thrive. These spiritual microbes can quench the motivation, drive, and willingness of even the most seasoned believer as they seek to “do good” in Jesus’ name. Lately you may have even quietly wondered to yourself, “What’s the point?” or “It is all going to change anyway.” Friends the same encouragement Paul gives to the church in Galatia echoes for us today “DO NOT LOSE HEART!” The work we have been tasked with by God is too important and eternity is in the balance! If God’s people give up doing the kind of good in the world that is used of God to bring people to eternal life, who will? Things may look different—do good. Things may be a bit more uncomfortable—do good. I may not get my way—do good. Where are the results?—do good. But I don’t feel like it—do good. After all, as we are learning, we are, in part, a product of what we do as God’s people.

To help spur on the church to perseverance Paul offers the following promise: “for in due time we will reap” (6:9b). What a promise! Labor in the Spirit for those things that direct people to Christ will reap a harvest! However, if you are like me, your next quest is “When?”

I must admit to you that as a result-oriented person waiting around for results or a lingering lack of perceived results from ongoing labor in any endeavor, let alone the gospel/kingdom-building endeavor, is troubling. I often find myself wondering “Where is the harvest?” However, while God does promise a lasting harvest for those who are investing in the Spirit, he does not say when that will come or even if we will get to see it this side of heaven. All Paul offers concerning a timetable for this harvest is “in due time.” He could have said “in God’s time.” The church may not always be privy to God’s time, but it ought to trust that whenever it is, it is perfect.

Even still, the reality of a coming harvest, regardless of when it may be seen, ought to inspire ongoing investment in the Spirit in the life of the Church among its many members. The church ought not labor in the service of the Lord as those who do not know the outcome. The outcome is sure.

However, Paul does offer one condition –“If we do not grow weary” (6:9c). The verbiage means “to give up” or “give out.” Paul doesn’t want the church body (or any member therein) to miss out on the opportunity of being a part of what God is doing in yielding the harvest because they give up in the field and head home too early. I like what Jimmy Draper shares at the very end of his book Don’t Quit Before You Finish:

“In all likelihood, there will be hours of despair and days of depression. There will be nights of unnoticed and tedious work and weeks of exhausting effort. There will be months of misunderstandings and ever years of criticism, but we must not quit. The devil will tempt us with greed and lust and laziness. He will send discouragement our way and a thousand other temptations, but we must not quit. We are to be found faithful, no matter what. In doing so, we provide the hope of Christ to the downtrodden and greedy; to the lustful and immoral; to the violent and addicted; and to all who live in our depraved and deprived world. Our hope is their only hope—faith in Christ Jesus. And our call is to stay the course for Christ.”

Do not grow weary church in your work done in and for the Spirit. The stakes are too high and the harvest is coming! If we are what we do, may we be found faithful as we work in the fields that are white for harvest.


The fourth and final statement comes in the form of an application. Paul adds some urgency to what he has shared when he describes when to apply this—“So then, while we have opportunity” (6:10a). This suggests at least two things. First, the opportunities to be about the work of the Spirit that God uses to bring about transformation in the lives of others toward eternal life are limited. When Jesus returns at the end (and no one knows exactly when that may be), such planting, sowing, investing, will come to an end. Second, “while we have opportunity” assumes that the church (and the people therein) have opportunities to do what they are called to do according to this passage. Some in Galatia may have challenged this, but opportunities to make spiritual investments abound (then and now). The opportunities for you to do something of eternal significance in the lives of those around you are just as prevalent today as they were in Paul’s day.

Therefore, Paul says, “Let us do good to all people” (6:10a). There were and are plenty of opportunities to do good to all people and while she has opportunity, the church ought to take advantage of as many of these opportunities as possible. In fact, it is for this reason that Christ has saved the church, called the church, and commissioned the church according to Ephesians 2:10:“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”?

While certainly “doing good” should be extended to all people, Paul adds an emphasis on the end of verse 10—“and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (6:10c). Why might Paul have added this? Is it perhaps, because there were skirmishes in the church of Galatia that existed in part because brothers and sisters were taking each other for granted? Or, perhaps is it because, as has already been intimated earlier, there is a strong undertow that seeks to pull people away from the task the church has been given in this difficult world? I imagine it is a little of both and I cannot help but appreciate just how poignantly this emphasis applies today.

Isn’t it often the case that, if we are not careful, we can take for granted those we most love or those with whom we are most familiar? It is a strange phenomenon, but very real, that the more familiar something/someone is, typically the less attention we give to actively engaging and/or investing in that thing or person (believing, perhaps that with it or him/her, we’re good and no more work needs to be done). This couldn’t be more incorrect and Paul cautions against this in the context of the church. Our brothers and sisters in Christ ought not receive the leftovers of our affections or attention. Instead, they are, for many reasons, those who might need such the most.  

So What?

If we are what we do, may we be those who understand that what we do often says more about us than what we say. May we be those who choose to invest in spiritual things that are greater than ourselves and suffer eternal implications. May we be those who never give up, regardless of how long the harvest takes or what comes against us in the sowing process. And may we be those who apply this passage by doing good to those both inside and outside the faith. It is my hope and prayer that this church and her people prove what they claim in the actions they take and that those actions demonstrate that we are people concerned with spiritual things and the mission at hand. What are you doing? What activities populate your schedule/routine? What might this say about who you are today?