Let’s Get Real

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

Just before worship was to start, the pastor heard a loud argument going on outside the church.  He stuck his head out the door to see four preteen boys and a dog.

It didn’t seem like they were going to resolve it or move on any time soon, so the preacher stepped out and approached the boys.

“Hey fellows,” he said, “We’re about to start worship here and can’t have this ruckus.  What’s the problem?”

One of the boys spoke up.  “It’s like this, preacher.  We found this stray dog and caught him and made this leash.  We all want to take him home and keep him.  Just before you walked up here, we decided to hold a contest.  Whoever could tell the biggest lie would get to keep the doggie.”

“Oh no, boys,” the pastor looked shocked.  “That idea is straight from the pit of hell.  When I was your age, I never told a lie.”

The boy’s faces suddenly took on a glum aspect and one of them put the leash in the preacher’s hand.  “All right, pastor, you win.”

When a whopper is told, the reply is given, “Get real.”  By that, we express our desire to know the truth and be governed by honesty.  The most real thing in all creation is our Creator.  As we’ve been learning, in order to get real, we need to get closer to Him.

REVIEW:

Realistic Identity = Who are we?

We must not be worldly (vs. 1-4, 18-20).

We must be godly (vs. 16-17, 21-23).

Realistic Expectations = What can we do?

We must build on a good foundation (vs. 10-15).

NEW:

We must be faithful laborers (according to vs. 5-9, that means farmers and builders).

Paul and Apollos both served the church in Corinth,  each in their assigned roles.  Contrary to the controversy that co-opted them, both Paul and Apollos were SERVANTS (see Philippians 1:1 where Paul identified both himself and Timothy as SERVANTS).

The word for SERVANTS is diakonai, the word we translate as “deacons.”  There are several things implications from Paul’s use of this term.

One, as SERVANTS, leaders are never to idolize themselves or be idolized by their followers.  Leaders are not to cooperate with controversy by becoming the figurehead of one side.  Paul wrote this chapter to defuse that very thing in the Corinthian church.

Two, SERVANTS know their master.  In all his letters, Paul identified himself and his associates as serving God or the Gospel, but NEVER as serving churches.  This means his authority to preach and teach did not stem from the church members, but came from God Himself.

It can be confusing because when we look at the relationship between church and pastor, it looks like an employer-employee relationship.  However, that is not the whole truth.  The pastor’s authority includes and surpasses the local congregation.  For example, in Corinth, Paul did not draw a wage, but Apollos did.  Their authority was the same in both cases, as Paul makes clear.  The pastor-church relationship needs to be understood biblically first, then implemented in ways that exhibit good stewardship.

Three, SERVANT is not a demeaning term.  Servants are not doormats, scapegoats, or gophers.  All people, regardless of their roles are worthy of a basic level of respect.  Leaders are to receive an extra dose of respect according to 1 Timothy 5:17; The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.

Jesus Himself took on the role of a servant (see John 17).  Paul wrote the same thing about him in Philippians 2:7.  No one is greater than Jesus.

Four, Jesus taught true leadership begins and ends with service: Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

Biblical servanthood is always voluntary; never imposed.  It is a choice we make out of the best possible motive; to serve Jesus by serving each other.  Ephesians 5:21 says plainly; Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  Servanthood is not for leaders alone: how can leaders lead when followers don’t follow?  That’s why Hebrews 13:17 says, Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

In terms of roles, Paul identified three.  Paul identified himself as the “planter,” the one who started the church.  In 2 Corinthians 13:10, Paul asserted his authority to BUILD UP the Corinthian church. He identified Apollos as the “waterer,” someone who nurtured the church.  Paul identified neither himself nor Apollos as the one who grew the church, but instead, rightly credited God as the “grower.” The planter and waterer have their roles, but they deserve neither the blame nor the credit for church growth – that is solely God’s work.

Leaders in the church are CO-WORKERS.  We have differing roles but only one purpose; pointing people to Jesus.

As followers of Jesus, our job is two-fold.  We plant, which is we prepare for growth by creating opportunities for ministry and training ministers.  We water, which means we nurture followers that come into our church, helping them to mature in their faith.  God requires faithfulness, which He recognizes with fruitfulness.                 Church growth is not supposed to be our achievement, but sometimes it is.  Human will and worldly wisdom do account for numerical growth in some churches.

True church growth can’t be measured in numbers alone.  It is measured in improved character, in greater spiritual maturity, more joy, deeper prayer, and improved service, among other things.

Logically, God exercises wisdom choosing churches to receive His gifts of growth.  When we get frustrated at what we perceive as a lack of growth, we should ask ourselves, “What is my contribution to the life of the church?  Am I building up or tearing down?”

Then we should ask of our church, “What is it about our planting and watering that is not of God?  Are we prepared to receive growth or not?  Are we nurturing what we have or not?”  As we saw last Sunday in vs. 10-15, in v. 8, the laborers’ work will be REWARDED after it is judged by God.

Paul clarified the identity of the Church in two figures of speech.

One, YOU ARE GOD’S FIELD.  The Greek word for FIELD is georgion, and it refers to a cultivated field; land that has been worked for the purpose of growing things.  We are a FIELD in the sense that we try to make Jesus visible every moment we live.

Two, YOU ARE GOD’S BUILDING.  In Ephesians 2:20-22 and 1 Peter 2:5, the people of God being a BUILDING that is constructed of living stones like a physical building is constructed with individual bricks and stones.  We are also God’s BUILDING in the sense of our being the result of His work building up His Church, causing it to grow, as in v. 6.  Finally, we are God’s building in the sense of being His TEMPLE, as affirmed in vs. 16-17.

Our common life is founded on the reality of God.

According to the USDA, the harvest is pretty much over here in SD.  The rich black soil of planted fields in the spring has given way to the green, growing fields of summer and the brown harvested fields of fall.  Unless global warming becomes perfectly obvious, the ground will rest and be covered in white. The seasons in the life of a church are measured in years, sometimes generations, and follow similar cycles of growing and going fallow.  Following this agricultural

symbolism, Paul taught that it is our job to prepare for growth and care for growth, but we cannot make church growth happen on our own; it is a gift from God. It is preparing our church as a farmer prepares the soil in the spring, then planting the seed.

How do we do that?  If we desire God to grow our church, we have to prepare by becoming the kind of people He can trust with new lives.  Specifically, this means:

– Getting rid of all sin, especially sins of the tongue.  God will not build where the people will tear down.

– Encouraging right living by means of Scripture, prayer, and spiritual maturity.  God will grow His best fruits where the soil is fertile with His Spirit and His words.

– Building community through worship, fellowship, and Christian education.  God will not sow His seeds among weeds.

– Creating relationships outside our walls by pairing acts of service with words of witness. God will not grow fruit in a walled garden.  He wants His fruits to bless all the people.

Let’s get real.  Let’s prepare this field by praying for wisdom to see ourselves candidly and know the truth.  Listen to no one else.  Repent of the problem parts, explore and expand the solution parts.

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War on Weariness #3

What do we do when we are wearied?

Fruitfulness in ministry (aka “church growth”) is not the solution to a dying church’s problems, but it is an exchange of one set of challenges for another.  We can see this principle illustrated in the very first church, the one that arose in Jerusalem after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension.

The First Church (as I like to call it) had the extraordinary success of growing by the THOUSANDS in the moments after it began.  One of the challenges that arose involved a successful ministry to widows.  Like a modern “food pantry,” the First Church was giving away food to the poorest of the poor – widows.

As Acts 6:1-7 tells us, the ministry outgrew the amount of time the apostles could give to it, and there were complaints that it wasn’t being administrated fairly.  The Twelve came up with a good solution: they got the First Church members to designate seven men to take care of this ministry.  These spiritually mature men were given the heady responsibility of being waiters.  The position thus created would come to be called “deacons.”

What is of interest to us today is not the organizational savvy of the Twelve, but the reason they gave for making that change – “[We will] GIVE OUR ATTENTION TO PRAYER AND THE MINISTRY OF THE WORD” (ACS 6:4).  Do you follow?  They became wearied with the demands of the ministry to widows and its demands on their time.  Doing something good had taken priority over their real job.  So they delegated the ministry to widows to capable men and got back to what was most important – PRAYER and the WORD.

It’s a good example to follow.  When we weary ourselves doing good things, one thing we must do is get back to the basics, the essential acts of the Christian life.  Nothing godly happens apart from our daily practice of PRAYER and study of the WORD.  It is the source of our strength for life.

REVIEW: Strategies for waging war on weariness from installments 1+2.

  1. Continue to do good anyway.
  2. Wait on the Lord.
  3. Stand firm; hold tight; hang on to Jesus’ hand.

NEW: Two additional strategies.

  1. Focus on the basics: prayer and the Word.

I refer herein to prayer and the word as the “basics” because they are two essential acts of spiritual discipline.  Maturing in Christ requires regular (at least daily) prayer and faithful study of the Bible.

Use prayer to regain strength. (Please read Ephesians 3:14-21.)  The use of the word KNEEL right away in v. 14 makes it clear this passage is about prayer.  To KNEEL indicates respect and submission to God.  All of us would do well to note and follow Paul’s attitude in prayer.

Of particular interest to us is the object of Paul’s prayer: what is asks of God on behalf the Ephesian believers is that HE MAY STRENGTHEN them (16). The means of God’s strengthening is HIS GLORIOUS RICHES…WITH POWER (16) and THROUGH FAITH (17).

– GLORIOUS RICHES = there are no limits to God’s generosity, no end to His provision.

– WITH POWER means we can pray for God to empower us physically, spiritually, or in any other way we need His help.

– THROUGH FAITH reminds us that faith is the condition and the conduit through which God’s strength becomes ours.  We must have faith to believe in His provision and to trust in Him.

The place of God’s strengthening is our INNER BEING (16) and our HEARTS (17).  Paul wrote elsewhere that even though our outward self is “wasting away,” God renews our INNER BEING on a daily basis (see 2 Corinthians 4:16; Colossians 3:10).

The result of God’s strengthening is SO THAT CHRIST MAY DWELL IN YOUR HEARTS (17).  The dwelling of Christ in us is manifest in 6 ways.

– BEING ROOTED AND ESTABLISHED IN LOVE (17).  Love is the most worthwhile sign of God in us.

– MAY HAVE ALL POWER (18).  God provides ALL the POWER we need to fulfill His will.  When we supply our obedience, then we experience God at work.

– TOGETHER WITH ALL GOD’S PEOPLE (18).  God’s people experience His power together and celebrate it together, contrary to our individualistic culture and the self-help version of religion we see in too many churches.

– TO GRASP…THE LOVE OF CHRIST (18).  GRASP means to “perceive” or “comprehend,” not “clutch” or “hoard.”  Love is self-emptying.

– TO KNOW THIS LOVE THAT SURPASSES KNOWLEDGE (19).  This sounds self-contradictory; however, the first KNOW is understanding by experience, the second KNOW is understanding by analysis.

– BE FILLED TO THE MEASURE OF ALL THE FULLNESS OF GOD (19).  The more spiritually mature we become, the more of God we experience.

In case all these promises were not sufficient to encourage us in a wearied state, Paul concludes with a doxology that transcends our limited understanding (20-21).

Use the Word to lead you to renewal. (Please read Psalm 119:25+28).  Set aside some time to read the entire chapter: PSS 119 is 167 verses long, the longest single chapter of the Bible.  All of it thanks to God for His Law.  In chapter that lengthy, you’d assume every aspect of gratitude for the revealed will of God would be covered!

Our attention this morning is limited to vs. 25+28, both of which specifically mention the WORD of God (using it as a synonym for Law) and the property of the WORD to uplift our weary moments.

We see a three-fold pattern in v. 25.

– Confession of weariness: Right away the psalm-writer admits he is having a very weary moment: I AM LAID LOW IN THE DUST. His mortality is clearly in view.

– Prayer for strength: In fact, he is so low the highest good he can picture is survival.  He asks only, PRESERVE MY LIFE.

– Acknowledgement of the word of God as a means of his salvation: But he is a man of faith and knows that the only life worth living is ACCORDING TO [God’s] WORD.

Verse 28 repeats the pattern of v. 25.

– Confession of weariness: MY SOUL IS WEARY WITH SORROW.  “I have collapsed with intense sorrow.”

– Prayer for strength: STRENGTHEN ME.  This is not a prayer for relief from troubles, but for power to stand and survive them.

– Acknowledgement of the word of God as the means of his salvation: ACCORDING TO YOUR WORD.  God’s Word reveals how we can be saved and how to live the life of a saved person.

  1. Rely on the Lord’s strength, not your own (John 15:5-8).

When you read John 15:1-17, you’ll see that Jesus taught about the necessity of our spiritual connection with Him by using the symbol of a grapevine.  The BRANCHES of a grapevine cannot produce grapes on its own; it has to draw nourishment from t roots by way of the VINE.

The key word here is REMAIN; it indicates that we continue to rely on the strength the Lord gives us.  The Greek word for REMAIN means to “reside” and it refers to where you make your home.  It is a picture of an ongoing, life-giving relationship between Jesus Christ and His people.

I don’t think people decide to leave God as much as they forget to trust Him first and foremost when weariness sets in or other problems arise.  Our human nature is such that we habitually turn to our own devices first.  Rare is the person who prays first or turns to the Bible for direction before looking elsewhere.  My concern is that weariness is inevitable when we trust to our own resources, not God’s.  We are, after all, finite creatures.

That is why the image of a “withered branch” in v. 6 should disturb us.  It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate word picture for a life that is burned out, wearied by the world without relief because the person has not trusted in God.  Notice the outcome of withered branches; they are THROWN AWAY and BURNED.  The judgment of God is always just; He sees through the pretense of their connection to the vine and knows them to be fruitless.  The end of such lives is destruction.  The warning is clear: don’t let this happen to you.  REMAIN in connection with the life-giving vine.

On the other hand, the image of the fruitful branch should encourage us to live life on God’s terms and in His strength.  Three promises:

– First, a promise of powerful prayer in v. 7.   For those who REMAIN in Jesus, petitions made in prayer are answered with a “yes.”

– Second, God is glorified by fruitful disciples because they experience things only God could do.  Their lives give witness to His power.

  1. c) Third, as Jesus taught, “good fruit” is the godly outcomes of a life lived in obedience and truth. Producing good fruit vindicates our faith, giving evidence in action that our faith is real.  That’s much better than a malingering hypocrisy that continues because words are cheap.  Actions are the true overflow of a heart.

In a November 12, 2013 article, Eric McKiddie noted the difference between a “Success Mindset” and a “Fruitfulness Mindset” in church ministry.  It can be hard to tell the difference because on the outside, they look similar.

One way to tell your own mindset is to analyze the questions you ask.  Here are a few examples:

– Success: “How many people came?”

Fruitfulness: “How many people were converted?”

– Success: “How well did that segment of the worship service go?”

Fruitfulness: “How well did we worship during that segment of the service?”

– Success: “How well did I prepare?”

Fruitfulness: “How well did I pray?”

McKiddie wrote, “The success mindset asks self-centered questions about one’s own work. The fruitfulness mindset asks questions that focus on God’s work in others. The pastor who aims for success gets glory for himself, but the pastor who aims for fruitfulness gives glory to God.

“It’s not only a subtle difference, it’s a ‘settle’ difference. The success mindset settles for external results and personal glory instead of striving for spiritual results and God’s glory.”

<Retrieved from http://www.pastoralized.com/2012/11/13/the-subtle-difference-between-a-success-mindset-and-a-fruitfulness-mindset-in-ministry/ on 2/24/17.>

Success is something we chase, something we desire and wear ourselves out trying to attain.  It also betrays an essentially selfish heart.  When we love ourselves first, we think about success a lot.

Let me challenge your thinking.  Success is not a biblical way of evaluating your life.  Fruitfulness is a biblical way of testing our spiritual maturity in order to draw nearer to God.

This renewal of our thinking is a way to wage war on weariness.  Constantly seeking our own way and our achievements is worldly and wearying.  Who do you think is going to dust those trophies?

Instead, let us apply ourselves to faithfulness and let God take care of the fruitfulness.  Let us follow His lead and accept our place in His plan, whether that’s at the head of the line, in the middle, or at the end.  When we obey Him, then we know true rest and are restored from weariness.

PREVIEW: In installment #4 we’ll look at the final three strategies.

  1. Share your burdens. (GLS 6:2)
  2. Spend your sorrow on service.
  3. Invest in wellness.