Equip the Saints

Ephesians 4.1-16.

As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by the idea of equipping the saints for the work of service/ministry. Paul makes a big deal about the unity that we have in the body (the church – one body, one Spirit, etc.). Somehow this one body is given gifted leaders and brought together for a purpose…for a mission…and that is the work of service/ministry. So who are the works of service directed toward? And within the body, who is responsible for carrying them out? When we say we are an equipping church, what does that mean?

I shared two tweets this past week about this topic… “Equipping the saints is helping believers see life as ministry” and “Equipping the saints is preparing the troops for warfare in the trenches.” Both tweets are variations on the same theme. You see, Paul says here that gifted leaders equip the saints…who are the saints? Well, if you have trusted in Jesus, then you are in the saint category. And what are we being equipped for? Works of service. OK. What does that mean?

Often when this passage is taught, the idea is propagated that we need to train children’s workers to work with children, small group leaders to lead small groups, outreach folks to share the gospel, etc. And those things are all definitely a part of equipping as we work toward the goal of maturity, but I would say many of those functions have an internal focus. They are an integral part of building up the body. Those are good things, and we need folks serving in those areas…but those are also equipping ministries. What are they equipping for? Works of service. But let me challenge you. Who receives those works of service? Is it believers only. I hope not. Paul includes evangelists in the list. Let me propose that our primary ministry is outside the walls of a building at a particular address. It’s in the marketplace and in the schoolyard. It’s with our families and our friends. It’s when we walk outside these doors. Being an equipping church means that we are like the gym. You come to the church to train…to prepare for the fight, to get ready for the big race. And after doing your bag work, the speed and agility drills, maybe a little foot work…once you walk out those doors, ministry starts. Too often we limit our concept of ministry to a church campus. We come to church to be fed…and then what. We check off the church box and head out for lunch. During the week we have our work or school boxes, our family boxes, our alone time boxes, etc. Each separate. Ministry happens when I’m at church or in small group or doing a service project. It doesn’t bleed into any other area of our lives. It shouldn’t be that way. We have to blow up our boxes. We need to see all of life as ministry. Opportunities abound to share the gospel, to enter into another person’s story, to minister to their needs, and to introduce them to the Story.

But the works of service are a communal project. It’s as the body works together using its gifts that it matures. See the idea of the body being built up includes both internal and external growth. And we keep working at it until Jesus comes back. Two other things that struck me from this passage…the importance of the truth, the faith to the health of the body (children tossed here and there…remember the friendly fire we talked about last week from those within the body who want their ears tickled) and the centrality of love. They are tied together. Truth – sound doctrine – and love. It’s the only way to have biblical unity. Without truth, without the one faith, there is nothing that unites us. Without love, we cannot reflect Jesus. Love is the main apologetic. It’s also the goal of unity and maturity.

As I thought about my own life, it reminded me of when Jack and I decided to try tae kwon do. The first day we entered the dojo, it was clear that the goal was for us to be black belts. Even thought there were a number of them present, the sensei didn’t consider his job done until we all crossed the finished line. Until we all attained to the unity of the…chi??? The idea in this passage is very similar…it’s not about one us making it to maturity. It’s a group project. The job’s not done until we all attain to the unity of the faith…

But what about you? What do you do with this? You have listened to the messages thus far and have believed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that through believing you have life in His name. You have realized that the whole of scripture is about loving God and loving people. You are excited about becoming a disciple of Christ and making disciples as the Word of God takes root in your life. You see its power to transform and guide your life. Now comes the hard part. You realize that the earthly expression of God’s truth in this present age is the church, and God has placed you here. You have to join these other strangers, some of whom just seem strange, standing around you in this place and somehow become one cohesive body, so that together we can storm the gates of hell and rescue the captives as sons and daughters of the King, who ourselves have been rescued.

This story challenges us toward unity within the body, marked by truth in love. Interestingly enough, the body only works properly as each member does its part. It also challenges us toward loving and ministering to those outside the body. So how about it? Will you come with me and race toward the finish line together?

My prayer for us this week is that we take seriously loving God and loving others, making disciples of all nations, proclaiming the truth, and doing the work of ministry.

Until next time…stay salty.

For an mp3 of this sermon, visit us online at: http://www.centralchristian.org. You can follow me on facebook or twitter: mattdumas1969.

 

Preach the Word

2 Timothy 3.10-4.5. As I reflected on this passage, I was blown away by Paul’s desperate appeal to Timothy to stay true to the Word. The last words of a dying man. So I have a question, What is truth? And what does it have to do with preaching the Word? And what does that have to do with me?

I shared a tweet this week… “Truth is relevant, not relative.” For me, that is why fidelity to the truth, the biblical story is so important. Because like we said last week, ever since the fall, our natural orientation is very earthy and self-centered. We tend to ask, “What’s in it for me?” It’s our time, our finances, our resources. We are too busy running our own universe to give loving God, much less loving people, a second thought.

Adam and Eve in the garden. Tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What knowledge did Adam and Eve gain when they ate of the fruit…the serpent promises that they would be like God, knowing good and evil. But didn’t they already know what was good? Wasn’t that God’s assessment of creation? Didn’t they know that God was good and the Definer of the good? So what did they gain? They gained the ability to define the good for themselves. Now they could determine what was good and evil, what was right and wrong, what was true, apart from what God had revealed. In becoming their own gods, they also became their own barometers of truth. And so truth would seemingly become relative. But the truth has never been relative. When heaven and earth split apart in the fall, it was those who looked to the things above, to the heavenly realities who followed God and were willing/able to see the truth as truth. Those focused on earthy realities continued to define truth according to their own image, according to their own sliding scale.

When we first trust in Jesus, the Bible says that we are new creatures; but our perspective isn’t automatically realigned. The noetic effects of sin, vestiges of the flesh and a culture hell-bent on dragging us away from God tend to keep us very earthy and self-centered. And we continue to look like the world around us. We see truth as relative. And that’s why fidelity to the Scriptures and preaching the Word has to be foundational.

Last week we said discipleship is the process of learning to think and act differently. To reorient our perspective so that we begin to see the world through God’s eyes and to respond to others the way He would. It’s not an automatic process, but a change in lifestyle. Paul calls it “being transformed by the renewing of the mind.” And that only happens as we become immersed in the Story, as we remind ourselves who we are and what God is calling us to. It’s learning to see my resources – my time, my money, my relationships, my life – through God’s eyes.

As I thought about my own life, I had made the decision long ago that the Bible was true. I don’t remember consciously saying it. And I don’t remember anyone telling me that. It’s just the way I’ve approached it for as long as I can remember. I’ve never had a problem with a six day creation, a worldwide flood, the walls of Jericho falling at a trumpet blast, the sun standing still for Joshua or the shadow moving back up the stairs for Hezekiah. I’ve never questioned the reality of angels or demons or the resurrection from the dead. The Bible said it, and I believed it.

I remember being in college at a “Christian” university when a professor began to teach that the Bible really wasn’t true. That it was good for moral instruction, but not really reliable historically, that science had already debunked the creation myth and the flood account. The world was surely the result of an evolutionary process that took hundreds of millions of years. It disturbed me greatly that he could/would take that stance. I listened to his arguments, but never wavered. I don’t know why I didn’t. Untrained, undiscipled, and not really walking with the Lord at that time. Now I’m even more convinced that the Bible is God’s Word…and that it is true. And my commitment is to teach the truth and to say the hard things even if they are not popular because that’s what I know to do. I’ve seen too many churches that have strayed from making the Word central and have wandered into dangerous territory. I don’t want that to be me. I don’t want that to be us.

One of the scariest things for me in this passage is the fact that the challenges to the truth come from within the church. If we do not have a strong commitment as a church to the truth of the Scriptures and sound doctrine, then we as a church will be in danger of falling into error. We all have to be committed. Because false doctrine may seem to start innocently enough with an applicational thought, “This is what this means to me…” which become a deadly disease that spreads throughout the body. And it generally happens when we let culture define truth. It may influence application, but it must not define truth. And the church disintegrates from the inside. It’s insidious – you need to be happy (back to fall, you are the center – the Eve story) … Right and wrong isn’t my opinion, but what Scriptures say.

But what about you? Does culture define truth? Or does God’s Word? Is right and wrong a matter of opinion, or clearly laid out in Scripture? A friend of mine issued a healthy challenge to me on this passage. He said, “You’ve convinced me that sound doctrine is important. You’ve convinced me that truth is not relative. So what? What do I do? Now that I am convinced of this, how is it going to change my life? What does it look like for me, Joe audience member with no formal training and a fear of speaking? Or me, high school sophomore in a public school for the first time?” Paul writes to Timothy. I’m not Timothy. I’m not leading a church. I’m not a preacher. So I must be off the hook. Not quite. Paul says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction…”

Two things: First, hold fast to the conviction that the Word is true in your own life. Keep reminding yourself of the Story and where and how you fit into it. Don’t let culture define truth. Leave that to the Bible. Second, the word that Paul uses for preach can also be translated proclaim. Proclaim God’s truth, His Word in your relationships. Proclaim it to your family – believing or unbelieving. Proclaim it in the workplace. Proclaim it at school. Proclaim it when it’s popular and when it’s not. Don’t waver in your conviction. You will be tested. You will be persecuted. You will be counter-cultural. But you will also experience the peace of God and more confidence in your walk with Him.

This story challenges us to move away from the cultural trend to define truth as relative and to redouble our commitment to God’s Word. To boldly proclaim the faith that we hold to and introduce others to the Story. We expect attacks from the outside, but I pray that it doesn’t come from within.

My prayer this week is that we will take seriously our commitment to stay true to God’s Word even when it isn’t popular and even when it may cost us, that we would keep preaching the Word central.

Until next time…stay salty.

To hear an mp3 of this sermon, visit us online at: http://www.centralchristian.org.

 

The Next Chapter

Last night we finished the book of Acts. After a harrowing boat ride, Paul finally arrives in Rome. Along the way he ministers not only to sailors and military personnel, but also to the island inhabitants of Malta. The gospel continues to spread. And in Rome he meets with the Jews living there to discuss the charges against him. He presents the hope of the gospel fulfilled in Jesus, but the group rejects the message. Once again he turns to the Gentiles.

Several themes came up as we talked last night. We clearly see God at work expanding His kingdom, directing both individuals and the church. The gospel spreads from Jerusalem to Rome, and the church, which began as a Jewish body, quickly incorporates all nations in fulfillment of Genesis 12 (that through Abraham all the nations of the world would be blessed). Opposition grows but the church overcomes. The resurrection is the primary emphasis of the speeches given by major characters in the story like Peter, Stephen and Paul.

The narrative ends with the obvious questions: What happened to Paul? What’s the rest of the story? Luke leaves room for us to add our own chapter. The story of the church and the expansion of God’s kingdom is not finished yet. The story continues still today. But I wonder what those early believers would think of this chapter. Would they recognize the church they fought so hard to establish? When I read about the way that they loved and sacrificed and engaged their culture, I really wonder.

Discussing Hitchens’ book, God Is Not Great, with some friends I realized what a stinging indictment his book is against Christianity. The fact that he could lump all of Christendom into the same category of the other world religions so easily, shows that the church as a whole is failing at its job to be salt and light. That an atheist who has had as much contact with Christians as Hitchens did throughout his life is unable to caveat his statements about Christianity because he saw something different about the believers he encountered is telling.

Luke ends the book of Acts with the statement, “Boldly and without hindrance he (Paul) preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” I wonder how boldly we are preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about Jesus through both word and action to a world that so desperately needs to hear…

Until next time…stay salty.

 

On trial

Ever gotten in trouble for something you didn’t do? I have. I was in the second grade. It was early Monday morning. After breakfast, Dad began, “Son, I heard that some kids were throwing rocks (it was gravel) at each other yesterday evening at church and hit several cars. Do you know anything about it?” “No, Dad,” was my immediate response. “Are you sure, because someone said that they saw you out there with them?” I replied a little more apprehensively this time, “I saw the kids, but I wasn’t throwing rocks.” “Son, I think you’re lying to me.” Growing terror now, “No, Dad, I wasn’t throwing rocks!” Several swats later with tears streaming down my face, just as my dad was starting to believe me, “Yes, Dad, I threw rocks, too.” Three more swats for lying. To this day, I still don’t think I threw rocks, but I wanted to bring an end to the spanking.

Acts 24-26, Paul can relate to being falsely accused. Three different trials, three different Gentile authorities, three declarations of innocence (at least of anything worthy of death). With Felix, the Jewish leaders bring in the big guns, the lawyer Tertullus. Quickly Paul goes from being accused of bringing a Gentile into the Temple precincts to being accused of starting riots, introducing a new religion to the empire and desecrating the Temple. A guilty verdict on any one of the three charges could easily mean the death penalty. Rome did not tolerate insurrectionists, introducing a new religion was a capital offense, and the Romans had given the Jews permission to kill any Gentile who violated the Temple. It looks like Paul is in big trouble, but you wouldn’t suspect that from his cool demeanor (unlike this scared 7 year old boy). Instead he calmly addresses the court, refuting the charges of insurrection and of defiling the Temple. And then he spends a great deal of time explaining that the primary issue was Jesus, as it had always been. He was on trial for the hope of the resurrection…a hope that he shared with his Jewish brethren. Since the time of Abraham and the beginnings of the Jewish nation and even all the way back to Adam, the people of God had been looking for the Genesis 3:15 Seed of the Woman, the Messiah, the Davidic King who would crush the head of the serpent and redeem all of creation along with every person who believes. Paul said Jesus was and is the Guy…He is the First of the Resurrected, the Jews disagreed. That was the crux of the argument. Although Felix informally dismisses the charges against Paul, he nevertheless keeps Paul in prison for the next two years, frequently visiting him, hoping to receive a bribe, but instead receiving the gospel, which cuts him to the quick.

At the end of Felix’s term, Festus takes over as governor. Festus is ready to clean up Felix’s mess and so looks into the charges against Paul. There doesn’t seem to be anything to the charges, but in an effort to please the Jews, he asks Paul if he is willing to be tried in Jerusalem. Paul, knowing that Jerusalem would be a death sentence, appeals to Caesar. Festus acquiesces. King Agrippa happens to be in town, and aware of his intimate knowledge of the Jews, Festus asks him to hear Paul’s case. Agrippa agrees, and Paul defends himself yet again. This time he describes his life before conversion, his conversion experience on the Damascus road, and his commission to preach the gospel to both Jew and Gentile. At the conclusion of his defense, he is once again declared innocent, but as he has appealed to Caesar, Paul now must go to Rome.

It’s easy to blow past these three chapters on the way to finish the book of Acts, and I even considered not writing on them; but I was struck with the similarity between Paul’s experience and Jesus’ experience with the mock trials and declarations of innocence from Gentile authorities and the vitriolic hatred and rejection by those who do not believe. Jesus said the same would happen to those who follow Him. So what about you? Are you ready to be falsely accused, to be misunderstood, to be mistreated and persecuted and rejected for the sake of the Name? I have a feeling that those times are not far off my friend. But may we face those times with courage and grace, fiercely trusting in Jesus and leaning into the Holy Spirit for the strength to finish well, proclaiming the gospel until our time on earth is done.

Until next time…stay salty.

A Fierce Faith

Our youngest son is fearless. Maybe it’s being the youngest of three boys, maybe its genetics, but there is nothing that he won’t try at least once. And he generally succeeds in his attempts. One of the drawbacks to his confident approach to life is the tendency to be a bit cocky and very competitive. Great for sports, but not so great when it becomes a hammer that crushes his opponents into dust. Humility is our key word when praying for him. And while having an aggressive personality can be challenging, it can also be advantageous. He is well-known and well-liked by most of the kids in his school, including friends of his older brothers, much to their chagrin.

I imagine Saul had a similar personality. I bet he didn’t lose much growing up. And I bet his adversaries both feared and respected him. We get a glimpse of his zeal as a Pharisee persecuting the Way before his conversion at the stoning of Stephen and as he relentlessly pursues believers to throw them into prison. But after his encounter with Jesus…watch out! Everywhere Saul (now Paul) goes, trouble follows. He has to be snuck out of Damascus in a basket at night  to save his life (I bet he didn’t like running away from a fight!). The church in Jerusalem sends him away to Tarsus because of the trouble he’s stirring up for the church there. When Barnabas picks him up as a travelling companion and fellow missionary, Paul’s consistently the one whose beat up, stoned and run out of town. Yet he refuses to back down. He has a fierce faith.

Acts 21-23. Paul’s on his way back to Jerusalem to deliver the offering that the Gentile churches have raised to support their poor Jewish brethren. But even then, he becomes the center of controversy, first with the church and then with the non-Christian religious leaders. With the church because he’s accused of steering Jewish believers away from following the Law, and with the religious leaders because he’s accused of bringing Gentiles into the temple, thus defiling it. Neither charge is true, but ironically, Paul’s mission is to share the gospel which includes the good news that Jews and Gentiles are co-heirs of the kingdom through Jesus, that there is no longer a dividing wall of separation.

Paul’s story begins to look eerily like Jesus’ own story as he is arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin for a mock trial. They call for his blood, while the Roman commander Lysias, pronounces him innocent. Sound familiar? Being made aware of a plot against Paul’s life, Lysias sends Paul with an escort of 470 soldiers to governor Felix.

Paul can’t seem to help getting into trouble. Riots and violence nip at his heels at every turn. But he’s in trouble for the gospel. He refuses to compromise. Bonheoffer in The Cost of Discipleship  writes, “Those who are still afraid of men have no fear of God, and those who have fear of God have ceased to be afraid of men.” The fierceness of Paul’s faith is evidence of his total lack of fear of man. He had a vision for the kingdom to come and was on mission to share that with the world.

I pray that my son is like Paul. Until next time…stay salty.

The Outsiders

The gospel is good news. It’s the story of God’s redeeming work, reconciling mankind to Himself. It’s the story that’s been unfolding since the beginning chapters of Genesis, from the dawn of time, and will continue to the final chapters of Revelation, to the end of time as we know it, when Jesus returns and establishes a new heavens and a new earth. It’s a story for all people at all times. But it didn’t always appear that way.

Genesis 12. God chooses Abraham to be the father of the Jewish nation and reveals that through him all the nations of the world would be blessed. Moses recounts the story for the children of Israel coming out of Egypt as he rehearses their history and the God who has saved them. God makes a shocking statement to this motley crew, “You will be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Over and over again throughout the Old Testament, the Israelite nation is reminded of their privileged position and relationship with God, while the nations are pictured as His enemies, as outsiders. So no doubt, the early church, being primarily Jewish, struggles with the inclusion of the Gentiles (the nations) into the fold.

The story of the conversion of Cornelius in the book of Acts should have settled the question of God’s acceptance of the nations. It’s always been a part of His plan. But this early Jewish church is faced with a major dilemma. If the Gentiles are welcomed in, it will mean a final irreparable break with Judaism. And so some of the converts from the ruling parties of the Jews have a hard time seeing the Gentiles come to faith without first becoming Jews because it feels like they are turning their backs on their Jewish heritage.

Yet it is undeniable that God is at work among the Gentiles through the ministries of Paul and Barnabas. And the Jerusalem church, at the first church council, supports them. The outsiders are in. They don’t have to become insiders first, they don’t have to become Jews, to be Christian. And Luke, writing for a predominantly Gentile audience, records this for his readers.  And as the book of Acts unfolds, Luke turns a subtle spotlight on another group of would be outsiders – women. Both in Jesus’ ministry and now in Paul’s, a number of prominent women begin to take part as the gospel goes out to the ends of the earth. The gospel is good news for all.

Until next time…stay salty.

The one thing

There’s this great scene from the Avenger’s movie. Two police officers are talking about the alien invasion that is devastating Manhattan (you have to see the movie). Suddenly Captain America appears and starts barking out orders: “I need you to station men in the surrounding buildings. There are civilians that could wander into the line of fire…” The old sergeant fires back: “Why should I take orders from you?” About that time two Chitauri warriors (the alien guys) show up and are quickly dispatched by Cap. The sergeant then turns to his young partner: “We need to get men in the surrounding buildings…” It seems that even Captain America has to show his “credentials” before he was listened to. In the same way, Paul after talking about the magnificence of Jesus in both creation and redemption, pauses to give his credentials to the Colossian church in Colossians 1.24-29.

Paul writes the book of Colossians to a group of believers he likely never met. This church was predominantly made up of Gentiles. Paul writes to address a heresy that had cropped up in the church and in the process gives us one of the most Christologically dense expositions Jesus in the Bible. It is an amazing book.

And in Colossians 1.24-29 Paul gives his readers three reasons to listen to him: 1) He’s suffered on their behalf so that they might receive the gospel; 2) He was called to complete the revelation of the mystery of Christ; and 3) His purpose in life was the progress of his hearers to maturity – that they would not only hear the gospel, but also that they would grow up in the faith.

Lots of great stuff in this passage, but two things I want to share. The first is the mystery that Paul mentions. The term mystery shows up twenty-two times in the NT and four times in Colossians (pretty significant in a four chapter book). It shows up six times in Ephesians. The two books are companion letters written by Paul about the same time to churches in close proximity – both predominantly Gentile.

As we think about this mystery, it’s probably best to start with what the mystery is not. The mystery is not that the Gentiles would be saved by Jesus, that they would experience spiritual blessing through Him. Since Genesis 12 and the call of Abraham, the nations where to be beneficiaries of the blessings to Abraham (and by extension Israel). Anytime in the OT that the Gentiles attached themselves to (or blessed) an Israelite, they were also blessed. The mystery wasn’t that Gentiles could be saved. The mystery was that the Gentiles could be co-heirs with the Jews, that they would be on the same spiritual footing with Israel. That seemed to fly in the face of Abraham/Israel as the conduit of blessing to the nations (Genesis 12). But Paul is thinking back to Genesis 3:15. The promise to Adam that a Seed of the Woman would crush the head of the serpent was a promise of restoration for all humankind. Not just Jews. And not primarily through Jews to Gentiles. But all those who would believe could be reconciled to God through Jesus and be made children of God. And for Paul, that was amazing news – it truly was the gospel for the Gentiles.

The second thing, which is really the point that Paul is driving to: Presenting everyone complete in Christ. Paul’s driving passion was the maturity of every believer. It reminds me of what I like to call the Tae Kwon Do method of discipleship. It’s not enough that a few cross the line to spiritual maturity. The goal is for everyone to become a black belt in following Jesus. Paul says that this is the reason he labors striving about to the Spirit’s work within him. It’s the thing that kept him awake at night and got him up early in the morning. It was his driving passion.

The lesson for us: all believers are called to serve the body, some are called to suffer for it; all are called to serve in their area of gifting/calling; and all are called to make maturing disciples.

Until next…stay salty.