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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Eat, Cook, and Serve (1 Corinthians 3.1-9; Hebrews 5.11-14)

Some service music used -
Wonderful Words of Life (WORDS OF LIFE)
Light the Fire Again (Doerksen)
Choir: Here I Am, Lord (Schutte/Courtney)
May the Mind of Christ My Savior (ST. LEONARDS)

September 19, 2010
Sermon by: Robert Austell

(download)**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

In the two passages we read today, one of the big questions is that of spiritual food. What are we eating when it comes to our spirit and soul?

I also want to press beyond that to a second big question: what are we doing besides eating? To talk about these questions, I want to talk in three categories, as named in the sermon title: EAT, COOK, and SERVE.

What Are We Eating?

In both passages we heard today, we read about believers getting stuck on “milk” and never moving on to “solid food.” In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul writes that he cannot communicate with the church because they are not mature spiritually – they are like “spiritual infants.” (v. 1) He explains more in verse 3: “…for you are still fleshly.” He cites jealousy and strife in the church as the proof, and perhaps also the cause, of his description. In Hebrews 5, there is a different problem. It has become difficult to explain the depths and riches of the Gospel of Jesus Christ because the people have become “dull of hearing” (v. 11). The believers have back-tracked so far, that “milk” has become necessary to re-educate them in the basics of the Gospel message.

I wonder if either of these situations describe any of us? And rather than diagnose the person sitting next to you, I’d ask you to consider your own health and maturity. Do you have the Corinthian challenge? Have the things of this world – that is what Paul calls “fleshly” – stunted your spiritual growth? These are not just sins, though sins like jealousy and strife, like Paul mentions can definitely keep us from growing up spiritually. There is also lust, pride, and many more. There’s also the spiritual “junk food” all around us. It’s not just that we settle for “milk” – which is healthy, but not deep. We also take in hours and hours of television, Internet, and media, with spiritual lessons from sources ranging from Oprah to Britney to Larry King.

What chance does a 20-minute sermon have against all the TV, music, movies, and Internet we take in each week… probably anywhere from 10 hours up to 50! This is what we talked about last week – the vital importance of studying God’s Word. It is the reason for a personal quiet time – a time of prayer, reading scripture, and listening to God. It’s not because it makes God happy, but because it’s critical to your spiritual health and development. This is the reason for participating in Sunday school and weekly Bible studies. It’s not because you have to for God to like you, but because it’s critical to your spiritual health and development. Without regular, intentional study of God’s Word, you will not grow in faith and mature past spiritual infancy.

Or maybe this isn’t you. You come to all these things and try, but it just puts you to sleep and doesn’t connect with you. Maybe you have the Hebrews challenge – you have become dull of hearing. I think this happens easily in our culture, especially if you have been coming to church since you were a child. Church can become only habit and not heart. The Good News of Jesus can become information and not transformation. We will see that there is a remedy for this as well – and it involves putting faith into practice. That’s what wakes us up and clears the plugs out of our ears.

The first challenging question from these passages is “what are you eating?”

What Are We Cooking? Are We Cooking?

A second challenging question comes from the Hebrews passage. It is the question, “What are you doing?” Said more colloquially, “What you got cooking, spiritually speaking?”

I mentioned that putting faith into practice is a remedy for the dullness described in Hebrews. Hebrews 5:12 has the zinger… “by this time you ought to be teachers.” A few verses later, we read that the mature are able to eat “solid spiritual food” and discern good and evil because of practice. If we don’t use what we are learning from God’s Word, it is not only useless, but dulls us to hearing more of it.

Consider this: every single one of you in this room who is over 16 probably has more formal education than the typical house church pastor in China. And yet, each of these pastors risks life and livelihood to teach what he or she knows of God’s Word each week as believers gather out of the sight of the government authorities.

Every single one of you probably has multiple Bibles in your home. And yet, these same house churches in China sometimes must share individual pages out of one Bible so that the Word of God will not be confiscated by authorities.

For the first six years of my ministry here, we spent at least 4-6 weeks doing evangelism training. For years we have emphasized sharing the Good News of Jesus as our primary mission. Many of you have sat through multiple Sunday school classes surveying numerous books of the Bible.

We should be teachers by now. By that, I mean that except for those who are preparing to profess faith for the first time, be baptized, and join the church, every single one of you has what it takes to live as an effective disciple of Jesus Christ. You’ve heard the story; you have the information; you have the mission directions; you are challenged regularly.

But here’s what Hebrews says: if you don’t use it, you lose it. I’m not talking about salvation, but I’m talking about your spiritual health and vitality. How do we grow spiritually? How do we discern good and evil? Hebrews says it is through practicing our faith – putting it into action.

It’s not unlike the experience of the college graduate or young adult who moves back home. It gets harder and harder to get out there and find a job and make a life. What is hard at 24 is excruciatingly difficult at 28, and only gets harder and harder. The only way forward is to use what we’ve learned and put it into action. Only then will we continue to grow and mature. We’ve got to learn to cook!

Where Will We Serve?

Now, let’s look briefly back at 1 Corinthians 3. It asks yet another challenging question: where will we serve? For those of us who don’t really have a good answer to that question, spiritually, Paul gives us some direction.

In a nutshell, the church in Corinth had gotten side-tracked on its famous pastors – Apollos and Paul. Paul had planted the church; Apollos had developed it. But Paul was reminding them that God is the one who causes growth. Neither Paul nor Apollos are anything; only God, who causes the growth. (v. 7)

Paul is describing the pitfall of looking to a pastor or teacher to “do the Christian work” for us. Your success as a Christian does not depend on how good a pastor or preacher I am or what famous teacher you read or follow on TV, but on your responsiveness to God’s Word and work in and around you.

Just as parents can’t find a job and do it for their grown child, neither can I be a Christian or even serve the Lord on your behalf. My job is to preach and teach God’s Word to you, to challenge you in your faith, to pray for you, and to care for you; but it is not to be spiritual or faithful for you.

Paul rightly asks where you will serve – where you will focus your attention. That focus must be on God alone, for it is God alone who causes growth. It is God alone whom we follow and serve.

Who Does God Say That We Are?

Finally, I want to end with the last verse from the 1 Corinthians passage. This is a reminder of who we are. Listen to verse 9:

We are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

With a rich history as a biblical and Christ-centered church, a desire to worship and serve God faithfully, and a vision for ministry with each other and to the community around us, I believe we are at a pivotal time in the life of Good Shepherd. And by that, I mean that you are at a pivotal time in your own spiritual journey, for this church is not the building or the land, but the people – YOU are God’s field and God’s building. You are the ones God would plant and build for His glory. You are the ones God would use to reach our neighbors with the Good News and the compassion of Jesus. You are the ones God would use to bring glory to His name in this place, in Old Providence, and in South Charlotte.

I would challenge you to come out on Wednesday night. We have created a program to put into action what we are talking about today. Or give me a call and let me know you are ready to go and I’ll help you figure out what that might look like. We have an amazing and rich resource in this church – like a well-stocked kitchen. But like a kitchen, God has brought all this together to prepare a rich feast and to serve it to those who are hungry.

God is alive and on the move, and you are God’s fellow workers. He has given you all you need. It is time to get to work! Amen.

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