It seems that everyone has an opinion about how to obey God: some say there is no God to obey at all, while others create rigid sets of rules that must be followed in order to please God. Many other viewpoints exist, as well, but who is right? And what does this have to do with the biblical story of Jesus saying to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” in Matthew 16:21-28? Click the link below to hear Pastor David’s message on this passage.
Many of us were missing this past Sunday for various reasons, and those of us who were in the Lord’s house felt the difference. Unfortunately, our recording device didn’t record the sermon this week, so we don’t have the usual sermon audio backup for those who were away. Let me say, briefly, that while our sermon audio postings are helpful for visitors, distant friends, and church workers who are out of the sanctuary, there is no substitute for regular, consistent meetings with the people of God. Simply put, we belong together, and we suffer when we are apart from each other.
This ties in directly to the sermon text from this past Sunday, Romans 12:1-8. Take a few minutes to find and read that passage in your Bible. We belong together, Paul says! As part of the same body, the body of Christ, we have different functions, roles, and gifts. And each of us belongs to all the others. This is a type of lifestyle that differs greatly from the natural order of things, the way the world works: normally, people (especially American people) consider themselves to be independent creatures, able to act as they please without regard for others. In the body of Christ, though, we exist differently: we are to live for the sake of the whole and for the sake of Christ. Life in the church truly is an alternative community.
With this in mind, the issue of “spiritual gifts” becomes more clear. We are given gifts by the Spirit of God not for our own sake but for the sake of the church community to which we belong. On Sunday, we studied Romans 12 to see what Paul identified as gifts for everyone in the community, not just for its leaders:
- Prophesying: preaching, speaking words from God to edify the church
- Serving: ministering, taking care of the details of the church’s life
- Teaching: conveying the truths of the gospel for those who are learning
- Encouraging: urging fellow believers to live the life of faith
- Giving: contributing and distributing material goods for the church and for others
- Leading: charting the course for the church
- Showing mercy: visiting the sick, elderly, imprisoned, etc. (among other tasks)
These seven gifts were not intended to be comprehensive; neither were the lists of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4. Instead, they are illustrations and examples; in whatever ways God has given you abilities and interests, use those gifts for the sake of the church. And this applies to everyone, not just to the leaders of the church. (Take another look at the list above; don’t those things sound like the job descriptions of the pastor and the church council?) Paul is speaking to everyone in the Christian community in Rome (and to us!) when he writes these words.
We belong to each other. We need each other! God has blessed each of us uniquely to play important roles in the life of the church. Let’s discover our gifts and use them for the glory of God and for the growth of the church to which we belong!
As I mentioned last week, we are in the midst of blackberry season here at the parsonage. Every couple of days, I head out to the edge of the woods and pick another quart or so of berries. (We’re always up for sharing, these, by the way – if you’d like some, just let us know!) This summer, I’ve taken the opportunity to watch these plants and the growth and development of their fruit. I’ve learned a lot, and you probably won’t be surprised to hear that I see some connections between this blackberry business and our walk as disciples of Christ.
When picking berries, you have to watch out for thorns. These plants have a natural defense system that can be a bit painful for the careless berry picker. The thorns often dig into my jeans and my shirt, and I’m glad to take the time to pull them away from my clothing because I realize I don’t have to pull them out of my skin. Patience, persistence, and careful attention to the task at hand are some of the benefits of practicing this discipline. How often do we as followers of Christ need to learn these things? While we work to harvest good crops (that means other people) for the Lord, we may be stuck by thorns, but the harvest still awaits!
I’ve been surprised by some plants that have been broken or damaged in the past. Even though a plant is weakened and literally bends at a 90 degree angle, it can still produce good fruit. Sometimes the fruit is of lower quality than the completely healthy plants, but sometimes the fruit is perfect. Who among us is without breaks or cracks in our personal histories? If God can cause a broken blackberry plant to produce good fruit (even though the break is obvious to everyone), then he surely can help a broken person to walk in faith and produce good fruit as well.
Finally, our blackberry plants have to compete with a few other plants for space, nutrients, and sunlight. One vine in particular is very good at wrapping itself around other plants and growing very quickly. I’ve had to pull out some of these vines in order to get to the good plants. Several weeks ago, I commented in our Sunday morning service that I couldn’t tell weed from good plant – but now I certainly can! Once the fruit appears, it’s very easy to know which plant is which. That reminds me of some words of Jesus:
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” (Matthew 7:15-20 NIV)
Friends, bear good fruit for the Lord. Watch out for worldly influences that do not reflect Christ’s character. Allow the Lord to form, shape, prune, and cultivate you so that his harvest will be great.
The Sunday morning church hour is often considered to be the most segregated hour in America. Warner Sallman’s “Head of Christ” is a well-known representation of our Savior, but it might be a little historically inaccurate. Once, in Matthew 15:21-28, a Canaanite woman stood up to Jesus in a battle of words. What do these ideas have to do with each other? Click the link below to hear Pastor David’s message on the state of our dividedness.
One of the joys of dog ownership is cleaning up after the dogs when they’re sick. Wait, did I say “joys”? I meant “trials.” This time the culprit is our girl, Lindy – I think she may have picked up a bit of a bug, or perhaps she ate too many blackberries from our back yard. In any case, the past week or so has been less than pleasant for all of us. But as I cleaned up after her for the third or fourth time, I thought to myself, “There’s a sermon in this.”
No matter how many times Lindy makes a mess in her crate or in our mud room, Tara and I will clean it up. We’re certainly not happy that she does it, and after a while we’ve come to realize that she doesn’t do it on purpose. That helps to reduce our anger toward her; in fact, when I was cleaning up after Lindy this week, I found myself feeling sorry for her that she felt so sick.
Theologically speaking, the correlation between my relationship with Lindy and God’s relationship with any of his people is pretty weak. In fact, the analogy breaks down at a fundamental level. We often do make messes of our lives: not simply through mistakes, but through something quite displeasing to the Lord – sin. I imagine that our propensity to sin again and again smells pretty rotten in God’s nose.
But sin isn’t quite like Lindy’s sickness. While my dog might get sick because of something she ate, we sin against God willfully, deliberately, on purpose. And to our shame we find ourselves continuing to sin even after we initially accept God’s gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. (Remember my understanding of holiness: we do not become “perfect” in the sense of never sinning again; our perfection lies in wholeheartedly loving God and other people. Sin is still a possibility for those who have been saved.)
How amazing God’s love and forgiveness are, given this recurrence of sin in our lives! I willingly clean up after my dog when she has an accident; God willingly forgives our sins even when we offend him intentionally. I love my dog and remember that she does not mean to make my life difficult; God loves us even though we make his life difficult. God cleans up our messes time and time again – thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Friends, remember that the Lord is slow to anger and abounding in love (Jonah 4:2). Remember that the Lord calls us to live holy lives and that he desires for us to live free from the power of sin. And remember God’s words of comfort and challenge found in Romans 6, which is your reading assignment for this week.
Elijah, one of the greatest Old Testament prophets, saw the God of Israel do some amazing things in his day. Yet when popular sentiment turned against him, he experienced something we all feel occasionally: complete abandonment and loneliness. Click the link below to hear Pastor David tell the story of 1 Kings 19:9-18 and connect God’s response to Elijah to today’s world.
“We thank You, O God! We give thanks because You are near. People everywhere tell of Your wonderful deeds.” (Psalm 75:1 NLT)
Word travels quickly in a small church, and if you’re reading this on paper, then this is probably old news to you: this week, I was involved in a car crash. On the way to the Detroit airport, my sister-in-law and I got off the highway for a pit stop, and we were rear-ended by another driver while I was changing lanes. Both Leah and I were unharmed except for some soreness the next morning, and to the best of my knowledge, the other driver was not seriously hurt. Leah’s car, which I was driving, is pretty well banged up, though.
Automobile accidents like these are such random occurrences. Any number of choices, actions, or other incidents could have changed the outcome of this event. If only we had left home a minute or two earlier or later; if only I had set the cruise control a hair lower when we first got on the highway; if only we had to stop for gas before we left home…
I am reminded of the terrible collision that occurred in 2006, while I was a math teacher at Taylor University in Indiana. You may have heard of it: a semi-truck crossed the median and hit a van full of Taylor students and staff going the opposite direction. Four students and a staff member were killed; the driver, the front passenger, and one other student survived. Here, the “if only”s involve microseconds: a split second one direction, and no collision happens; a split second the other direction, and the driver, the front passenger, and the other surviving student may not have been so fortunate.
Does God design these events to happen? Does God control the variables? Does God determine who survives car crashes and who doesn’t?
In times like these, it’s helpful for me to count our blessings, with the full awareness that many other people have not been so fortunate. I am thankful that we were hit squarely in the back of the car and not on either the driver’s or passenger’s sides. I am thankful that there was no oncoming traffic, so we were able to careen to the other side of the street without causing more destruction. I am thankful that Leah was able to make her flight on time, thanks to the police officer calling a cab for us. I am thankful that we all have another day to breathe, to enjoy God’s creation, to tell of his mercies, to rest in him.
Personally, I don’t believe God predestines the outcomes of car crashes and other random human events. I think he may very well be surprised when these events occur, just as we are. But I do believe wholeheartedly that God walks with us through times of trial, that God grants peace to his people no matter the circumstance, and that no matter what happens to us, he will care for us. Thanks be to God!
Jacob wrestled with a man in Genesis 32:22-32 – or did he wrestle with God? He won the match but suffered a dislocated hip. He got a new name but didn’t learn the name of his opponent. How can this ancient, mysterious story connect to our lives today? Click the link below to hear Pastor David’s message on this passage.