Stepping Into Community Pastor Tom Cowan Interim Lead Pastor English Congregation Vancouver Chinese Baptist Church Vancouver, British Columbia Sunday Sermon for 2 October 2011 Scripture Passage Ephesians 4:12-13
Here is an idea I would love to have tried this week. It would have been great fun to do, but I did simply not know how to pull it off, so can you use your imagination with me? Last week, I would love to have sent to everyone who is connected with English congregation here at VCBC a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Then tell them, we need you to be here this Sunday and bring your piece of the puzzle and on a big table out in the foyer. Can you find where your piece fits in the big picture we are completing?
12:1 1 Now about spiritual gifts, brothers . . .
The jigsaw piece represents you. Your life and your unique spiritual gifts that are needed to complete the picture.
Every Christian is charismatic, not about speaking in tongues or raising your hands. IT means that we have spiritual gifts that come from the grace of God. They may be natural talents, but they are more than that. They come from the grace of God.
But, we all know what its like when we work on a jigsaw puzzle only to find that some pieces are missing. I wonder how many pieces might have been missing this morning in this jigsaw puzzle of VCBC? The picture would be incomplete. We would look at it and say, so-and-so is not here. This family or that family is not here. Some people are missing. We cannot complete our picture without them. God has designed the church to be a body in which we need all the parts to make the whole thing work. We need all the pieces to complete the picture, and like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzles, we are all funny shapes and sizes, but there is a right place for every piece and there is a right place for every person. Each of us is needed. Each of us has something to bring. Each of us fits in somewhere. This is one of the reasons we have and bring our spiritual gifts. 3 key passages for our study today. Each one brings a different dimension to how we bring our gifts to the church.
He is moving on to the next topic. Spiritual gifts and how they operate. Turn to 1 Cor 12: 4-7. We need to take hold of this passage line by line. Verse 4 4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. Gifts = charismata
They are given to us by the Holy Spirit. One of his tasks is to gift each Christian. Then verse 5 5There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. Different kinds of service = diakonia. Different places to act as deacons, places where we serve. These places are under the direction of the Lord. Jesus as the head of the church is the one who says I want you to take your gifts and work there. He is the one who gives direction to where we work in his body. We take our orders from Him who is the head of the Body. Then verse 6, there are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Different ways of how these things work. Our word for energising or getting results, but the same God is at work. Note the 3 areas of diversity: gifts, service, effects
However as I often say, this leaves so much behind. Use your bible and track with me.
Then note the work of the Trinity in this: the spirit, the son, God the Father.
OUR GOD-GIVEN DIVERSITY WORKS IN UNITY.
Now verse 7 gives us the purpose for this:
The context, the Corinthian church has gotten into a muddle about a number of issues: theological issues, a moral issue, worship war. It seems they had written to Paul. We do not have that letter, so this letter (1st Corinthians) is actually Paul’s response/answer to their questions. He addresses the issues one by one.
The Spirit is at work, revealing and expressing God’s abilities in us FOR THE COMMON GOOD.
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7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
It is reminding us that however God has gifted us is not for our personal hobby or pastime.
However God has chosen to gift us is for the common good. In other words, we are given our gifts to give them away to others, for the greater health of the church as the body of Christ. Think of what happens at pot-luck suppers. You can stay home and all you eat are peas or potatoes or dessert or you can bring whatever you cook or make. Put it on the table with all the other dishes, and we can all eat together and enjoy everything. This is the common good. I bring who I am and I bring what I have, and I lay it on the table. It is for the common good, and everyone gets to enjoy it. These gifts and abilities are the gifts of grace, and are for the common good. I have a deep sense that if we do not do with them what God has designed them for, which is to be given away, then God is quite able and quite within his power to take them away from us. They are not hobbies. They are not for personal pleasure. They are gifts to be given away, and in the economics of the Spirit when we give them away, they grow and are multiplied, and when we hold on to them too tightly and keep them for ourselves, they slip through our fingers. So we do not have to be concerned about giving too much or what will happen. We give them away into the life and health of the church, and leave the results to God. My life and gifts are like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. I lay it down on the table and see where it fits. One of the glorious and exciting tasks for a church is to encourage each believer to find out. To discover whom God has uniquely make them to be and then help them to become that. How do we discover these gifts? Some make this very hard. Almost a mystical experience. Ask yourself 3 simple questions. 1. What has God placed in my life which I enjoy doing? 2. What do others see in me? We need people who will be honest with us. 3. When I put this to work into practice, does it help people? If I think I am a teacher, does anyone listen and learn? 3 STEPPING INTO COMMUNITY
2nd passage SEEING THE WHOLE CHURCH AT WORK Romans 12:4-8 4Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. It is remarkably simple. God intends in the church that we would function as an interdependent community of faith. It is not about competition. Community cannot exist where there is competition. It is about bringing our gifted lives together. Just showing up on Sundays is not enough. 2 extremes must be avoided. 1. Independence. it is cute when a 2 year old says I will do it myself. It is not cute when an adult says I will do life by myself. Independence was the sin in the garden, that a couple thought they could live without God. 2. Co-dependence. This is the unhealthy need in a relationship to need someone so desperately that we cannot live without them. We hang on to them. We cling to them in an unhealthy way, often destructive for both parties. Between these two extremes, we are called as Christians to live interdependent lives. Whatever we have we bring. Some people are great at serving. Let them serve. Others teach. Others have the gift of leadership. Let them lead. We need each other. None of us is omni-gifted. 3 things that stifle a church from being this kind of gifted community at work. 1. When it is pulpit dependent Don’t misunderstand me. I am committed, as is this church, to the disciplined study and proclamation of God’s word. But a church that
becomes only pulpit dependent can stagnate. It has no reason to reach out. Its mission is reduced to come and hear, instead of go and tell.
neighbourhood, city. What is God doing in the world and hitch our wagon to that.
I am not saying we should abandon teaching and preaching. Not at all, it should be rooted in truth and stamped with excellence, but dependency on preaching alone will glorify the pulpit and stifle other ministries.
It is difficult to find a renewal movement in the history of the church without some kind of small group movement. Martin Luther talked about the little church within the larger church. John Wesley, Methodism, met in small bands for bible study and accountability.
2. When it becomes pastor dependent
Noami Mah, sharing about small groups.
There is still the residue in many churches that pastors are the only ones who are trained to do the work of the ministry. To counsel, to visit, to administer. Everyone else just shows up to watch.
3rd passage WHEN GIFTS WORK TOGETHER, the goal is maturity.
That is not Biblical. I have gifts to bring to the church, as do Johnny and Cindy and all the other pastors, but our primary task is to equip the saints. That’s you folks! – to do the work of the ministry. When I first began working with small groups in Toronto, our strategy was to stop the Wednesday night prayer meeting (can you imagine that!) and we started 5 or 6 meetings in homes. Prayer, Bible study, sharing. As I now get to know you, some of you have been through some painful experiences that you would not have chosen for anything, but that equips you to come alongside someone who is walking that same path. In my pastoral experience, some of the best pastors in any church are its women. Story of Judy: had a double mastectomy and survived breast cancer. If a church is to see growth in terms of being a gifted congregation. It must resist the easy path of being pastor-dependent. Pastors need to redefine their roles. 3. When it is building dependent Great to have a building, especially in our weather. But a church that limits, that restricts its ministry to what only happens in its building will have a limited understanding of ministry and its vision. The church needs to redefine its ministry and mission beyond its walls. Title of recent book “JESUS HAS LEFT THE BUILDING”. We need to be asking what is God doing in our 4 STEPPING INTO COMMUNITY
Ephesians 4 11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. The goal in all this is maturity, being and operating in the way that God fully intended us to be and become. Here are several ways to understand maturity: 1. Maturity comes as we shift from information to action. Maturity is not about how much we know, rather it is about how we take what we know and put it into practice. You do not grow in maturity because you decided to come to church and listen to the message. All you have so far is information. You grow in maturity when you take away a truth from the message and say I am going to do that to put that into action this week in my life. We learn this from Hebrews. Hebrews 5:12-14. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you
the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Notice the complaint: you are just going over the same ground again and again. That is not growth. The antidote comes in verse 14. Maturity comes to those who taken what they know into daily exercise and practice. They have done something with the information. What do you know that you have not yet put into use? Start to do that. Start to put it into practice this week and you are on the road to maturity. 2. Maturity comes as we shift from being passive to being passionate Great description of the Christian life. Phil 3:12-14 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. It is a picture of runners going flat out for the finishing line, straining for every breath. Arms flailing, stretching forward for the finishing line. Then verse 15 says to us: All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. The Christian life is not a Sunday stroll. It is a race. A marathon in which we are committed for the long haul. 3. Maturity comes as we shift from personal selfishness to mutual service Part of the carbon monoxide in the air of our culture is we ask and think: What’s in it for me? what do I get out of this? Why bother? If we want to travel any distance on the road of Christian maturity, we will need to take off the boots of selfishness and put on the sandals of servanthood. 5 STEPPING INTO COMMUNITY
Maturity does not come as we stand back to be waited on. It comes as we bring our gifts and lay them on the table. God has gifted each person here for all that he wants this church to be and become. Everything that we need is here. Resident in our lives in one way or another. Your life is unique, like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Your life is designed to fit into the lives of everyone else. Let me take you back to my starting idea. What if we had been able to pull off the idea of sending everyone a piece of a jigsaw puzzle, and people brought them. Big table in the foyer people crowd around, seeing where their piece of the puzzle would fit. Not here. Not here, but then they find it. Then they begin to wonder and ask each other what’s the picture going to be? It’s not a picture of some majestic mountains. Not a church building. Slowly the picture begins to take shape as more and more pieces fall into place. We begin to see that it’s a face. It’s a person. His hair is shiny and dark as coal. His face is deeply sunburned from the weather. His eyes as black, sharp and piercing, the kind of eyes that seem to penetrate right through you and see all the way into your soul. Suddenly we recognize who it is and we cry out —That’s Jesus! It’s Jesus! John says, I saw someone "like a son of man," addressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. 17When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hell.
Reflection Questions 1. We described the church as a jig-saw puzzle. Do you sense that you are a piece
of that puzzle? If not, why is that? What would change that? 2. What do you think a pastor’s job is? What should they be doing? How does this agree or disagree with Ephesians 4:12-13? Do you know what the pastors at VCBC actually do? 3. Do you have a sense or awareness of what your primary spiritual gift is? How would you go about finding it? 4. Pastor Tom said in the sermon that three things will stifle a church? What were these 3 attitudes? 5. Do you agree? How do they stifle the growth of the church? 6. If these attitudes are in VCBC how would we change them? What difference would it make if they were removed?
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