Being God’s People As “Servants” of God

Scripture Passage- I Corinthians 3: 1-15

Description – Second sermon in the summer 2006 Series, “Being God’s People by Serving, Obeying, and Giving.”

(1) Well today is Father’s Day and the sixth anniversary of our first meeting. Time has gone by fast but like I said last week, I am glad to be your pastor and I am grateful for the work of God in our life together. My prayer for us this day is that we continue to experience God’s great and good work in our individual and congregational lives.

Speaking of Father’s Day I would be remiss if I did not note some important things about dads today. As usual, I searched the Internet for some very serious and wise things to say to my fellow fathers. Here are three things that I found, respectively, at twilightbridge.com and lukaroski.com:

It seems that a little girl was sitting in her grandfather’s lap as he read her a goodnight story. From time to time, she would take her eyes off the book and reach up to touch his wrinkled cheek.

By and by she was alternately stroking her own cheek, then his again. Finally she spoke. “Granddaddy, did God make you?” “Yes, sweetheart” he answered, “God made me a long time ago.”

“Oh she said,” then “Granddaddy, did God make me too?” “Yes, indeed honey” he assured her. “God made you just a little while ago.”

“Oh” she said. Feeling their respective faces again, she observed, “God’s getting better at it now isn’t he?”

Sex education is a very important issue in parenting and sometimes dad seems to handle the topic quite well as we read in two different situations, “Daddy, where did I come from?” the seven-year-old son asked. It was a moment for which his father had carefully prepared.

He took him into the living room, got out the encyclopedia and several other books, and explained all they thought he should know about sexual attraction, affection, love, and reproductions. Then, his dad sat back and smiled contentedly.

“Does that answer your question?” his father asked. “Not really,” the little boy said. “Michael said he came from Detroit. I want to know where I came from.”

Then there is the story of a three-year-old boy [who] went with his father to see a litter of kittens. On returning home, he breathlessly informed his mother that there were two boy kitties and two girl kitties.

“How do you know?” his mother asked.

“Daddy picked them up and looked underneath,” he replied, “I think it’s printed on the bottom.”

Then, a very important piece of correspondence between a dad and his college son was posted for us to reflect on and consider. However, for us to understand its significance I have put it on the video screen. (2)

The son wrote,

Dear Dad,       $chool i$ really great. I am making lot$ of friend$ and $tudying very hard. With all my $tuff, I $imply can’t think of anything I need, $o if you would like, you can ju$t $end me a card, a$ I would love to hear from you.       Love, Your $on

To which the father replied, (3) Dear Son,
I kNOw that astroNOmy, ecoNOmics, and oceaNOgraphy are eNOugh to keep even an hoNOr student busy. Do NOt forget that the pursuit of kNOwledge is a NOble task, and you can never study eNOugh. Dad

Finally, there is this wonderful story from the late Erma Bombeck that reminds us just how important dad is to the life of his children. She wrote, “When I was a kid, a father was like the light in a refrigerator. Every house had one, but nobody knew what either of them did once the door was shut.

My dad left the house every morning and always seemed glad to see everyone at night.

He opened the jar of pickles when nobody else could.

He was the only one in the house who wasn’t afraid to go to the basement by himself.

He cut himself shaving, but no one kissed it or got excited about it.

It was understood whenever it rained, he got the car and brought it around to the door.

When anyone was sick, he got the prescription filled.

He set mousetraps, cut back the roses so the thorns wouldn’t clip you when you came to the front door.

When I got a bike, he ran alongside me for at least a thousand miles until I got the hang of it.

I was afraid of everyone else’s father, but not my own. Once I made him tea. It was only sugar water, but he sat on a small chair and said it was delicious.

Whenever I played house, the mother doll had a lot to do. I never knew what to do with the daddy doll, so I had him say, “I’m going off to work now,” and threw him under the bed.

When I was nine years old, my father didn’t get up one morning and go to work.

He went to the hospital and died the next day.

I went to my room and felt under my bed for the daddy doll. When I found him, I dusted him off and put him on my bed.

He never did anything – I didn’t know his leaving would hurt so much. I still don’t know why.

Men, our work as dads impact our kids in ways that we do not imagine. Our consistency and availability are very important. Continue to ask the Lord for help in your fathering. I ask Him, a lot, for help with mine.

During my search, I also came across an interesting news release from Hallmark Cards regarding cards and Father’s Day.

It noted, “Humor typically has been the universal language when it comes to dad – the guy who always teased, cracked a joke, found lots of ways to make us laugh, and never passed up an opportunity to embarrass us in front of friends. Humor cards will continue to be strong, sometimes given along with a “serious” card.

It also reported that “Father’s Day is the fifth-largest card-sending holiday with 102 million Father’s Day cards expected to be given this year in the United States,” according to Hallmark research. The release also noted, “fifty percent of all Father’s Day cards are purchased for dads. Nearly 20 percent of Father’s Day cards are purchased for husbands. Other categories include grandfathers, sons, brothers, uncles, someone special, and a Father’s Day card for Mother.”

Happy Father’s Day to the dads here today!

(4) Two weeks ago, I suggested that we view (a) obedience as a foundational value, (b) service as a motivational value, and (c) giving as an operational value.

(5) Last week I suggested, in a roundabout way, that Paul, in I Corinthians 1:10-17 highlighted two barriers to serving the Lord. (a) There is the barrier of personality in which a popular or powerful figure, a pastor, a teacher, a church leader, even a family member, becomes more important than the Lord.

(b) The second barrier is the barrier of presentation in which the ability to speak well and with pizzazz can cause us to lose our focus on the power of God and the cross to save us and transform us into the persons and people of God. Paul sums up these two barriers very pointedly in 1 Corinthians 3:21 “So don’t take pride in following a particular leader.”

It is so easy to get caught up in personalities and words and lose track of the power of the cross (a demanding power I would add because it demands obedience, service, and giving). Yet the cross of Jesus Christ also represents a great power because it represents the power (and desire) of God to change lives.

When we read and study the first three chapters of 1 Corinthians, Paul seems to get repetitive about the same issues – personalities and the glitz and glamour that surround them –that cause him to come back repeatedly to the simple ness of the Cross and what it means.

If you did a double take at the sermon title this morning, please be assured that it was not a mistake. It is the same title from the week before. However, the emphasized word this week is servants whereas it was God last week. Last week, we focused on ‘who we play for,’ i.e. the Lord.

This week we focus on ‘who is playing for the Lord.’ We, His servants are playing for the Lord. We serve Him and others in His name. This morning there are a couple of things that we need to remember about being His servant.

We read in chapter 3 and verse 5, ‘Who is Apollos, and who is Paul, that we should be the cause of such quarrels? Why, we’re only servants. Through us God caused you to believe. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us.’

(6) If we are to be a fully functioning and faithfully following church we do so by serving the Lord according to His plans and purposes. Paul begins chapter 2 by reminding his audience that ‘when I first came to you I didn’t use lofty words and brilliant ideas to tell you God’s message. For I decided to concentrate only on Jesus Christ and his death on the cross. I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. And my message and my preaching were very plain. I did not use wise and persuasive speeches, but the Holy Spirit was powerful among you.’

A servant does not dictate to the one he/she serves the terms of service. A servant says, “I am here to serve, where do you want me to go, what do you want me to do?”

In these two texts, Paul puts the issue of service in its proper context by reminding his audience that servants, in this case he and Apollos, are ‘only servants.’ They are not God, they are not superstars, they are only servants of God doing God’s work. ‘Through us God caused you to believe,’ wrote Paul. ‘Each of us did the work the Lord gave us.’

This work, this agenda was already set for Apollos and Paul. It was set by the Lord in places such as the Great Commission of Matthew 28 and in the command to be witnesses in Acts 1. Our agenda has already been set for us by the Lord; it is the same agenda of Matthew 28 and Acts 1.

Therefore, to be effective servants, we must follow the agenda set by the Lord as outlined in scripture. It is a non-negotiable agenda and it is agenda in which our agenda is not number one.

(7) If we are to be a fully functioning and faithfully following church we are to do so as a team not a group of individuals.

Please look with me at verses 16 and 17 (8) that say, “Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will bring ruin upon anyone who ruins this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you Christians are that temple.”

Notice the emphasized words, ‘all of you together’ and ‘Christians.’ They are plural and not singular in their emphasis and verb tense.

Paul is not singling out one or two people to talk to. He is talking to the entire Corinthian church. He is addressing everyone!

The Lord speaks to each of us individually because salvation is an individual choice. CS Lewis once wrote, “It was not for societies or states that Christ died, but for men.”

However, we need to remember that is was to a group of people, namely the Disciples, that Jesus gave the Great Commission to go and make disciples and to be witness. Go back sometime today and review the passages in which those commands are given. They are given in the plural tense.

If we have been born again; if we have been saved; then that is automatic qualification for entry into the Kingdom of God and the Church of God. And the church is a group of people who are to be of one mind and one spirit – God’s mind and God’s spirit.

To fully function and fully follow as a church, we must, we must come together. We need each other and we are to do ministry, in our individual and uniquely gifted ways, together.

A common saying these days is ‘There is no ‘I’ in team.’ There is no ‘I’ in church.

(9) And Paul goes onto to remind them in chapter 12 and verses 4 through 7, ‘Now there are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but it is the same Holy Spirit who is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service in the church, but it is the same Lord we are serving. There are different ways God works in our lives, but it is the same God who does the work through all of us. A spiritual gift is given to each of us as a means of helping the entire church.’

If we are going to be the best and greatest church the Lord would desire us to be, then we need to come together for the same purpose and cause.

(10) That purpose and cause is to first: (A) fully follow the Lord. What does that mean?

In his book, Following Christ in the Details of Life, Patrick Morley takes us to a familiar Gospel story, the Rich Young Ruler. As he leads us through this story, he says this about the issue of total commitment to Christ.

“With Jesus, the terms of eternal life are a total surrender of our lives to Him. Jesus always holds to one central idea in salvation: ‘Follow me.’” He goes on to say, ‘But He also knows the hidden ambition in each one of us, the area which has become our stumbling stone. For the rich man, it may be his riches; for the poor man, his poverty.”

Then he says this, (b) “Jesus doesn’t offer eternal life in exchange for selling your possessions. Jesus offers eternal life in exchange for following Himself.”

Morley then goes on to conclude with a very important question stated two different ways, (11) (a) ‘What impediment to true faith is blocking you? (b) What is that thing which separates you from perfect devotion to Christ?’

Finally, he lists some of things that keep us from experiencing a fuller and more complete relationship with the Lord: “For some it is money. But for others it may be lifestyle, morals, temper, substance abuse, a secret thought life of lust and fantasy, personal ambitions, impure thoughts, selfishness, or wrong motives. Don’t let it block you; lay it at the foot of the cross.’

(12) The other part of our cause and purpose is to (a) fully function. What does this mean?

Let’s go over for a moment to chapter 12 and start with verse 12:

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up only one body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into Christ’s body by one Spirit, and we have all received the same Spirit.

Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body.

And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am only an ear and not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body?

Suppose the whole body were an eye—then how would you hear? Or if your whole body were just one big ear, how could you smell anything?

But God made our bodies with many parts, and he has put each part just where he wants it. What a strange thing a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body.

The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” In fact, some of the parts that seem weakest and least important are really the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect from the eyes of others those parts that should not be seen, while other parts do not require this special care.

So God has put the body together in such a way that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other equally.

If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. Now all of you together are Christ’s body, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it.

(b) I want to repeat verse 27, “Now all of you together are Christ’s body, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it.” Paul did not say, ‘separate but necessary,’ he said, ‘separate and necessary.’

We need, as the church, to fully function so that God can work in and through us. One of the things that we in the Church of God strongly believe in is ‘the unity of all believers.’ That is happening in our community through the prayer rally that you have read about in our paper. It is not just a few from the First Church of God; it is also some from Harvest Community Church, St John’s Lutheran, Ligonier United Methodist, First Christian Church, Bethel Christian Baptist, and others. It is a team effort.

(Satan does not like it and He will, through a barrage of spiritual opposition that we need to counter with obedience and prayer, seek to discount it and undermine it. We cannot let that happen. However, God is very, very pleased!)

We need to function in the same manner. Not all of us are chosen by the Lord to be ‘leaders’ in the church. That is not where the Lord would have us serve.

But, we are all called to serve the Lord in the church. Serving is more important than leading. He has a place of service for all of us and for our church to fully function, we need to seek to find and serve in our place of service that God has given us the skills, abilities, and passion for doing. And we must do so together!

I spent this past Thursday and part of Friday at a retreat with some of my SHAPE partners (SHAPE stands for Sustaining Health and Pastoral Excellence) outside of Indianapolis. It was a great retreat.

One of the things that we did was to take five minutes and simply calm ourselves down through silence and meditation so that we could be more open to the voice of God. We are going to do that during one of our communion Sundays in preparation for communion. But, the Spirit used it to remind me to include an exercise that we are going to conclude with. It will take no more than a minute but I believe that the impression it leaves will be long lasting.

Please take the insert that has what appears to be a bunch of ink spots on it and put it comfortable in front of you as I read the following directions: (13)

First, relax and concentrate on the four small dots in the middle of the picture for 30 seconds.

Now, look at the wall nearest to you. (You may need to look left) You will see a circle of light developing.

Then, blink you eyes a couple of times, what or who do you see?

I conclude with a very important question, (14) ‘Who has our attention and focus in this church?’

May it be the Lord and only the Lord! Amen.

Sources:

Father’s Day stories:

www.twilightbridge.com/hobbies/festivals/father/index.htm

www.lukaroski.com/index.asp

http://www.homewithgod.com/cgi-bin/poemsrefer1.cgi?ID=555

http://pressroom.hallmark.com/fathers_day.html#

Lewis quote is from The Weight of Glory as quoted on page 185 in A Guide to Prayer. © 1983 by Upper Room.

Morley quotes is from Walking With Christ in the Details of Life, pages 80 and 81. © 1998

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The Goal of Ministry

Scripture Passage – I Corinthians 3:6-9

Description – Third sermon in the summer 2006 Series, “Being God’s People by Serving, Obeying, and Giving.”

(1) Two weeks ago, I asked you if you rooted for a team no matter who played on it and if you rooted for a particular player no matter what team he/she played for. Some of you responded that you did both.

I have very few players that I root for. I will admit that I am a Brad Miller fan and have enjoyed watching him play when he is here in Indiana or Chicago.

(2) However, one of my favorite teams of all time was the 1972 Miami Dolphins. They are the only team of the modern era to have a perfect (undefeated) season along with a Super Bowl win. (a) When I think of that team, the names of Bob Griese, Paul Warfield, Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick, and their kicker, Garo Yepremian, come to my mind and memory. (b) However, when I went to the Miami Dolphins website to make sure I spelled their names correctly, I was reminded that there were 44 other men who were a part of that team.

A real football fan, especially a Miami fan, has probably memorized all 49 players’ names as well as knows something about their lives 34 years later. Can anyone here remember the names of one or two other players from that team?

Some people do, but most of us don’t. (c) But, their teammates remember their names especially the linemen, offensive and defensive, who did their jobs and helped the offense to score the points to win every game they played.

From what I remember Csonka and Kiick were the best known members of the team. They were the running backs who plowed through defenses and gained yardage against their opponents, yard by yard. Then there was Griese, the bespectacled Purdue alum who threw to receivers like the veteran Warfield who would close out his career with the team he started with, the Cleveland Browns.

However, as I did more research, I was reminded that a veteran quarterback named Earl Morrell, who was in his late 30’s by then, did most of the quarterbacking that season when Griese went down in game five with a broken leg and led the team to nine victories before Griese returned to quarterback the team in the conference championship game. He was claimed by the Dolphins in 1970 after being with the Baltimore Colts who he also led to victory as the backup quarterback in Super Bowl five when Hall-of-Famer Johnny Unitas was injured.

Then there was Howard Twilley, number 81, another wide receiver, who was the only original member of the Dolphins left when the team began play in the old AFL in 1966. He played his entire career, 11 seasons, with the Dolphins.

As I think about that team I realize that it was the efforts of all 49 players, plus the coaching staff (which included Don Shula, who coached at Miami for 25 years), that made the perfect season possible. It was a team effort, with those who became famous, and those who did not, contributing to the effort.

(3) This is my point – Ministry, like football, is a team effort and it does not matter who is the ‘star player’ or ‘head coach.’ What matters is faithfulness in service to the Lord because it is the Lord’s church and the ministry we do is done in His name.

(4) Today we conclude our look at our key operational value in the life of God’s church – service. Now I think that it is important for us to understand what ‘value’ means and value is a word with multiple meanings.

In our context a value is something of significance or importance to a person or group. It is a deeply held belief or practice that is critical to effectiveness.

In our text for this morning, as with our texts for this month, the issue of/the value of/the importance of servant hood is before us. And Paul makes it clear that ministry is a team effort. (5)

‘Who is Apollos, and who is Paul, that we should be the cause of such quarrels? Why, we’re only servants. Through us God caused you to believe. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us.’

(6) Let’s look at a few of the words and phrases in this verse as we also take a closer look at our main text.

  • Who? (a)

Paul, as we have heard the past few weeks, is trying to correct some very self-centered attitudes that are dividing the church in Corinth. And he gets at the core issue when he begins his questions, designed to get his audiences to think about what they are saying to one another, with ‘Who?’ and not ‘Why?’ or ‘What?’

In an interview three years ago, Howard Twilley was asked to comment about his teammates on the 1972 Dolphins. ‘One of the great things about our team was even though we were very diverse, when we walked on that field, we became one… Of course there were clicks within the team, but Coach Shula did a great job of keeping everyone focused.’

Last week I read portions of I Corinthians 12 where Paul uses the analogy of the human body to illustrate the truth that the church is a team that has many positions, all of which are needed, but that God is, in a manner of speaking, the head coach. Twilley’s comments and Paul’s analogy makes it clear that while there is diversity on a team and in the church, when it is ‘game time,’ those differences need to be laid aside. So, for us to serve God, and our community, well and in His name, there comes a time when ‘Who’ does not matter, but ‘What’ – ministry in Jesus’ name, does matter.

  • We’re only servants (b)

All pastors have egos. Some pastors have bigger egos than others and it causes problems. Laypersons have egos, too.

I think that having a positive and healthy sense of pride in our church and ministry is a good thing. But, Paul did caution that if we are going to boast, we need ‘to put no confidence in human effort. Instead, we boast about what Christ Jesus has done for us.

These three words remind us that while we are sons and daughters of the Lord as well as friends of the Lord, as Jesus would tell the disciples in John 15:15, we are servants. We serve, we care, we give, and we do something for others in Jesus’ name, neither for our name nor for our glory.

All we do, as a part of this team, is for the honor and glory of God and not our own agenda.

  • Through us God caused you (c)

When I reflect on my salvation experience, I realize that a large group of persons, over the first eight years of my life were used by the Lord to help me come to the place of commitment on a cold and clear January Sunday morning over 40 years ago.

There were Sunday School teachers, pastors, my parents, other family members, and church members. Many were men who were leaders in the church and who I looked up to. They were factory workers, brick layers, and office employees. Some had graduated high school, one was a PhD, and some were veterans of World War 2 and Korea. But, through their service in the churches I attended as a child, God used them to help me come to a saving knowledge of Him.

Right now, I want each of us to take our church bulletins and turn it over to the back page. Now, take a pen or pencil.

I am going to give you 30 seconds to list the names of as many persons as you can recall who have helped you grow in your faith and relationship with the Lord including helping you come to faith. Ready? Begin.

In verse 6 we observe, ‘My job was to plant the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God, not we, who made it grow.’

(7) Of those listed…

(a) Who planted the seeds of faith in you? Who was it that began to tell you about Jesus and what He had done for you?

(b) Who watered the sprouts of faith in you? How did they ‘water’ the first shoots of growth and spiritual interest in you? Was it in the every day interaction of life?

Some stand out don’t they? Others seem to have had a role of planting and watering. But it was the Lord working through them to help us to come to faith.

Now take your pen or pencil again. I am going to give you 30 seconds to write another list. When I say ‘begin’ I want you to list the names of people that you know either at work, in your neighborhood, at school, or in your family who you want to see come to the Lord (or come back to the Lord). Ready? Begin.

(8) Now, how might you currently be sowing the seeds of faith? How about through your example? How do your work habits, personal habits, tone of voice/language and other things help (or hinder) sowing the seeds of faith in the lives of others?

(a) How might you also currently be watering the seeds of faith in someone else? How about through the same things plus a true and God honoring story of how God has worked in your life in a personal way?

How about in your service to others when it is inconvenient or hard or messy?

Just as we have been the recipients of others sowing and watering, we are also sowing and watering faith in others. But it is God working through us to do so.

Finally, (9)

  • Did the work the Lord gave us.

Paul’s ‘work,’ his mission if you will, was to plant the seed by going to towns and cities and countries that had not yet heard the Christian message. Some are called by God to do that. All of us who profess faith in Christ are called to share that faith in word and action. But some are called to another country or another group of people different from them to share the gospel. They have been called missionaries. I also call them ‘bridge builders.’

And speaking of ‘bridge builders’ I told you three weeks ago that I would share with you some places of ministry that I believe God may be calling some of you to in our community. And as I think of service this morning, I think of Common Grace.

We have been a supporter of Common Grace since its inception and a past member of this congregation has sat on its Board of Directors. I was recently invited to do so, but said, ‘no.’

I think that one of us needs to be on the Board. If community ministry is something that you are passionate about and feel a calling to, then we need to talk because I believe that it is one of the ways that we make important connections to the community. (There is also the Grace Guides program that was presented to us a few weeks ago as well.)

(a) Obedience is an important issue with regard to service. As Paul said in chapter 12:18 ‘But God made our bodies with many parts, and he has put each part just where he wants it.’ In the analogy of chapter 12, God has assigned us places of ministry in line with His intents and purposes.

But in serving we are doing the work God has given us to do. (b) The ministry, a team effort, is a wonderful mixture of people, called by the Lord to a central purpose of helping people come to faith and then living out that faith. Look at your list of those who helped you come to faith. How different they are from one another!

As Paul concludes in our main text, (c) ‘The one who plants and the one who waters work as a team with the same purpose. Yet they will be rewarded individually, according to their own hard work. (d) We work together as partners who belong to God. You are God’s field, God’s building—not ours.’

In God’s plan, a group effort has been called for to help others come to faith. For while we are individually responsible to God with our lives and each one of us must make our own faith commitment, His commands to make disciples requires a group effort of obedient and committed individuals.

Service is considered to be a key Christian discipline and in his book, The Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster said this about the discipline (or practice) of service.

“Self-righteous service comes through human effort. True service comes from a relationship with the divine Other deep inside.

Self-righteous service is impressed with the “big deal.” True service finds it almost impossible to distinguish the small from the large service.

Self-righteous service requires external rewards. True service rests contented in hiddenness.

Self-righteous service is highly concerned about results. True service is free of the need to calculate results.

Self-righteous service picks and chooses whom to serve. True service is indiscriminate in its ministry.

Self-righteous service is affected by moods and whims. True service ministers simply and faithfully because there is a need.

Self-righteous service is temporary. True service is a lifestyle.

Self-righteous service is without sensitivity. It insists on meeting the need even when to do so would be destructive. True service can withhold the service as freely as perform it.

(10) Self-righteous service fractures community. True service, on the other hand, builds community.”

I still believe that our church has a mission and ministry in this community and beyond. But we need to improve and refine our service. (11) The goal of ministry is to serve others so that they may come to faith in Christ.

Let us seek God’s direction so that we can clearly see how to serve better and more effectively in the years ahead. Amen.

Sources:

The 1972 Miami Dolphins information is located at www.miamidolphins.com

Pat Twilley’s comments are located at

www.miamidolphins.com/pressbox/pressreleases/pressreleases.asp?contentID=2597

Foster quote is from www.sermoncentral.com and was submitted by Donnie Martin

Giving it All, Giving it Well

Scripture Passage- I Chronicles 29:10-20

Description – Fourth sermon in the summer 2006 Series, “Being God’s People by Serving, Obeying, and Giving.”

It is good to be back with you after another week of vacation and thanks for your prayers for my mom during her surgery this past week. Her doctor expressed satisfaction Friday afternoon with her surgery and recovery so far. Thanks also for your prayers on behalf of my uncle’s family as they give thanks to God for him this day and place his body in the grave tomorrow morning knowing that his soul is with the Lord.

(1) This sermon begins the conclusion of our summer sermon series, ‘Being God’s People by Serving, Obeying, and Giving.’

(2) In June, we looked at the foundational value of obedience to the Lord by staying focused on the Lord and not being concerned with personalities and performance.

(3) In July, we examined the motivational value of service as we focused on serving one another as well as our community in love because God has gifted each of us to serve in a different way and context but as the community of faith.

(4) This month we are going to examine the third value that is important in being God’s people by serving, obeying, and giving. It is the operational value of giving.

Over the next few weeks, we will be hearing from two families with ties to this church. Both families are currently serving the Lord in other countries and will be sharing about their work in those countries as part of our service.

Now I know that for some people missions is not a favorite topic and believe that there is enough to do in this nation to keep us busy. I understand and respect that perspective.

But, Jesus made it clear in the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations. This means that for some of us, God will call us, as he has the Smith’s and the Webb’s, to go to another nation and culture to serve. It also means however, that others of us are senders as we give and support those whom God calls to go.

Another important perspective that we need to keep in mind is that all of us here has a mission field of our own. It is our place of work, our neighborhoods, our schools, our families, and our clubs and community groups. Each of us has a mission field that the Lord has called us to go to and it is right here. But, we need to hear from those who live in other nations to serve God because I believe that God has lessons for us to learn from them about serving, obeying, and giving. I encourage your attendance the next two Sundays.

We will also be having our annual business meeting and Capital Funds Campaign annual celebration in two weeks. Part of that Sunday is the election of important leadership positions.

This reminds me of a story that I recently read about a recently elected church treasurer who agreed to take the position on two conditions, 1. Only if no reports are required for one year. 2. Only if no one asked him any questions for one year. Surprisingly and reluctantly, the church leadership agreed.

A year later the treasurer, who was also the manager of the local grain elevator, gave his report. The debt on the church building had been paid in full. The salaries of all the staff were increased substantially. Several new buses had been purchased and paid for. All missions commitments had been met. There were no outstanding bills, and a surplus of several thousand dollars was on hand.

The shocked and amazed congregation asked, ‘How can this be?’

‘It’s simple,’ the treasurer replied. ‘Most of you bring your grain to my elevator. As you did business with me during the year, I withheld ten percent on your behalf and gave it to the church in your name. You never missed it.’

Now, I do not think that will ever happen here and I think that it runs counter to the Biblical injunction that ‘God loves a cheerful giver.’ However it does make a point about the importance of giving as a key value in being ‘a fully functioning and faithfully following church’ that I believe God has called us to be.

However, not only does God challenge us to give our money, He also calls us to give of our time and abilities to the ministry of the church and needs in the community. Time is as valuable as money these days.

Our main text for this morning was a part of my Bible reading this past week and when I read it, the joy and exuberance of giving to God stood out to me. What can we learn from this passage about the value of giving?

(5) Everything comes from God. He gives first.

The setting for this passage is the celebration of the offerings for the construction of the Temple as we read in the opening verses of chapter 29. David makes it clear to the Israelites that he has done what he could in his personal offerings and then asks the people, as we read in verse 5, “Now then, who will follow my example? Who is willing to give offerings to the Lord today?”

I give to the ministry of this church, not because I am its pastor, but because I believe that an important part of my faith is to give at least 10 percent of my gross weekly income to the Lord. Susan and I made that decision when we married 23 years ago.

Now could we do something else with that money? YES! However, we have given when it would have been easier not to give but we have no regrets about giving that 10 percent.

Everything we have, everything we own is from God. We give thanks to Him for all that we have, including… all of you.

How did the people respond to David’s challenge? We read in verse 6 and following, ‘Then the family leaders, the leaders of the tribes of Israel, the generals and captains of the army, and the king’s administrative officers all gave willingly.’

The budget that we operate under and the new budget that voted on in two weeks is a very important tool in God’s hands to help us with our ministry in this community. Cheerful and good giving is an essential value for us. It helps us do God’s work.

A second lesson we learn from this passage is that (6) giving needs to be celebrated!

In verses 17 and 20 we read, ‘I have watched your people offer their gifts willingly and joyously… Then David said to the whole assembly, “Give praise to the Lord your God!” And the entire assembly praised the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and they bowed low and knelt before the Lord and the king.’

We can financially support many good groups, events, and programs because they improve the lives and circumstances of others. Things like Right-to-Life, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, and the like. However, when we cheerfully give to our church, we are able to provide resources for our children, teens, and adults that have eternal importance.

This means we need to (7) (a) celebrate that our giving is of great importance to God. As we read our text, we cannot but help pay attention to the fact not just David or David and his family were alone in celebrating and worshipping God as they gave, Israel’s leaders and all the people worshipped God as they gave. Their giving mattered to God.

Another thing that we celebrate is that (b) our work is temporary, but God’s work is not! In verse 15 we read, ‘We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a shadow, gone so soon without a trace.’

You and I (unless the Lord returns first) will not out live this church. We will become historical footnotes as the years go by. But, we have, at this present time, the ability to help write the history of our church with our giving. Our acts of giving – our time as well as our talents and money – affect the future ministry of our church. What do we want our giving to do? Enhance or inhibit our ministry? Do we have something worth giving to, even when we don’t see results right away? Yes we do!

David realized this. He knew that his time would end and that Solomon would be the one to build the temple. But, David’s legacy lives on in the history of our faith and in the examples of faithfulness to the Lord because he gave cheerfully and faithfully to the Lord! He gave all of himself, which is what the Lord wants each of us to do as well.

This brings me what they were giving to, the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem. It would be a magnificent place of worship.

It would also be broken, fall into disrepair as Jerusalem would be overrun many years later, and many would be exiled to another nation. However, it would be rebuilt and stand tall as the Son of God, Jesus Christ would enter it and comment that ‘in three days this temple would be torn down and raised again.’

Jesus is speaking of Himself because the importance of the Temple would be replaced by the new agreement, the new covenant that would no longer require its usage. As we read in Matthew 27:51 at the moment Jesus died on the cross ‘the curtain in the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.’

Bricks and mortar come apart; they age as the years go by. They are temporary.

We do not give to build or maintain bricks and mortar alone. We give to help the Lord build lives and legacies that will last long after we are gone. That is why need to give more than money. (8) (9)We also must remember that giving is about our time and talents.

As we prepare for communion, we need to remember the great price that Christ paid for us to experience forgiveness and freedom from our guilt and shame. He gave it all for us.

We need to give all of us to Him. Let us do so. Amen.

Treasurer illustration is from 1001 More Humorous Illustrations for Public Speaking by Michael Hodgin. Illustration #941. Page 327. © 1998 by Zondervan Press

God’s Speed Bumps

Scripture Passage- 2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Description – The final sermon in the summer 2006 Series, “Being God’s People by Serving, Obeying, and Giving.”

The summer before my senior year in high school I had one of those spiritual experiences that is hard to explain because it was only God and me in my bedroom one warm August evening. It is the kind of experience that made at least one of my parents, when all was said and done, scratch their head and wonder about their son.

As I lay there, I was thinking about my senior year and how great the year, I thought, was going to be. I thought, ‘Then there is basketball season and I am going to be a manager again this year and get my second year award.’  All of the sudden I heard this voice say, ‘No Jim, you are not to manage the basketball team this year!’

I realized that it was God because there was no sense of anxiety present within me when I heard the voice. So, I began to argue with Him. (Not a good thing to do.) ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘What is wrong with me managing the basketball team?’  The same message came back, “you are not to do it.”

Well the year started and when it came time for basketball season, I ignored my August conversation and agreed to be one of the managers.

As the season began, I was miserable. There was no joy in what I was doing and it was not the same fun that it had been during my junior year.

Then an opportunity to go to Florida over Christmas vacation with a group of teens from my church and other sister congregations presented itself. But, the basketball team played in a holiday tournament and was I not one of the managers?

What would you do? Would you go to Florida or be there for the team? ‘What,’ to use a popular phrase, ‘would Jesus do?’

I went to Florida. I had a great time. And I got close to God again.

The first week back home and back in school had winter weather bring a hard snow and school closings and, my infamous auto accident that I shared with you back in January that resulted in my totaling my mom’s car. Now, getting home from practice would be come a challenge and for mom to get to work would become difficult.

Now what would you do? How would you handle your responsibilities? How do you think that you would honor God?

I resigned as manager because as I processed that experience…. You guessed it! My August conversation with God came to mind and I knew what I had to do.

My dad did not understand my reasons. He thought that I was letting the team down. And down through the years, I have had a greater understanding of his point.

But, I resigned, because I thought that it was the right thing to do, and there was a peace about the whole thing that came to me.

Ever had such an experience? You knew God spoke… you searched the Bible to be sure that what you were hearing or experiencing was not contradictory to what the Bible said (very important to do)…. You tried to explain yourself to friends and family and they looked at you like you were crazy….

How did you resolve it? Did you ignore what you were hearing? Did you dismiss what the Bible clearly said? Or did you change directions and obey the Lord?

Now it would be easy for me to claim some important spiritual success in this story. But that is not why I shared it. To me there was failure – a failure to obey – in this story. That I learned from my failure is ‘the success’ of the story but that is because I obeyed God, which is the real point of the story after being humbled, not humiliated, by Him.

In our text for this morning, Paul tells his readers that he had had a wonderful spiritual experience that was so profound that he could not talk about it.

‘But I do know that I was caught up into paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be told. That experience is something worth boasting about, but I am not going to do it. I am going to boast only about my weaknesses.’

Spiritual superiority is not a good thing. Granted we can share of times when God moved in wonderful ways that can help others be encouraged. But the point in sharing is to give credit to God and not ourselves.

And that is what Paul does because as we read in verse 7, ‘But to keep me from getting puffed up, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from getting proud.’

God has His version of speed bumps that He places in our path to slow us down, to get our attention, or to get us to stop so that He can get our focus on Him and not our spiritual ness. Paul had such a speed bump placed in his path. You and I have them as well because in giving it is not about us… but about the Lord!

As I processed all of this, I thought what does this have to do with giving? One thing came to mind: Motivation.

We give best when we give out of love not out of duty. Duty has its place but it rings hallow when duty is motivated by a stoic resignation, ‘Well, I know that I need to give because it is necessary.’  Giving, of our resources and ourselves, is best done, not by duty, but by love.

To conclude even further as we look at the concluding passages of our main text for this morning, we often give best when we give out of our weakness because God then is glorified.

‘Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away,’ wrote Paul. ‘Each time he said, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.’

What then does this have to do with two great people who are moving from one part of the world to another part of the world? What does this have to do with another change of cultures, customs, and language for them within a two-year period? What does this have to do with leaving a ministry in which financial support was there to having to start from scratch and raise it all over again? What does this have to do with giving out of our weakness and not our strengths?

Well… The ____’s are here to tell us! ___ and _____, we are glad that you are with us today. Come and share what God is doing for you, to you, and with you.

Judas, A Misguided Heart for God

Scripture Passage- Luke 22: 1-6

Description – The second of series on ‘Developing a Heart for God’

(1) In the introduction to his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of the ‘statue that did not look right.’ An art dealer who had a very rare statue, called a kouros, in his possession that came from the sixth century BC, (that’s six hundred years before Jesus’ birth), approached the J Paul Getty Museum in California to see if they would like to buy it. The asking price for the statue was $10 million dollars. ‘Only about two hundred kouroi [were] in existence,’ according Gladwell. (The photo in the slide is not a kouros).

The Getty staff moved cautiously and 14 months after the first contact with the dealer, a scientific examination indicated that it was authentic. However, several different art experts who were shown the kouros believed otherwise. They felt that it did not look right for that kind of statue. Furthermore, the Getty staff could not verify the authenticity of the statue and not all the information related to its history was substantiated leaving much doubt as to the statue’s authenticity. As a result, the Getty catalog entry for that item has a notation next to it, ‘About 530 BC or modern forgery.’

There is a constant stream of stories on TV, in the paper, and on the Internet about deceptive practices in the art world as well as elsewhere. But the art world is not the only world that is affected by deception and betrayal.

We, unfortunately, become victims to deception and betrayal when it comes to helping those, especially children, whose illness has created enormous costs for their families only to later find out that it was a fraud. Such actions damage the hopes for the credibly needy people who truly need such aid.

One of the things that I have had to learn here is knowing whose needs are legitimate and whose needs are not, when I am approached for assistance from people in the community. I am not batting a thousand on this and sometimes have later realized that I have probably been taken advantage of, but simply turn it over to the Lord who knows the whole story.

Then there is the deception that comes when our desire for youth is over taken by the deception of vanity with some interesting consequences. Take for example the case of Melania Neubart.

In 1955, she decided that she wanted to be 10 years younger in hopes of paving an easier road towards marriage. So claiming an error in court records, she obtained a court declaration that she was born ten years later than she actually was.

20 years go by and, still single, she realized that she was officially too young to qualify for the national insurance pension offered in her county of Israel. She then returned to court to get her birth date changed back to the original and correct date. The judge refused to rule in her favor saying that she had made the court ‘an unwitting accomplice in the perpetration of a lie.’

Have you ever been betrayed? Have you ever been lied to? Stabbed in the back?

It hurts. It is very painful. Trust becomes an issue. We do not look at people the same way. We withdraw and wonder who is for us and who is not.

Have you ever betrayed someone? Have you stabbed someone in the back?

Why do we do it? Anger? Jealousy? Fear?

We find ourselves alone don’t we? We wonder if there is anyone who still likes us and that we can call a friend.

It is just a painful as being betrayed. A sudden insight penetrates our mind and heart and we realize the awfulness of what we have done to someone that has been important and close to us.

I think that betrayal comes out of the fear of being misguided about something, primarily, I believe, expectations. Expectations are very, very important in our relationships.

Yesterday, I officiated over Brent and Tiffany’s wedding. The wedding vows they took are statements of expectation.

‘I expect,’ they say, ‘to be there for you through the good and the bad.’ ‘I expect you to be there for me as well.’ ‘We pledge before God and all of you present, that we will stay together until death do us part.’

However, many have experienced the very, very painful betrayal of those vows that has resulted in divorce. We know that those vows can, and have, been easily tossed aside.

I believe that the same holds true for faith and our relationship with the Lord. We expect certain things from the church, the pastor, and God and when they are not forthcoming, we feel betrayed. There have been serious breaches of trust between church members as well as between pastors and churches.

But what happens when we betray God or feel betrayed by God? What happens when someone walks away from the faith that they have clearly demonstrated in their lives and says, ‘I no longer believe in Christianity or God?’ Or even, in a moment of weakness, make a choice to betray their Savior and Lord with a bad choice?

Over the years, I have heard it said by many people that the disciple they can identify with the most is Peter. I can too. Brash, an ‘insert foot in mouth before thinking’ kind of a person. Been there, done that!

But, I can also relate to Judas as well as I have betrayed Jesus in my life with my actions, words, and attitudes. What about you? As we consider this month what it means to have a heart for God, I would suggest this morning that Judas is someone that we need to pay attention to. (2)

(3) Specifically, we need to see Judas has having a misguided heart for God and it was misguided in two ways.

Judas was misguided by, first, misguided expectations.

Patrick Morley has written, ‘There is God who is and there is a God we want and the two are not the same.’

This holds true for Judas and it holds true for us. We may want to deny that this is true, but just like getting married, when we profess faith in Christ and accept His forgiveness of our sins, we bring a whole host of unexamined expectations with us that will, eventually, rise up and challenge us. Judas brought those expectations with him as Jesus called him to follow him.

Now, we don’t know much about Jesus’ call of Judas as we do the other disciples. But Jesus called Judas to ‘follow me.’ Yes, it was foretold that someone would betray Jesus and as we read the Gospel accounts, we read that Jesus made that clear. But we also need to understand that He did not say ‘who’ would betray Him. Only at the Last Supper would Jesus indicate that it would be one of them. This, as we read in Matthew 26:22, shocked them. “Greatly distressed, one by one they began to ask him, “I’m not the one, am I, Lord?”

Peter was a prime candidate for the position as we read in Luke 22:31, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to have all of you, to sift you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen and build up your brothers.” Jesus saw the vulnerability of Peter and He feared that Peter could break very easily under an attack of evil. Peter would deny that he knew Jesus, as Jesus predicted at this point.

But Judas was the one who would betray Jesus. He betrayed Jesus for money. However, he also betrayed Him because he had misguided expectations about Jesus and what He was going to do.

One reason that has been given for Judas’ betrayal is that Judas betrayed Jesus for political reasons so that the Romans could be overthrown and that the Kingdom of Israel would be restored. This line of thought indicates that Judas did what he did to force Jesus to rally the twelve and his other followers, and then use His power to demonstrate who He truly was. But Jesus had already been tempted to do that when Satan did so in the wilderness.

And this line of thinking was probably on Jesus’ mind when he tells Peter who slashes the ear of one of Jesus’ arresting party (as recorded in John 18:11) “Put your sword back into its sheath. Shall I not drink from the cup the Father has given me?”

The deed is done. He is betrayed for money, out of anger and misguided expectations of political greatness and power.

We have our own unmet expectations of God. Think about a disappointment that you have had where you did question God as you felt pain, anger, and disappointment.

What you were hoping for?

What you were hoping that God would do for you?

Was your expectation a reasonable or unreasonable one?

How did God let you down?

I recall a situation at one of the churches that I have served where I thought that a certain pastor would have made a great choice for the new senior pastor at this particular church. Now, I did not know who would be appointed and would not find out until 30 minutes before the Bishop read the appointments.

When I found out who it was, I was both disappointed and dismayed. The fit between us did not go well.

One person in that church was very happy about this pastor’s coming and this person was very upset with me about some decisions that I had made or wanted to make. So I could see difficulty coming and it did!

It was a difficult year and I spent a great deal of time in prayer (and in tears) until I realized that it was time to move on. I questioned God a great deal about the situation. I felt that God had deserted me (He really had not) and that this certainly was not God’s will.

But, as time went on, I realized that I had had certain expectations that were not realistic and that certain decisions were out of my control. I grew from that experience.

(4) Not only, then did Judas have a misguided heart he also had misguided priorities. We get a glimpse of this in John 12.

‘Six days before the Passover ceremonies began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus sat at the table with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with fragrance.

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples—the one who would betray him—said, “That perfume was worth a small fortune It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief who was in charge of the disciples’ funds, and he often took some for his own use.’

John’s final comment is very interesting, ‘Not that he cared for the poor—he was a thief who was in charge of the disciples’ funds, and he often took some for his own use.’

If we are going to have the right kind of a heart for the Lord, we need to have a heart that is guided by the Holy Spirit and embraces as well as expresses the priorities of scripture. Judas’ priorities were not those of Jesus. He had his own.

John’s statement indicates one of the many misguided priorities that we operate on – greed. Power was another priority that Judas operated under when he betrayed Jesus as well.

Jesus was focused on serving and salvation. Judas was focused on money and power. There is a vast difference between the two.

The Kingdom of God, as Jesus would explain to them, was about anything but greed and power. It was about responsibility and service. It was about caring and about making disciples and loving your enemies.

Judas didn’t get it… until it was too late as we read in Matthew 27 beginning with verse 3, ‘When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and other leaders. “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.”

“What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.” Then Judas threw the money onto the floor of the Temple and went out and hanged himself.’

Now in Acts 1:18 we read, “Judas bought a field with the money he received for his treachery, and falling there, he burst open, spilling out his intestines. The news of his death spread rapidly among all the people of Jerusalem, and they gave the place the Aramaic name Akeldama, which means “Field of Blood.”

These two passages give seemingly contradictory accounts of his death. However, what has traditionally been suggested is that the branch on which Judas hung himself broke and he died in the fall under the weight of his own body.

But, the tragedy of the story is that Judas did not realize until it was too late that his expectations and priorities were all wrong and that he dealt with his shame and pain in a way that God did not want to happen. When he saw that Jesus had been sentenced to death (something that he had not envisioned) his big dream turned into a nightmare.

Redemption and salvation was possible for Judas just like it is for each one of us. Betrayal does not have to lead to tragedy.

Last week we looked at Joseph and saw how his obedient heart for God kept him from giving up during difficult times and helped him do what was right for his family during a life-threatening situation.

(5) What do we learn from Judas? Three things: 1. that we need to examine constantly our expectations and priorities. 2. that we need to listen to God through scripture and prayer as He examines our expectations and priorities. 3. that we need to involve a group of believers in our lives who will help us sort out our expectations and priorities.

I think that Judas was the loner of the group. I think that he did not bond with the other eleven. Why Jesus picked him is a story that has yet to be told. Yet Jesus loved Judas as much as He loved the other eleven. However, Judas’ misguided heart caused him tremendous grief.

Keith Miller tells a gripping personal story about betraying some one in his book, Habitations of Dragons. He writes, ‘It was still very dark, but I was awake having been disturbed by a bad dream. I was weeping because the dream had recalled an experience in my adolescence which was so painful that I thought I would never be free from its haunting presence.’

Miller goes on to say that, the experience and the pain that accompanied it had ‘changed my whole life’ and how he viewed relationships and the issues of love, intergrity, and honesty in them.

Miller was a camp counselor one summer at boys’ summer came and met a camper named Mortey who became one of his favorite campers. Mortey, writes Miller, ‘was a cagey little performer’ who stole the show in the comedy that Miller had written for the camp program. He also noted that ‘he was outgoing and had lots of old-fashion guts and intelligence.’ Mortey was also a boy without a dad and would ‘reach up and take my hand when we were walking alone, as if I were his dad.’

Well the day came when the vote for junior honor camper had to be cast. It was a tie and Miller had to cast the deciding vote.

It was a very difficult decision and came down to Mortey and Bobby, another camper. ‘As I looked at these two boys and their camp records, I tried to be objective. Bobby was a much better athlete and had broken some records, but Mortey definitely had the edge in the human understanding department. They had both helped their tribes by winning contests and being friendly. It was easy to see why the vote had been tied.’

Miller continues, ‘I was miserable. Little Mortey had done a great job… but he was a little cockey, and he did have a few faults I knew about. This definitely gave Bobby a slight edge.’ Miller then acknowledged that everyone knew that he and Mortey had been close and ‘I was afraid that if I voted from Mortey the other counselors would think I was voting for him because of our friendship.’ Miller then decides, under the pressure of the situation to vote for Bobby.

But the decision left him with mixed feelings. ‘I knew that although I had been honest, I had somehow been wrong.’ Well the story does not end there.

Miller goes on to say that on the last day of camp, as the boys were all getting on the bus, Mortey came to Miller with tears in his eyes and face. Miller told the boy how much the friendship had meant to him. Then he went on to tell him the whole story about the vote and that he had voted for Bobby.

Miller said, ‘As I tried to explain why I had done it, the look on his face caught me off guard. I will never forget it. It haunts me still, because I saw the look of a soul betrayed by his dearest friend.’

‘I tried to grab him, to explain my feelings, but he broke loose, and wriggling between the last few campers, disappeared onto the bus.’ He goes on to say that, he tried to see Mortey’s face in the bus windows but could not and he ‘rode out of my life in a cloud of dust.’

We have been betrayed and we have betrayed because our expectations and priorities have been misguided by the selfishness and evil in our hearts and souls. But, there is hope. There is forgiveness and even if we are unable to make direct amends, we can do so in other ways so that the guilt and shame from our betrayals can be wiped away.

How is your heart for the Lord this morning? What are your expectations and motives for serving the Lord? I invite you this morning to come before the Lord and allow Him to examine your heart and help you have a heart that is truly guided by Him. Amen.

Sources: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. Published by Little, Brown, and Company. © 2005

Habitation of Dragons by Keith Miller. Published by Revell. © 1970, 1992

David, A Pursuing Heart for God

Scripture Passage- Psalm 63:1-5

Description – The third of series on ‘Developing a Heart for God’

(1) In the September 11th issue of the Los Angeles Times, Patrick Goldstein wrote an article entitled, ‘Five Years Later: Pop Culture of Denial.’ Its subtitle made a very interesting statement, ‘Our fascination with glitz is unabated, and artists remain cautious. We haven’t come to grips with 9/11.’

In the article Goldstein wrote, ‘Just days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a column ran in these pages saying how pop culture would be transformed by the carnage at the World Trade Center. “The terrorist attacks may have brought to a close a decade of enormous frivolity and escapism,” observed the writer. “Maybe Hollywood will recognize that Americans suddenly view the world as a more serious place. There’s a new moral gravity out there.”

He goes on to say, ‘That, alas, was me, blissfully unaware that it would take more than a horrific catastrophe to quench our thirst for the madcap antics of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Star Jones Reynolds, Jessica Simpson and all the other bobble heads bouncing around our celebrity universe. When it comes to frivolity, escapism and a lack of moral gravity, we haven’t lost a step, have we?’

Then he makes this very pointed statement, ‘Is it any wonder so many of us put on our wishful thinking caps, hoping that all this fascination with glitz — and the trashiness behind the glitz — would mercifully evaporate? But the truth is that the trauma of Sept. 11 did not change us, not so much because we live in a culture of superficiality as because we are imprisoned in a culture of hyperactivity.

(2) When I read Goldstein’s article I thought about our culture’s passion for stars. We have our music stars and I have no doubt that if I would ask you to name your favorite county music stars they would come fast and furious. Just ask our kids what their favorite cartoon character is and you would get a quick listing of names that sound foreign to your ears. Some of us would also name a favorite movie star or movie that we think others should see.

I sometimes think that there is no difference when it comes to the ministry because I believe that the same obsession often holds true. As I think back to the ‘stars of ministry’ in the past 25 years (which is the beginning point of full-time ministry for me), some have passed on and some are no longer ‘stars.’ Some have retired and serve in limited ways.

Two well-known pastors have been role models for me since the mid-90’s and their churches and books have been sources of inspiration. But they have given way to new ‘stars’ of ministry who are both men and women and run the gamut of Christianity. Last week’s issue of Time magazine highlighted some of them in its cover story.

However, that has been true throughout the history of our faith. There are the great names of the faith that are still looked to for guidance and inspiration. But, I remember hearing comments at my seminary, named for one of the early Church leaders of our nation, Francis Asbury, this question, ‘Who do we worship here John Wesley or Jesus?’

My point is this, to paraphrase Goldstein, we ‘hyperactively’ seem to pursue everything, namely new models for ministry, new themes and concepts of ministry, new ‘latest’ writers, new ‘latest’ churches, and new ‘latest’ pastors about the Christian faith everything… but God.’ Does the American Christian community still have a heart; a passion for the Lord?

I have to tell you that during my prayer time this week I spent some of it soul searching about this very thing. I get passionate about many things, but I have begun to ask myself, ‘Am I as passionate about God as I need to be and should be at this point?’ The answer is… no, I’m not.

(3) This is why we need to look at David, who had a pursuing heart for God. At one point in his life, he stopped pursuing God and he paid dearly for it. However, when we take a step back and look at his entire life, we see a man who had a single-minded passion for his God that caused him to pursue that God day in and day out to the end of his life.

Our main text for this morning is one of many illustrations in scripture of David’s pursuing heart for the Lord.

O God, you are my God;

I earnestly search for you.

Most likely, this Psalm was written during one of the low points in David’s life. It takes place during the very painful and difficult time when his son Absalom rebels and attempts to become the King of Israel.

The situation, as we read in 2 Samuel chapters 15 – 18, causes David to go on the run. It also ends in Absalom’s tragic death, which causes David to mourn deeply for his son in one of the most moving passages in the Bible, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I could have died instead of you! O Absalom, my son, my son.”

Talk about betrayal! Here is a king, a very beloved king, running for his life from a son who is attempting to overthrow his dad and take control of an entire nation.

But in the heat of the struggle, David, although he runs to save his life, runs to God and says, ‘O God, you are my God, I earnestly search for you.’

I hear a deep earnestness for the Lord in these words. I feel the passionate pursuit of a God who has been followed for years. How did this come about? How did David deal with the hyperactivity in his own life but passionately pursued God?

First, I think that this earnestness, this passionate pursuit, came from (4) the constant choice (which developed into a habit) of seeking and finding God.

It is a pursuit that we remember well in the story of David and Goliath as told in 1 Samuel 17 where we read of David’s disdain for the giant who mocks the ‘shaking in their boots’ Israelites. “Who is this pagan Philistine anyway, that he is allowed to defy the armies of the living God?”

It is expressed in his response to Goliath just prior to their battle when David says, “You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord Almighty—the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”

We also must remember that when Samuel anointed David to be the next king of Israel it was because the Lord told him that David was the one and the power of God, as we read in 1 Samuel 16, filled David as he was anointed. Though David disobeyed God, sinned later in his life, and compromised this power, it would return repeatedly to help him not just passionately pursue God but also obey God.

The second half of Psalm 63:1 reads

My soul thirsts for you;

my whole body longs for you

in this parched and weary land

where there is no water.

Here is a man of great power, hiding out like a fugitive, from a power hungry son. Why doesn’t David take control and deal harshly with his Absalom? Why does he run?

There is no doubt in my mind that David is thinking very deeply and very seriously about his situation and what he is going to do next. However, as he does so, he takes his focus off his problems, and his thoughts, and his heart turns to God and it is his God that He pursues.

Now David has been on the run before. As I read this verse I think of the time as recorded in 1 Chronicles 11:17-19 when David, hiding in caves and small towns from Saul, wished that he could have a drink of water from the well in Bethlehem. So three of his greatest warriors, at great risk to their lives, go behind the enemy lines and bring back some of that water. David refuses to drink it because the lives of his men are more important than having a drink of Bethlehem water.

David had his dry moments then, as he kept ahead of a jealous and revengeful Saul who sought to kill him. David had his dry moments when he languished in his sin and disobedience through his adulterous affair with Bathsheba. David has his dry moments when a rebellious and arrogant son tries to take the throne from him.

We too have dry moments. We have moments when life goes awry and we struggle to say on our feet and keep moving forward. Circumstances and evil conspire to knock us down and keep us down. In those moments, who (or what) do you turn to?

David had his chance to kill Saul as well and yet he did not. How would you respond if you had a chance to topple an enemy who was trying to do away with you? How would you deal with a co-worker who kept on undermining you and calling your work into question? How would you deal with a fellow student who delighted in bullying you and taunting you?

Twice in 1 Samuel (chapters 24 and 26) we read of the opportunity for David to end the conflict and kill Saul who presented a very clear and easy target. But David did not do it because he believed that Saul was still God’s anointed king and could not kill him. He still was in pursuit of doing God’s will and though he would stumble and fall, combining adultery with murder; at this point, he would not kill Saul.

These dry moments, these moments when faith was tested and tempted, when circumstances were overwhelming and could cause even the most resolute person to want either give up or compromise, David’s pursuing heart, kept his focus on God and not his circumstances. The hyper-activeness of his circumstances did not keep him from pursuing his God.

Therefore, in this first verse of Psalm 63 we understand that David was in passionate pursuit of God because it was God who had, and would continue, to sustain him. In verses 3 and 5, we come to two critical ways that God sustains David.

(5) The first way God sustains David is revealed in Verse 3 that says:

Your unfailing love is better to me than life itself;

how I praise you!

David thought a great deal about God’s love. He wrote, in this Psalm and others, about God’s love. But most important, (5a) he experienced God’s love in the dry desert of despair and uncertainty.

He experienced God’s love when he took on Goliath because God’s love is tough when the going gets tough. God’s love is demanding – it demands obedience – and David would learn that lesson.

This unfailing love came to be central to David’s passionate pursuit. He loved God and he knew that God loved him! He knew that it was an unfailing love.

(5b) A second way that God sustains David is stated in verse 5:

You satisfy me more than the richest of foods.

I will praise you with songs of joy.

David is not only sustained by God’s love, God’s provisions that satisfy David also sustain him.

In 1 Timothy 6:6 we read ‘true religion with contentment is great wealth.’ Over the years, through the habit of pursuing the Lord, David learned to be content with God’s necessities and gifts.

I confess that discontentment has driven me to leave my pursuit of God for what has appeared to be ‘greener’ pastures only to find out that it was green dirt!

David learned that God’s provisions would protect him in the wilderness as a shepherd, on the front line against a man many times his size, when being pursued by an angry King, during a time of punishment, and when a rebellious son seeks to overthrow him. David learned how to be content with what the Lord had given to him and he was happy with it!

(6) I think that David would have been a star today. He would have been sought after by the paparazzi and consider one of the world’s greatest leaders. Other leaders and people from everywhere would have sought him out. He would have lived a life of hyperactivity in the public eye. His son Solomon would be this way.

Yet David chose the other way, a way of sacrificing his agenda for that of God’s agenda. His heart was focused on God. He pursued God with a relentless passion and love. Though he failed, the overall direction of his life was in one direction – God’s direction.

(7) How do we follow David’s example?

1 (7a) Make it a habit of your heart. We all have habits. Some of those habits are good and some are not. David made it a habit to pursue God. It was a good habit.

2 (7b) Be sustained by God’s love. When David had those periods of time in his life that we all have, times of discouragement, fear, and defeat, he kept returning to the sustaining ability of God’s love to carry him through. God’s love is a key ingredient in having a heart for God.

3 (7c) Be content with God’s provisions. David learned the hard way what happens when discontentment enters the picture. Again, when we look at the entirety of his life, we see evidence of contentment running through out it. Despite all the trappings of power, despite all the success that he had, despite the ability and blessings that he was given, David learned how to be content in situations both hard… and easy. Contentment is vital in having a heart for the Lord.

One of the classical literary tales is that of Ulysses who had to navigate successfully past the Isle of Sirens during a part of his journey. Beautiful women called sirens whose lovely singing could draw ships off course and onto the rocks where ships and men would perish inhabited the Isle of Sirens. Ulysses decided to tie himself to the mast of his ship and plug his ears with wax so that he would not hear the sirens’ song.  In another classical literary tale, Orpheus and the Argonauts escaped them when Orpheus, sitting on the deck of his ship unbound, took out his musical instrument and sang a song that was as clear and beautiful as the sirens’ were and thus kept his men and himself from crashing into the rocks.

Harry Emerson Fosdick has drawn some parallels to these stories regarding hearing God’s voice and responding in the right way to the challenges and temptations to go our own way. He describes Ulysses’ response to the sirens as a ‘picture of a man’s pitiful attempts after negative goodness.’ Then he describes Orpheus’ response as evidence of ‘positive goodness’ as he says that ‘their (the sirens) alluring songs were to him (Orpheus)’ discordant sounds.

There are many voices, many sounds, and many sights that tempt us to go any direction but the Lord’s direction. We are faced with a culture hyperactivity that can keep us from having a pursuing heart for God. But, David’s example for us demonstrates that we can shut out the hyperactivity and focus on the Lord and have a pursuing heart for God.

David is like Orpheus. He sang a song of love and commitment to the Lord and it kept him, for the most part, from crashing on the rocks.

The King that preceded him, Saul, is like Ulysses. He tried and tried to obey God but he heard the song of his ego and he lost the throne of Israel.

Interestingly enough, the heart issue is raised by Samuel in his rebuke of Saul after Saul disobeyed one last time which ended God’s favor for him. We read it in 1 Samuel 13:14 ‘But now your dynasty must end, for the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart. The Lord has already chosen him to be king over his people, for you have not obeyed the Lord’s command.”

Who are you listening to these days? Is it the voices of a hyperactive culture that would lead you in complete disorder but the right one? Or is it the voice of a God who created you, who knows you by name, who knows you better than anyone else?

Hear the Lord this morning as He calls to you to come to Him, and only Him. If you are slipping, call out to Him, even now, and allow Him to help you turn in His direction. Amen.

Sources:

Goldstein article can be found at http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/cl-et-gold11sep11,0,314202.htmlstory

The Sirens story can be found at http://www.thanasis.com/sirens.htm

Jesus, A Total Heart for God

(1) Do you know that three months from today is Christmas Eve? (2) And yes, three months tomorrow is Christmas!

When I realized this, I did some research and came across this humorous and poignant story about two things that go together – Christmas and Kids.

(3) ‘A group of first graders decided that they were going to produce their very own Christmas program and so they produced their own updated nativity story.

All the major characters were there – Joseph, the shepherds, the wise men from afar… but where was Mary?

Shortly after the production began, there was heard from behind some bales of straw moaning and groaning – Mary was in labor!

A doctor with a white coat and a black bag was then ushered onto the stage and disappeared with Joseph behind the bales of straw. After a few moments, the doctor emerged from behind the bales of straw with a jubilant smile on his face and holding a baby in his arms.

He then announced to the audience, ‘It’s a GOD!’

It’s a GOD! It’s Emmanuel! It’s ‘God with us!’ It’s Jesus!

(4) This morning we conclude our September series with Jesus as the last of four Biblical examples of what it means to have (or, in the case of Judas, not have) a heart for God.

(5) The first person we studied in our series was Joseph who had an obedient heart for the Lord.

(6) The second person we studied was Judas who, we learned, had a misguided heart for the Lord.

(7) Then last week we studied David who had a pursuing heart for God.

Throughout our series we have been asked, ‘Do you have a heart for God?’ ‘Do you have a passion for God?’ Not for the church or the Christian life or Christian culture but for the Lord Himself?

Again, as we begin this sermon, I ask each of us this morning, ‘Do we have a passion for the Lord?’

In our main text for this morning, we clearly see that total heart; the total passion Jesus had for God the Father. We also feel it because we have been in situations (not has severe as this one however) that has tested our resolve to follow the Lord.

Jesus throughout his earthly ministry demonstrated this total heart for God in two key ways.

(8) He first demonstrated His total heart by (a) His resistance to compromise.

We read of this in Matthew 4:1-13 where Jesus resists the temptations of Satan to compromise Himself and His mission. The temptations that He faced, we face as well.

(b) There is the temptation for instant gratification. Granted, Jesus was in desperate need of food after 40 days of going without it. Yet to take the ‘shortcut’ Satan was offering would have demonstrated a lack of faith in God the Father to provide for a very legitimate need. All of us have legitimate needs for things like food, clothing, shelter, and relationships. Yet when we attempt to obtain them right now in our impatience or anxiety we often make choices that we later regret.

(c) There is the temptation to worship the wrong thing. In the second sermon of this series, we studied the tragic situation of Judas. Part of Judas’ problem is that he wanted to be powerful and he was hoping that Jesus would exercise that power to change things for the better and enable Judas to become powerful. Jesus was not seduced at this point to worship the wrong thing and He would not give in to the temptation to run away or do what many had hoped that he would do in securing the Kingdom of Israel at the critical point He had reached in our main text. We can choose many idols to worship – but in doing so we compromise our heart for the Lord.

(d) There is the temptation to test God’s limits. The final temptation to test the Lord’s limits is tragically demonstrated in the life of Israel’s first king, Saul.

He was smart, intelligent, and very capable. But he also compromised his mission as we read in 1 Samuel 15 when he failed to do what God had told him to do regarding a captured king and his people. Samuel delivers the awful news to Saul in verses 22 and 23, ‘“What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Obedience is far better than sacrifice. Listening to him is much better than offering the fat of rams. Rebellion is as bad as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as bad as worshiping idols. So because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you from being king.”

His failure to obey and stay within the mission he had been give tested God’s limits and finally causes the Lord to withdrawal his favor from Saul as king.

Jesus did not test God’s limits. He knew that to do so would open the way for further testing and probable failure.

‘Now, Jim wait a minute. Jesus was the Son of God; Jesus was perfect because He was God!’ And you are right, He was perfect!

But Jesus was also human as we read in Hebrews 4:14-16, ‘…we have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God. Let us cling to him and never stop trusting him. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it.’

In resisting compromise and temptation, Jesus stood strong and that kept His heart totally focused on and for God.

(9) The second key way that Jesus kept His total focus on the Father was by maintaining His relationship with the Father. How did He do that?

(a) First, and this is very important,… He never forgot whose He was!

Now, say with me… I am somebody! Say with me now, Whose somebody am I?

Whose are you? You are the Lord’s! Say with me, ‘I am the Lord’s!’

Peter’s great affirmation as recorded in the Matthew 16:16 says it all! “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus never forgot whose He was. He knew that He was God’s.

We have a tendency to forget whose we are! We slip here, slide over there, and just plain fall down up yonder!

We seek after this and after that, and then forget where we are, and then find ourselves where we don’t want to be!

Jesus didn’t! And because He didn’t… He kept His heart and passion focused on God and… this is equally important… everything He did flowed out from that identity.

(b) He also maintained His relationship with the Father by staying on His mission.

We have a clear indication of this as we read in Luke 4:42-44, ‘Early the next morning Jesus went out into the wilderness. The crowds searched everywhere for him, and when they finally found him, they begged him not to leave them. But he replied, “I must preach the Good News of the Kingdom of God in other places, too, because that is why I was sent.” So he continued to travel around, preaching in synagogues throughout Judea.’

His mission was preaching the Good News and it was also dying on the cross for our sins. Our main text for this morning makes that clear. Nothing else, not even the deep and breaking needs of the people, kept Jesus from His mission.

(c) Finally, Jesus kept His total heart for the Lord by completing the mission He had been given.

“My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine.”

How often do we pray ‘your will be done’ and mean it? For Jesus however, it was more than a prayer, it was His mission. He just did not pray ‘your will be done,’ He lived ‘your will be done!’

In the challenge and the stress of facing a cruel and certain death, Jesus did struggle in completing His mission in this manner. He did agonize over the situation. Yet He did not give up that mission. He prayed and He lived ‘your will be done.’

What is your mission in life? What have you been created to do?

It is more than 12-hour days of work and homework and housework. It is more than getting up and caring for sick and hurting family. It is more than just going from Sunday to Saturday to Sunday to Saturday.

On October 8th we are going to start a 40 Days of Purpose series with several guest speakers to share with us and they will help us to understand that our purpose, our mission is more than just existing, than just getting by. Our mission and purpose is to become the children of God that we were created to be and that God has always intended the human race to be and to help others do the same.

This mission is huge! It is bigger than each of us! It is a life-changing mission! Our mission can be summarized in the Great Commandment to love God and neighbor and the Great Commission to make disciples, in other words, passionate followers of Christ.

What has become your mission at this point in life? Simply hanging on? Getting to retirement? Having more and more things?

(10) Are you satisfied with your current mission? People and the Devil would love to give us more and more missions so that we simply would just keep going in circles. But, if we are going to have a passion for the Lord, we need to discern and focus on what the Lord has for us to do. There are many agendas out there than can be distracting and ultimately move us in a different direction from what the Lord wants. Some of those agendas are very good agendas. Some are not.

Another challenge is that we are wired differently for the same overall purpose. Paul reminds us of that in 1 Corinthians 12. Yet we struggle here as well because, to paraphrase Paul, those who are ‘eyes’ have a tendency to think we all need to be ‘eyes’ and those who are ‘feet’ think that being ‘feet’ is where it is at!

But we need to remember what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:27, ‘Now all of you together are Christ’s body, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it.’

Jesus stayed focus on His mission because He chose, and kept choosing, to follow the Father. His heart, His passion was one of a total heart for the Lord.

One of my favorite films is ‘Chariots of Fire,’ based on the true story of Eric Liddell who was an Olympic athlete for England 80 years ago. He was a runner and won a gold medal at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris.

At one point in the movie, his sister Jenny chides him for his running believing that running is a meaningless activity and the preparation for the ministry is more important. His response is one of those memorable movie lines, ‘But when I run, I feel His pleasure.’ Liddell would go on to be a missionary to China who died 20 years later in a prison camp during World War 2.

I think that Joseph felt God’s pleasure as he obeyed even in difficult circumstances. I think that David felt God’s pleasure as he pursued and found God throughout his life. I think that Jesus felt the Father’s pleasure in His total pursuit of the Father’s plan hard though it was to follow that plan to completion. I think that Judas missed it all because he had the wrong agenda.

What about you? What is your agenda? Are you living as well as praying ‘your will, not my will be done?’ Do you feel the pleasure of God in your life? Do you wish to feel the pleasure of God in your life?

You can. But what is required is to let go and pray and live ‘your will be done.’ What is holding you back? Pride? Fear? Disappointment? Bitterness? Resentment?

You cannot let those things stop you because you will be (if you are not already) miserable. How is your heart for the Lord this morning?

What is the Holy Spirit saying to you this morning? Are you willing to obey it? The altar is open for prayer. Amen.