Sunday, November 12, 2017

Building a Holy Temple (1 Corinthians 3.10-17)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; November 12, 2017 - 1 Corinthians 3:10-17

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Breathe on Us (Kari Jobe, Ed Cash)
In the Beauty of Holiness (Robin Mark)
Choir: Santo, Santo, Santo (arr. Parrish)
Great is Thy Faithfulness (AURELIA)
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Last week we talked about the heart of being human. Jesus said that what we treasure – what we pursue, protect, and prioritize – indicates what is at the heart of who we are. He used body imagery to help us understand this. He also spoke of the eye, saying that our vision – where we set our eyes – also indicates what is going on in our heart. This week we shift from body imagery to building imagery, but the scripture is talking about very similar issues. Rather than speak of the eye or the heart, Jesus and Paul now talk about foundations, materials, and the building plan.

There is also a shift in vantage point from last week to this one. Last week more asked the question, “Where are you going?” But this week asks the question, “Where have you been and where are you now?” In both cases, the purpose of asking is not to wag my finger and say, “Shame on you,” but to invite self-evaluation and the question, “Am I following and serving Jesus in the way that I want (and the way that he invites)?”

So, let’s consider this building imagery and the question God asks us through it.

Foundation (v.11 and Mt. 7)

This passage in 1 Corinthians 3 begins with verses we talked about several weeks ago. The Apostle Paul is writing to the early church in Corinth, which is dealing with jealousy, strife, and factions within the church (vv.3-4). He writes that they are spiritually immature, still “infants in Christ” who are nursing rather than moving on to solid food. Some say they “belong to Paul” as the founding pastor. Others look to Apollos, a second pastor, and allegiances are divided. Paul hears of this and counters, saying that it all belongs to God – the pastors, the people, and fields, the buildings. (v.9) And that leads to the scripture we heard this morning. After beginning with the body metaphor of infant/grown and milk vs. solid food, Paul moves into building imagery to challenge the Corinthians to grow up in Christ and to build their lives and their church on Him.

So he says very plainly what Jesus taught by parable in Matthew 7. Paul says, “No one can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (v.11) Otherwise, the plain implication is that it will crumble. Jesus told a short parable with the same point. A wise many built a house on rock and a foolish man on sand. When the storms came, the house on sand fell and was destroyed. Jesus said that the ‘rock’ was His words. Those who act on them are like the wise builder who built on rock. Paul agrees – there is no other foundation that will hold up.

What does that mean? Think about what a foundation does. It’s the base of everything built on it. If it’s not solid, if it’s not trustworthy, the whole structure can be put at risk, as in Jesus’ parable. If this is a metaphor for our lives, what does that mean for us? We’ve noted before that the Bible says the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. People of faith get sick, endure literal and figurative storms, and the like. But it’s the foundation that can be different. It’s easy to treat Jesus and faith as a kind of “bonus room” in the house that is our life. But that’s not what’s pictured here. Paul asks: Is Jesus your foundation? If not, what is? That’s what we mean when we ask, “Who is your Lord and Savior?” Savior is saving one and Lord is the one to whom all of life is owed. He does not sit in a corner room on the shelf, but is foundational to all we say and do – all we are.

Materials (vv.12-13)

Paul writes of “building on the foundation” in reference to Apollos and others in the church. But his words are applicable to an individual’s life as well as to the church. Remember the children’s story of the three little pigs? It mattered what materials they used. One built a house of straw; one built a house of wood; and one built a house of brick. Paul’s point is similar when he lists gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and straw. And it is a point similar to Jesus’ parable of the foundation. Some materials endure better than others. It’s entirely possible to profess Jesus as Lord and Savior and then use shabby materials as you build different aspects of your life. (Or the separate issues of “You have a very nice foundation over there… why did you go spend years out camping in the woods or sleeping with the pigs.” That’s the prodigal story, which we’ll tell another time.)

But in this passage, Jesus may be the foundation, but we may have constructed a ‘house’ of unsubstantial materials. Or we may have some of the house built with better materials but a few walls or rooms that are straw. I remember seeing homes destroyed after the Katrina flooding on the Gulf Shore. In some cases all that was left standing was the foundation and a brick chimney. Plaster and drywall and even wood were rotted out or washed away.

While we believe that we are saved by God’s grace through faith, God does make clear that it matters how we live our lives. It is entirely possible to build wisely around the foundational fact of our salvation in Christ. And it is entirely possible to build haphazardly and relying on flimsier “materials” like pride, reputation, lies, or worse. And Paul says that such decisions, such “materials” will become evident when tested.

As you grow up, work, perhaps marry or have a family, establish a reputation, relate as a neighbor, function as a citizen, and 100 other ways you live in the world, Paul asks: With what are you building your life? Is it stuff that lasts? Is it of a quality and character that honors Christ?

Building Plan (v.10)

Paul will go on to describe the community in Corinth as a “holy temple” where God’s Spirit dwells. (v.16) And he offers strong warning against any who would tear down the work of building that church. (v.17) In contrast to that intentional tearing down or the result of using poor materials or the result of building on a faulty foundation, let’s look back to Paul’s initial words in v. 10.

There Paul writes, “…each [one] must be careful how he builds on [the foundation].” Whether talking about the local community of faith, as Paul was, or making application into our individual lives, this is good and godly counsel: Be careful how you build.

Start with the foundation: Is it Jesus as Lord and Savior? If not, it’s not too late to re-build.

Consider the materials: Are they good and God-honoring and wise? If not, it’s not too late to renovate.

Let me offer two additional words of encouragement on rebuilding and renovating. In building terms (and even more in life) it probably always feels too late to re-build. But if you count the cost, how can you not? If you have built half a house and find out your foundation is shaky or failing or on a sinkhole, it would be foolish to keep going. You think, “I’ve already put so much time and money and effort in!” But consider the greater cost. It’s not too late to start over with Jesus. And renovations are a pain! I know it. They make a mess before they make things better. But if you’ve got mold, or termite infestation, or a cracking wall, or sagging supports… renovate! It will be worth it in the long run. Pulling up long-established patterns or habits can be painful and messy. But spiritual and real-life renovation is worth it if you replace it with something good and godly.

And have a plan: What does your “holy Temple” look like? What is its purpose? This is your life I’m talking about… Why are you here (on Earth)? What is your purpose? What is your calling? What is your plan? Or let me say that better: God has a plan. Do you know what that is? Why God has you here… what God wants you to do? Where God is calling you? It may be that identifying that plan is what leads to re-building or renovation. It doesn’t make sense to add-on or build up if there is something rotten or weak that needs attention. But take time to ask the question and consider God’s answer.


There is a theological word for following God’s building plans – whether for a community or an individual. That words is “consecration.” It means to set apart as distinctly for and of God. That’s my invitation to you today: God has a plan for you and for us. Will you commit to being a part, to doing the work necessary to be a part even if that means rebuilding or renovating? Because at heart, God’s plan is to include you… in community… with Him. Isn’t that amazing? Even if the walls are moldy and the house is caving in… God’s PLAN and God’s desire is to include you in community with Him. What do you do with that?

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Moth and Rust (Matthew 6.16-24, Luke 12)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; November 5, 2017 - Matthew 6:16-24; Luke 12

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Testimony :: What has God been teaching you or doing in your life lately?

Mark Katibah

:: Scripture and Music ::
We Praise Thee, O God (KREMSER)
Be Thou My Vision/Open My Eyes (SLANE, arr. Austell; refrain Austell/Youngblood)
Be Ye Glad (Blanchard) - duet
All in All (Jernigan)
As the Deer (Nystrom)
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Today we are in the Gospels, where Matthew and Luke talk about things like worry, priorities, reputation, and vision. In doing so, Matthew speaks of the body, in somewhat more literal terms than we’ve seen in previous weeks. In today’s text from Matthew 6, Jesus is talking about the things we treasure, whether of this world or of God’s Kingdom. He issues us a stern warning as well as a hopeful challenge. Then he goes on to speak about knowing a person’s heart through the clarity of their vision. Those are the three topics I’d like to take up with you today: Jesus’ warning, his challenge, and the clarity of our vision for Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church. And those topics should instruct and direct our individual choices of giving and financial commitment.

The Warning (v.19)

Jesus warns us in Matthew 6: Do not store up for yourselves treasures upon earth. (v.19) This warning comes in the midst of his “sermon on the mount.” In this extended teaching, he is claiming God’s teaching of old, but re-interpreting it in an internalized, heart-changing way. His teaching on “treasure” or money is no different. His bottom-line concern is, “Where is your heart?”

And so he cautions us, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures upon earth.” There are at least two reasons why disregarding his warning is fruitless. Jesus reminds us that “moth and rust destroy” such treasure. His meaning is plain: earthly treasures – things like possessions, money, cars, houses, and the rest – are subject to age and decay. Every house or monument we build will eventually fall. Nothing of this world lasts in the end. The forces of time and nature, moth and rust, will eventually win out. Beware moth and rust, because we can’t take it with us.

Jesus also says, “thieves break in and steal.” (v.20) Our earthly treasures are also up for grabs. Whether it’s literal theft or someone coming after our job or creditors re-claiming what they loaned us, we can expend a whole lot of energy defending our stuff, with no promise at the end of the day that we will be successful. And even if our literal money is safe, the evening news reminds us night after night that everything in this world is temporary and fleeting. Beware the thieves of this world that can claim it all in an instant.

Realizing the truth of Jesus’ warning should make us clamor for an answer! You’re right Jesus, but if everything we treasure here can be lost in an instant, what in the world is worth treasuring?

The Challenge (v.20)

Fortunately, Jesus doesn’t leave us wanting for the answer. He issues a clear and hopeful challenge: store up for yourselves treasures in heaven… (v.20) And these treasures are impervious to moth and rust and impossible for thieves to steal away. 1 Peter 1:3-5 describes the “living hope” of this heavenly treasure:

Blessed be the God and Father or our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

What is this living hope? What are these heavenly treasures that are imperishable, undefiled, and eternal? They are faith and life in and through Jesus Christ, expressed in this life through our stewardship of that inheritance and eternally through worship and life in the very presence of God.

This “living hope” is what we treasure at Good Shepherd. It is what I seek to proclaim to you and what we work to share with the world – Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected that we might have forgiveness of sin by the grace and love of God. We express that living hope here – we lay up those heavenly treasures – as we worship, witness, teach, come together, grow in faith and faithfulness, and as we give back to God in thankfulness. I’d like to spend the rest of our time together today talking about these heavenly treasures we seek to lay up together.

Our Vision (v.22)

It is exactly “vision” that Jesus speaks about next in those verses in Matthew and where he uses the body to explain. Concerning vision, he says, “If your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light…” Jesus says that the “eye is the lamp of the body.” (v.22) His point, after talking about our treasure and our heart is to say that you can see a person’s motivation, you can see a person’s heart through their eyes. You can ‘read’ a person’s loves, likes, and desires by watching their eyes. Where is their eye fixed? On what do they “set their sights?” What is their vision? I believe that in talking about our church and giving to our church, it is crucial to look ourselves in the eye and say, “What is your vision for the Lord?” We must ask ourselves, individually and collectively, “Where is your heart?”

I’d like to share with you where my heart is, and where I believe the hearts of our church staff and elders are, and where I believe God would have us be as a congregation. I’d like to share with you some of the vision for where Good Shepherd is and where we are headed, by God’s grace.

1.    WORD AND WORSHIP: Worship has always been and will continue to be at the heart of Good Shepherd; indeed it is the primary purpose and calling of human beings created in God’s image. Through intentionally chosen music and drama, testimonies of what God is doing, and organizing everything around God’s Word, we gather because we believe God meets us here and speaks through His Word. That core belief continues to be the foundational value and vision of my own ministry and that of this church. It’s where our eyes and hearts are fixed. God’s Word and presence is everything.

2.    MEN’S MINISTRY: Recognizing a need to have ways for men to plug in and connect, we re-committed ourselves to men’s ministry this past year. Monthly gatherings for Wings are not just about food, but a wonderful multi-generational opportunity for sons and grandsons from elementary age up to guys in every age and stage to get together and connect. And the conversation ranges from sports to God-questions to just how spicy the wings are this time around. We had our first men’s retreat this past fall and not only enjoyed hiking, good food, great worship at a local church, but also digging deep with Roger Edwards around themes of marriage, work, and legacy. Of course, women’s ministry is also important and continues to find expression through multiple Bible studies, retreats, and gatherings; that also is part of our vision. But we are thrilled to see men responding to our vision as a church, too! Like so many of our ministries in a church this size, the men’s ministry is not only opportunity for fellowship, encouragement, and accountability, but does all that across generations as a real experience of the family of God. Church is godly community.

3.    COMMUNITY GARDEN/MINISTRY: I hope you are aware of our community garden. It is more than tilling, tending, and growing plants and vegetables, though that is wonderful in and of itself. It also represents one of our most significant outreach and neighboring ministries in recent years. Not only has it provided the opportunity to welcome neighbors onto our property, but to partner with them in work, conversation, and provision. Whether you become involved in the garden (I hope you will!) or something else like it that we have yet to discover, it represents one of the essential ministries of Christians and the Church: being a good neighbor as Jesus taught and demonstrated.

4.    UNDERSTANDING RACE AND GOD’S KINGDOM: I have shared with you that God has put issues of race on my heart and mind for some time, but the protests in Charlotte over a year ago prompted a shift in my own vision. I have shared that understanding, confronting, and dismantling racism is not just an “issue” but reflects the teaching of scripture and the values of God’s Kingdom. In the past year I have undergone training and read widely; two of our elders have undergone similar training; and almost twenty folks in the church are reading and discussing the book Waking Up White. I believe God is stirring us and will continue to stir us in the months and years to come. We will continue to have opportunities to examine race, racism, and our culture in the light of Scripture. This is part of being salt and light in the world.

5.    FOLLOWING JESUS: When I first came to Good Shepherd and talked to the search committee, we realized we shared two essential commitments in common. We believed the Church is built on God’s Word and on following and serving Jesus Christ. That has not changed and continues to be my vision and this church’s vision. The particulars in between may change as ministries are birthed, mature, and end; but God continues to speak and stir us along common themes found in Scripture and in the words and actions of Jesus, who said “Come, follow me.” So know that the vision begins and ends with God’s written and living Word. I believe that’s what God desires of us and is the measure of our faithfulness.

Where Our Heart Is

Jesus ended his words on the heart and treasure by saying, “You cannot serve God and wealth (mammon).” His words define stewardship for us. Stewardship is an all-out, heartfelt, full-commitment love of God, worship of God, and service to God. It is “seeking first the Kingdom.” Stewardship demonstrates where our heart is.

This week you will receive a letter from the church along with a pledge card – an estimate of your giving to the church in 2018. My goal today has not been to hype or to pressure you regarding your pledge. Rather, it has been to remind each of us of what Jesus said about stewardship – it is putting love of God and service to God at the top of life. That’s where the hopes and dreams of the heart lie – with God.

I believe that as a church we have been and are on the right track – the faithful track. We have worship, service, and the glory of our Lord before our eyes as our vision. We have love of neighbor before our eyes as our vision. We are willing to be and become exactly what God wants us to be. Our eye is clear and it reveals hearts set on heavenly treasure. I believe our church’s mission and vision share the very heart of God. And so, as you consider your participation in the life of our church and as you consider your giving to and through our church, I can say to you with all earnestness and conviction: You are giving to God.

This week, as you consider your own stewardship, first be challenged by the words of Jesus. Examine your heart – where does it lie? Is it with the heavenly treasure of salvation, hope in Christ, and obedience to following Christ? How will you respond?

Consider the “vision” of this church. Do we share a “heart for God” here at Good Shepherd? I believe we do! Can you give to and through this church as unto the Lord? It is my hope that as part of the family God has called together as this church that we can work together for God’s Kingdom. Each year, as you give to God through Good Shepherd, my question to the Session remains the same: How can we use what our people have given to God most faithfully to His glory?

My desire for us as a church is that we all be captivated by the living hope of God’s gracious salvation, drawn in courage and boldness by the Holy Spirit toward the heart of God for us as His precious family in this place and time. Amen.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Growing Pains (1 Peter 2, Ephesians 4, Mark 10)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; October 29, 2017 - 1 Peter 2:1-2; Ephesians 4:11-16; Mark 10:13-16

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Oh How Good it Is (Getty, Holmes, Townend)
A Mighty Fortress (EIN' FESTE BURG)
CHOIR: The Truth Will Make You Free (Krentz-Organ)
All I Have is Christ (Jordan Kauflin/Sovereign Grace)
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Today we pick back up on the Body series, looking at a number of places where scripture helps us understand the church and the Christian life by means of a metaphor or comparison with the human body. Today we’ll look at an interesting feature of the body: growth and growing pains.

In the children’s sermon I talked about literal “growing pains” – sharing my experience in high school with Osgood-Schlatter’s, a painful condition just below the knee that comes from lots of exercise at the same time as a rapid growth spurt. It’s not harmful, just hard; and it was just part of growing up. On the screen is a comic I found that talks about the same thing in a different way – showing a character’s body growing rapidly, but not all at the same time: first the legs, then arms, then feet. Growing never seems to be simple or easy, but it is necessary for health and life!

We looked at the Ephesians 4 text a few weeks ago, but we are returning to it again today. At the very end of it (v. 16) Paul describes the church as being “fitted and held together by what every joint supplies.” And as each part works properly, it “causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”

500 years ago, the Church experienced a painful growth spurt. It needed to be challenged and changed and a monk named Martin Luther was right there at the joint between tendon and bone. Much like my painful growing pains as an adolescent, many in the church just wanted him to go away. But he was being used by God for health and growth and for both the Protestant Reformation that resulted as well as Catholic reform that happened later, what Martin Luther supplied to the body was blessed by God.

So today will be part history lesson, part digging into our scripture texts, and part application as we consider where God would stretch us to grow and mature in faith and faithfulness.

History: Martin Luther and Sola Scriptura

You may know that Martin Luther challenged the Church in a number of ways. We could focus on the practices he spoke out against, like paying money for indulgences or the inaccessibility of scriptures to laypeople. But those challenges may also be framed as five theological principles he spoke out FOR. They have come to be known as the “five solas.” Sola is Latin for ‘alone’ or ‘only’ and his growth challenge to the Church may be listed in this way:

•    Scripture alone
•    Grace alone
•    Faith alone
•    Christ alone
•    God’s glory alone

It is the first of those that I want to focus on today, but each has a common thread: that God provides what we need and what we can’t provide in terms of revelation, salvation, and purpose. Martin Luther struggled so with the teaching of his day and realized that he could not attain his own salvation, nor could church tradition take precedence over God’s revelation in scripture and through Christ. So Martin Luther struggled, painfully, with the ‘milk’ of his spiritual childhood and challenged the whole Body of Christ to look afresh at God’s Word.

Sola Scriptura, or “scripture alone” does not mean that the interpretation or theology of the Church or a tradition or a preacher or a teacher is worthless. Rather, it means that all such interpretation and teaching needs to continually be measured against Scripture. Does that teaching or tradition hold up? Is it true? Is it consistent? One of the lasting principles that came out of Martin Luther’s work and the Protestant Reformation is the challenge for believers and for the Church to be “reformed and always being reformed according to the Word of God.” In fairness, Luther would hold himself to his own theology, as do I: don’t simply swallow his teaching or my teaching or the Church’s teaching like a baby would take milk. For sure, I hope you take it seriously, but weigh it, measure it, hold it up to the light of Scripture. That’s the measure of things; that’s what sola scriptura means.

One of the practical ways Luther applied that teaching was to work to translate the Bible from Latin, Greek, and Hebrew into German, the language of his country and his people. Until that point, only priests or educated folks who could read those ancient languages could even read the Bible for themselves. They HAD to take the word of priests and interpreters, who themselves often just repeated liturgies and patterned prayers. Luther and the Reformation opened up a resurgence of Biblical study and focus on Scripture that has shaped and grown not only the Protestant world, but the Catholic one as well. Subsequent generations worked and continue to work to translate Scripture into the language of every people group in the world so that all will have access to the Word of God.

The fact that you can have an English Bible and read and study it for yourself can be traced back to Luther (and others) and the growth and growing pains they introduced to the Body of Christ in their day. Having said all this, it is worth noting that “scripture alone” isn’t the same thing as “read scripture alone (by yourself).” There is great value in reading, hearing, and studying scripture in community, under trained teachers and preachers, and within a Church tradition. Reading alone and without the wisdom or training of others can lead you in some wrong directions. That was not where Luther was taking us. Rather, he wanted to ensure that the teachers, preachers, and traditions did not take precedence over God’s Word and were themselves regularly submitting themselves to it.

Finally, if you ever notice the headings in our bulletin, you will also see Luther’s influence in the way that our entire worship is organized around the Word of God: gathering, hearing, responding, and sending.

Text: milk, maturity, and a child-like faith

So with all that talk of the supreme importance of Scripture, let’s look at ours! We have three texts today and I’ll comment briefly on each one.

1 Peter 2:1-2
This text challenges us to long for God’s Word like babies long for milk. For a baby, that’s everything; that’s nourishment, that’s life, that’s connection with their mother. I confess to taking God’s Word for granted, for not treating it like the spiritual life, health, and connection to God that it is. And that’s not even to mention the access that we have to it thanks to Martin Luther’s work to bring God’s Word back to the people. And yet, even as I read of that vital understanding of Scripture as spiritual milk, I think of Hebrews 5:13-14, which challenges us to grow up spiritually and move on to the “meat” of scripture: “For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” Hebrews goes on to challenge us to “press on to maturity.” (6:1) So we are challenge to first come to Scripture as vital and life-giving “milk” but not to rest there in spiritual infancy, but to keep growing until we can digest the meat and solid food of that same Scripture.

Ephesians 4:11-16
Likewise, this text challenges us to grow up spiritually, lest we get tossed “here and there by waves and and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” (v. 14) The milk of God’s Word introduces us to God and to Christ, but the meat of God’s word trains us and develops us to discern true from false, right from wrong, and to not be led astray. The same passage that begins with a description of those God has gifted and called to lead us (vv. 11-12) also directs us to grow and mature ourselves so that we may not be led astray, but be a functioning and contributing part of the Body.

Mark 10:13-16
I included this final text because of the balance it brings. Maturing in faith means leaving behind what is child-ISH, but not what is child-LIKE. Jesus rebuked the indignant disciples who thought Jesus had more important things to do than to welcome and bless children. He told the disciples that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” So spiritual growth does not leave behind wonder and awe and simplicity; but it does seek to learn and grow and develop in knowledge and love of the Lord.

Application: Growth and Growing Pains

How may we take this history and this Scripture and apply it to our lives? Both Martin Luther and these texts challenge me, even as a pastor, to give more time and priority and attention to God’s Word in my life. For any of us, it is easy to coast on what we’ve learned, what we think we know, and the cultural behaviors we associate with being a “good Christian.” We are reminded today that God’s Word is life itself, like milk to a baby. We are reminded today that we cannot become content with the easy parts, the easily digestible parts, but need to grapple with the “meat” of what God would teach and show us. Interestingly, I think digging in to God’s Word like that actually increases wonder and awe and childlike faith.

So how can we do that? It is no great mystery. Like the secret to exercise is “you just have to get out and do it” the secret to digging into God’s Word and maturing in faith is… you just have to do it. That’s what sermons and Sunday school and Bible studies and small groups and personal devotions and all those disciplines are for. If you aren’t learning and growing, find another. But I will tell you it is rare that I find someone coming to a class or study or group who tells me “I’m not learning; I’m not growing.” Rather, I find folks who don’t come who say “I’ve been doing that all my life; I don’t think I’ll learn anything.” I would counter with this: I have been going to Sunday school, worship, small groups, and reading Scripture all my life. I have several degrees devoted to study of God’s Word. And I still learn and am challenged in almost every setting, from Sunday school here to sitting down with children to reading a familiar passage again for the 50th time. God’s Word is such a rich well of life, I believe you will always find more. The question is instead, “Will you drink? Will you eat?”

If you need to breathe new life into your habits and disciplines, let us help! Come to a class, a group, a Wednesday night. Talk to the teacher or leader if you have trouble connecting. Talk to Kathy or to me if you need help reading or studying the Bible on your own. Start with today’s scriptures; try reading them once a day and asking God to show you what it means for His Word to be life-giving. I believe God will honor that prayer. It may stretch you; it may even be uncomfortable, like growing up can be. But rather than back away, press on. It’s not harmful; it’s just hard, but infinitely rewarding. And the result is mature, solid faith, anchored in God’s Will and Word, heart and soul focused on Christ, ready for where God will lead. Amen.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Being and Making Disciples (Isaiah 6, Matthew 16, Acts 2)

Sermon by: the Rev. Dr. Edward Newberry; October 22, 2017
Isaiah 6:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20; Acts 2:43-47

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Holy, Holy, Holy (NICAEA)
Holiness (Underwood)
Jesus, All for Jesus (Mark)

:: Sermon Manuscript ::
There is no manuscript this week.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Forgive as You Have Been Forgiven (Matthew 18.21-35)

Sermon by: Kathy Larson; October 15, 2017 - Matthew 18:21-35

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Ye Servants of God (HANOVER)
Pass Me Not (PASS ME NOT)
Great is Thy Faithfulness (FAITHFULNESS)

:: Testimony :: Clay Cupples

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
There is no manuscript this week, but the slides are included below in case you'd like to view them as you listen to the audio.


Renee Napier's Foundation:

Story Behind the Song: Matthew West, Forgiveness -

The Hiding Place: Corrie ten Boom's biography -

CBS article on Charleston victims' families forgiveness -

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Training the Body (1 Corinthians 9, Hebrews 12)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; October 8, 2017 - 1 Corinthians 9:23-27; Hebrews 12:1-3

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Light the Fire Again (Doerksen)
One Pure and Holy Passion (Altrogge)
Guide My Feet (SPIRITUAL)
The Lord Bless You and Keep You, choral benediction
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

“I do all things for the sake of the gospel,
so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.”

Today we are going to try to understand what that means. To explain it, the apostle Paul turns again to the human body, which we’ve been looking at for several weeks as a metaphor for the community of believers in Jesus Christ. Today, instead of looking at the body itself, we will focus on activities of the body to understand how we participate in what Christ is doing. Paul will use the analogy of a race (and briefly, boxing), and training for those things, to explain that opening statement, “I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.”

I have often challenged you to ask the question, “What is God doing and how can I be a part of that?” Paul’s statement turns that around, explaining to us how to become “fellow partakers” – that is, how to be a part of what God is doing. Even if you can’t relate to the analogy of running a race, listen hard, because the principles laid out apply to any goal we might have, and ultimately this is not about running or winning a 5k, but about participating in what God is doing!

Running the Race (1 Corinthians 9)

I want to start in 1 Corinthians 9 with that opening statement in verse 23. To begin to understand it I need to define a few words. The first is GOSPEL. Literally, it means “good news” but here it specifically the Good News about Jesus: who he was, what he said, and what he did. News would be reporting on those things. What makes it good is the content of the person, word, and work of Jesu because HE is good. And the question at hand is “How can I experience that goodness? How can I receive the benefit or blessing of who Jesus was, what he said, and what he did?” That’s signaled by “so that” – that’s the result, the outcome that Paul seeks. With that outcome in mind, Paul “does all things for the sake of the gospel.” That’s so wide-ranging: all things! So Paul’s thoughts, actions, vision, purpose, time, resources… it’s all focused in service to the gospel (who Jesus was, what Jesus said, and what Jesus did). And Paul’s hope (if not his teaching) is that following Jesus in this way will result in taking part.

Said more simply, that’s why the disciples followed Jesus. They gave up everything else to follow after Jesus in order to learn from and be blessed by Him. And that’s what followers of Jesus have continued to do over the ages. It makes sense. If you think Jesus has something for humanity, for you, the best way to experience that is to follow closely, listen carefully, and commit fully.

What follows is an extended analogy to try to explain that. Paul says, in effect, “You know, it’s like those who train to win a race.” … You don’t just walk up to a race and expect to win. Nor do you just train casually or haphazardly. If you really want to win a race, you put everything into it. He goes on to list three qualities of those who train well.

Self-Control (v. 25) – Specifically, he lists self-control. In terms of a race this might mean regular, intentional training. Running the distance, preparing for hills or weather. It means watching food and weight, trying to stay healthy. All that has application for our spiritual lives. When we serve and follow Jesus, through worship, study, service, giving, these actions strengthen spiritual muscles and train spiritual “muscle memory” so that those actions and ways of thinking become patterns and habits and ingrained within us. If our attention to God and serving Christ is haphazard and doesn’t touch all of life, we are more likely to get ‘winded,’ get lost, quit the race, or any other number of parallels you can draw.

Do note what is tucked in at the end of verse 25. In case you were distracted or misled by the phrase “only one receives the prize” – note that analogies aren’t perfect. The race analogy has to do with how we train, how we prepare, how we run… even the motivation and focus of running to win. But, as it turns out, there is not just one prize in the spiritual race. Paul clarifies, “we aren’t running for a wreath that fades, but for one that is imperishable.” Our prize is not a trophy (or wreath), but salvation itself. And that is available to all through Jesus Christ. That’s the Gospel or Good News; and again, the point of this is to describe how we take part in and experience that Good News.

Focus (v. 26) – Next, Paul offers two examples of what NOT to do, while lifting up the need to practice. I’d simplify his two statements to say “I don’t run aimlessly” and “I don’t box pointlessly” but he says a bit more than that because he says “I do run” and “I do box” – but he does so with purpose and without wasting his time or developing bad habits. Again, an analogy for the spiritual life. Let’s take worship, for example; it is good to come on Sundays! If you skip it, you definitely miss it. But sitting in the chair can be like running without aim. Are you focused? Are you engaged? Do you prepare for this time? The same can be said for serving or loving or giving – when we follow Christ do we do it with FOCUS to make the most of it?

Discipline (v. 27) – Having said what he avoids, Paul then makes the positive case, “I do train with discipline.” He disciplines his body and makes it his slave. Now there is another place where Paul writes of his renegade body and spirit, where he does the things he doesn’t want to do. But that doesn’t change what he says here. In fact, it underscores it; it takes self-control, focus, and discipline – full commitment to stay in the race.

Don’t be Disqualified (v. 27b) – Paul doesn’t want to fail; he doesn’t want to be disqualified, particularly because of his calling to preach and lead others. So hear it all in context. We do fail and fall short, but the calling, the goal, the aspiration – what Paul challenges us to commit to – is the race of following and serving Jesus Christ with full focus, discipline, and commitment.

The Race Set Before Us (Hebrews 12)

I included the text from Hebrews 12 because it uses this same analogy of running a race, but includes some additional helpful guidance on how to do it. Briefly, it offers three answers to the question, “How do we run the race?” saying: let us lay aside every ENCUMBRANCE and the sin which so easily ENTANGLES us, and run with ENDURANCE the race set before us. (v.1)

I remember preaching on this passage before, specifically the picture I used of someone with a refrigerator strapped to their back. You’d never run a race with that kind of burden or encumbrance, right? Yet we carry such things emotionally and spiritually. We harbor grudges, hate, and bitterness; we try to carry things that we should have given to God long ago. And you know what, even if we clearly want to run after Jesus, we do it about as effectively as if we had a refrigerator strapped to our back. Hebrews says, “Lay it aside.” And then there is sin. It trips us up, so easily entangling us. It’s like running half-blind on a path full of potholes. Again, our desire can be to run after Jesus, but if we don’t deal with sin in our life, we will stumble and fall and hurt ourselves and others. And thirdly, we are to run with endurance. You’ve heard the phrase, “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon?” Well following Jesus is not a sprint. ‘Marathon’ may be off-putting, but just hear the invitation to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Lay down burdens; avoid sin. And run with endurance. You are not alone. Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden (burdened). I will give you rest.” God invites repentance, forgives sin, and grants a new day and a new start in Christ. And Jesus runs ahead of us and with us (he can do both!).

And here’s the last word: be ENCOURAGED. Verse two says to run, “fixing our eyes on Jesus.” He has run this race ahead of us, perfectly and “for the joy set before Him.” We don’t have to blaze the trail or, in the end, win the race; Jesus has done that. We are just supposed to run after him, after his example and with his help. So verse 3 concludes, “Consider him… so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”


So let me return to the starting point. It’s easy to hear all this race analogy and focus on the to-do’s: self-control, focus, discipline, endurance; no encumbrances, no entanglements. But do you remember why Paul introduced the race analogy in the first place? It was to explain this:

“I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.”

How do we experience the Good News that the Bible talks about, that Jesus Christ embodied and extends? Do you hope for one of those “burning bush” moments or a voice from Heaven or an angel to appear with a message just for you? Well maybe those things happen in one in a million cases. But ordinarily, we experience things by hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, doing, or believing. And Paul could not be more practical here. He asks, “Do you want to take part in what Jesus is doing?” Then do all things for him! Sign up, show up, listen up, get up. Bend your life and will and purpose towards Jesus.

I fully believe that God is sovereign and pursues human beings. But there is nothing, nothing that tells us to sit around waiting for God’s phone call. Rather, Paul says, I do everything for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of Jesus… so that I may take part in what Jesus is doing.

What might that look like for you? Do you want to be a part of what God is up to? Then what would it mean to bend your life “for the sake of Jesus?” Radical, I know. A bit scary, I know. “I’ve got things slowing me down and tripping me up.”  Me, too! 

But Jesus runs ahead. Jesus says, “Come after me!” And again, ‘cause he’s Jesus, he also runs along with, giving us what we need. One of the things that Paul repeatedly says about the Church, the community of faith, is that we are in this together. I can’t think of a group I’d rather run with than you. Amen.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Knee Bone Connected to the Thigh Bone (Ephesians 4.1-16)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; October 1, 2017 - Ephesians 4:1-16

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Come as You Are (Crowder) - call to worship
Jesus, All for Jesus (Robin Mark)
How Beautiful (Twila Paris) - offertory duet
The Church's One Foundation (AURELIA)
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Paul is writing to Christians in the ancient city of Ephesus. He has been there several times, has served as their pastor for several years, and longs for them to experience the blessing of being a mature church full of truth and grace. We’ve studied the story of Ephesus before and our “truth and grace” banner is one artistic outgrowth of that study.

First, Paul “implores” the Ephesian Christians to live out their calling faithfully as one because God is one (vv. 1-6). Over their history as a church, they experienced disunity and conflict, and Paul’s particular word to them was to urge them towards unity, not just as a remedy in itself, but because faith and the character of God is marked by that kind of unity. But note that it is not an isolating kind of purity and unity, but something that is to draw them TOGETHER as one. It is no wonder that Paul lands on one of his favorite metaphors for the Church: the Body of Christ. There is just one body and one Spirit (v. 4). So whatever else Paul is going to write to the Ephesian Christians about giving themselves to Christ as disciples and followers, it is rooted in them doing it TOGETHER.

Well, it is not something they should or even can do on their own steam. It requires God’s help. And that is the good news Paul shares next! God has given them gracious gifts to accomplish calling together: God has given Christ for salvation and leaders who equip them to serve Christ together (vv. 7-13). Paul describes what that looks like with a continuation of his body metaphor. It looks like “growing up” from childhood to maturity. Just as the parts of the body grow in strength, coordination, and function from infancy to childhood to adolescence to adulthood, so too does the Church as believers live out their calling (obeying God) and increasingly work and live and serve together as followers of Christ (vv. 14-16). God has saved us and desires for us to FOLLOW CHRIST TOGETHER. That’s what the Church does; that’s what the Church is. It’s the Body of Christ and Christ is the head.

There is much time and space between us and Ephesus in the 1st century. But while the centuries have passed and cultures have changed, I can’t think of anything in these 16 verses that doesn’t apply to us as the Church today. This is all core theological truth that cuts across time and culture. It is rooted in the character and nature of God. What we can do is take these important but generalized truths and think about them more specifically in our own context.

Be the church faithfully together (vv. 1-6)

All that Paul wrote to the Ephesians about being the church faithfully together applies to us as well. It is not easy to “walk in a manner worthy of our calling” in this day and age. Church so easily becomes one more extracurricular activity. It becomes one more consumer-driven thing, a product to market to different demographics: older adults, young families, young adults, white collar, blue collar, suburban, urban, white, black, Latino, and more. And sometimes marketing ourselves does result in growth… for a while, if you do it really well.

But Paul’s model for being the church is of a different kind altogether. He roots church faithfulness and health in the one God – Father, Son, and Spirit. He describes the thriving church in terms of faithfulness, humility, gentleness, patience, love, and a diligence about “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” He challenges us, in all our differences, to draw together not around demographics, economics, politics, or shared interests. Rather, we are to draw together around our “calling” – our response to Jesus. We are to draw together around a common Lord, faith, and baptism. So we prioritize God’s Word; we preach Jesus Christ for salvation and for following; we listen together to the Holy Spirit’s leading; and we ask first where God is leading and then how we might follow.

Even among Christian people and churches, this is an uncommon organizational strategy. But we believe, with Paul, that this is what health and faithfulness looks like in Christ’s Church.

God has given us all we need (vv. 7-13)

Even then (perhaps especially then) we’d be in over our heads except that God has given us what we need to thrive. And what we need most is not money or strategies or location, but God’s grace in Christ. I realize that phrase is abstract, so let me explain it. Specifically, Paul reminds us that Jesus fought Hell and death for our sake and emerged as a victorious warrior with us “captives” set free and following behind him. He leads us, not only as ‘head’ but as Victor! So the one we are called to follow after isn’t just a wise teacher, but is our actual Savior – the one who delivers us from death and destruction. And he ever goes before us!

Paul also reminds us that Jesus gave the released captives leadership for the work of following him into the world. While you see “pastor” in the list in v. 11, it’s not just literal pastors, but a whole host of people who have guided, taught, challenged, urged, proclaimed, cared for, and otherwise walked alongside you in following after Christ. None of them were given by God to serve themselves, but only to point on after Christ. All their authority comes from and returns to him. I think of Sunday school teachers, youth group advisors, faith-filled school teachers, those friends who are willing to speak truth into your life. I think of counselors and prayer warriors (especially grandmothers!) who constant lift loved ones and others of us up before the Lord for protection, blessing, and bold witness. I think of older Christians who are such a witness and encouragement to younger Christians. And I think of younger ones who sometimes inspire and challenge us older ones!

What do all these who lead us on behalf of Christ work toward? It is for the equipping of one another to serve Christ. And like someone who works with their body all day long, another result of participating in that work of service is that the Body of Christ becomes strong in the process… “built up” and strong.

What does it look like? Growing up, growing in, growing out… (vv. 14-16)

Paul spends a few verses describing what this looks like. He extends the body metaphor to physical growth and describes the process of maturing from being children to being adult. So also we can mature as Christians and as a church. I’d like to describe one specific example (of many) of what it looks like at Good Shepherd as we grow up in understanding, learn to speak truth in love, and increasingly work together as a healthy Body of Christ.

I have described this health before with the words UP, IN, and OUT. We focus UP in worship, IN through spiritual development, and OUT in mission and outreach. And this health and growth is individual AND something we work on TOGETHER as the Body of Christ. And it’s all three that combine for spiritual growth and health. It’s like rest, food, and exercise for our physical bodies – all are vital and necessary to live and thrive. Those don’t correspond perfectly to the UP, IN, and OUT of spiritual development, but it’s the same point. If you or I only worship, we might be focused on God, but we don’t grow deep through spiritual education, relationship, and development. If you stay home and read your Bible all the time, you may learn quite a bit about God and the Bible, but you miss something essential that comes in gathering together in community for worship. And if you help others but miss the connection with God, you are doing good work, but missing something essential and eternal. This passage in Ephesians reminds us that it’s all part of spiritual health and life and maturity.

So the vision of our elders and ministries are to provide ample opportunities for all these things: worship that connects with God, but also invites spiritual development and sending out into the world with a mission; Christian education opportunities for all at various times and places throughout the week; opportunities (and invitation) for mission and outreach and a basic understanding that YOU are the church out there, not just in here.

A Final Picture: following Christ together

I want to end with my own illustration of a healthy church, of following Christ together in the way Paul talks about in Ephesians 4. Last week I used a musical illustration to talk about consecration. This week I have a different illustration altogether! Get ready; I’m going to use a football illustration!

I want to compare being a Christian and being the Church to football. Here’s how we go about church and faith most of the time: it’s like practicing our throwing, practicing our running, learning plays, watching football, and even dressing in football gear. But you know what? It’s not really football unless you play in a game and on a team. Being the Church is like that. It’s not really Christian faith and discipleship unless we engage in God’s mission and do it together. THAT is being the Church! Yes, we must trust and follow Jesus. But where he leads us is to a team and a mission. Anything else is missing the point! I’ll even press that analogy a bit further. You might think, “Well isn’t worship important? Is this mission together the only thing?” You will not find someone with a higher view of the importance of worship! But listen; worship is like the work, faithfulness, obedience, responsiveness, trust, and regularity a good player gives to the coach. You can imagine that right? That faithful player shows up to all the practices, trains hard, listens well, trusts that coach’s leadership, and finally is sitting there in the locker room before the game primed and ready to go. The coach gives the big pep talk and runs out onto the field. And… the team sits in the locker room? That’s what so much of the church has become: a well-trained team sitting in the locker room while the coach is out on the field. Worship leads us to the heart of God; and the heart of God is for the world God loves!

God has loved you in Christ, but not just for a one-on-one relationship in private. God’s desire is to knit you into the community He calls the Church, a community of Christ-followers who follow Jesus out into the world God loves with the Good News of God’s love embodied in our lives and our own love. May it be so!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sacrifice the Body (Romans 12.1-13)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; September 24, 2017 - Romans 12:1-13

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Oh, How Good it Is (Getty/Townend)
Lord, Whose Love through Humble Service (Bayly/White; arr. Austell)
CHOIR: Many Gifts, One Spirit (Pote)
Take My Life/Here Am I (Tomlin)
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

We are continuing today in the “Body” series, looking at the New Testament description of the church as the “Body of Christ.” Today there is a focus on the varying gifts and functions found within the body, which all work together for God’s purposes. It is a fitting passage as we ordain and install elders and deacons, but also a reminder that EACH of you who trust in Christ are part of His body. Each of you has a place and a purpose and a spiritual gifting from God. If you are doubtful of that or fuzzy on where you fit in, I hope that you will leave here today with clarity and calling as fellow members of this Body.

Sacrifice the Body (how and why) (vv. 1-3)

This passage starts with the overarching theme for the chapter. It is also where I got the title for this sermon: “Sacrifice the Body.” And by that I don’t mean abuse or damage your physical bodies. Rather, the first verse uses ‘body’ to represent our whole selves (and the passage will expand into talking about mind, body, and spirit in service to God). But it’s the image I want to focus on. In verse one, Paul urges us “to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” What is a “living and holy sacrifice that is acceptable to God? Psalm 51 says that the sacrifices God desires are “a broken and contrite heart and spirit” – that is, a heart yielded to God. What does it mean to say “spiritual service of worship?” It means that yielding oneself if in this way is not just a physical or mental act, but an act of our SPIRIT and an act of worship.

The rest of the passage is going to answer HOW and WHY to give ourselves to God’s service and worship, and all that will lead to specific examples and illustrations to help us flesh out this theme.

HOW – Verse 2 speaks of the MIND, urging us to not be “conformed to this world,” but “transformed by the renewing of the mind.” CONFORMED is to mold to the shape of something else, like when you pour batter into a pan, it conforms to the shape of the pan. And the warning here is to not conform to the world – that is, the way of thinking in this world apart from God. Now I often remind you that Jesus prayed that we would not remove ourselves from this world, but enter into it. But he also prayed this same thing, that we would not so over-identify with the world that we become “of the world.” Paul is saying the same thing here. Keep your distinctiveness in Christ; don’t become indistinguishable from the world around us. Don’t absorb it’s values and priorities over those of God. He also highlights the need to have our minds TRANSFORMED – that is, changed. We are born into this world and grow up in it, after all. So, the natural thing, the default thing, would be to be conformed or shaped by and into it. So, God must change our minds, turn us around, re-shape and make us.

WHY – And that’s just the conclusion Paul makes: when this happens, we prove (or demonstrate) what God wants for human beings. We become distinct (another word for ‘holy’), not out of, but still IN the world God loves. This is God’s “good and acceptable and perfect” will. (v. 2)

Next, in verse 3, Paul cautions us not to think too highly of ourselves, but to think in a different way. This is, perhaps an example of conformed thinking vs. transformed thinking. Don’t compare and rate yourselves against those around you, but think with “sound judgment” – the kind God grants when we look to Him in faith. And what we will find – and Jesus certainly taught this – is that this kind of “sound judgment” thinking thinks first of others, of neighbors, of how to serve and love. And illustrating that kind of thinking which leads to doing is where Paul heads next.

Gifts are for Gifting (vv. 4-8)

Starting in verse 4, Paul starts talking about the “Body of Christ” and turns to that theme we looked at last week: that we represent the wide variety, function, and relationships found among the many parts of a body, but we are also part of one Body, in Christ. That relates us not only to Christ, but to each other and to the world as Christ relates to the world.

What follows is a list of examples of the kinds of gifts and functions found in this Body of Christ. It is not exhaustive, but is illustrative. Besides listing and illustrating, Paul also makes the clear point that these gifts are not for hoarding or hiding, but for exercising and using. These gifts are for gifting!  And so, the list, with a few definitions where they might be needed:

  • Prophecy - declaring the Word of God for a given audience; it is preaching, rightly understood.
  • Service
  • Teaching
  • Exhortation - challenging or encouraging someone or a group to believe or do something
  • Giving
  • Leading
  • Showing mercy
Now you may have noticed that some of those gifts and functions also have other descriptors or qualifiers. Again, this list is not exhaustive, nor do I believe that the added descriptions are limited to a particular gift. So drawing from the various additional descriptions I’ll characterize the whole list in three ways.

First, each of us is “to exercise [these gifts]” (v. 6a). These are all gifts for gifting. To keep with the body metaphor, if you are an eye, then open your eyes; if you are an ear, don’t wear ear plugs. If you have these gifts, God intends them to be used.

Secondly, notice the qualifier after prophecy: “according to the proportion of his faith.” Preaching or prophecy is not to be undertaken casually or without mature faith. That was, in fact, one of problems in several of the early churches that Paul kept having to address. But it is true of using gifts in general. They should be used in proportion to one’s faith and maturity. One does not put an immature or new believer in a high leadership position, but helps them have smaller leadership opportunities as that gift grows, with appropriate accountability and oversight until they are ready to lead.

Finally, there are some extra descriptions given toward the of the list. While these do pair particularly with their gift (e.g. giving with liberality, leading with diligence, showing mercy with cheerfulness), the larger application is that our gifts are not JUST human skills, but human skills shaped by godly qualities. We don’t just give grudgingly or sparingly, but are urged to give generously. We don’t just show mercy with anger or disdain, but are urged to do so with cheerfulness and joy. Similarly, anything on that list can and should take on a godly shape, perhaps teaching with kindness or with gentleness. Or exhorting with truthfulness and love.

Right? So especially with Paul’s style of writing (he likes to make lists), it is important to remember he isn’t saying these are the only gifts and the only way of leading is diligent leading. Rather, look for the broader point: exercise gifts, do so wisely in proportion to maturity and faith, and do so with godly character.

Four To Do’s (with many examples) (vv. 9-13)

Paul follows that list of more specific gifts with several more general ones that certainly are available to every person. So these are not gifts or skills, but back to tangible examples of what it looks like to offer ourselves fully and sacrificially to God. There are four – again, not exhaustive, but plenty to sink our mind, body, and spirits into:

“Let love be without hypocrisy”
(v. 9a) – Let love be true. Jesus affirmed the greatest commandment as “loving God and loving others” with all we’ve got. True love is other-focused; true love is not two-faced; true love is what God has shown us and invited in our own lives. In the context of this chapter, love recognizes the value and dignity of every part of the Body of Christ, which in turn is oriented face-outward toward the world God loves.

“Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good”
(v. 9b) – This seems like a no-brainer, but of course Paul would be the first to confess that sometimes we do the things we do not want to do. But that’s the beauty and the invitation of the Gospel: even when we’ve turned away, God invites us back again. So I read this as the ongoing invitation to repentance and grace. Today, again, turn from sin, evil, disobedience, indifference; turn to God. Cling to God; cherish God’s mercy and grace.

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love”
(v. 10) – It probably is enough to say “love each other.” But devotion adds something. Devotion is a worship word and, remember, all this is framed in that first verse of offering ourselves as a sacrifice and offering to the Lord as an act of worship. That’s what devotion is. So the relationships within the Body (and really outward to the world) are brought into that original context of life as worship, or as Psalm 51 says, “a living offering” to God. Though it’s more, we often think of love as a feeling, but “devotion” reminds us that it is an action, a choice, and a commitment.

“Give preference to one another in honor” (v. 10) – And we end with what is perhaps the most relational command: “give preference to one another.” This is what Jesus modeled for “how to be great” and “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.” One of the greatest gifts in community is to serve one another in love. That’s what God modeled for us in Christ. And as if Paul hadn’t already given us enough examples and specifics, he ends with eight examples of how we give preference to one another in honor. I’ll simply read this without further comment or explanation. They are self-explanatory:

1.    Not lagging behind in diligence
2.    Fervent in spirit
3.    Serving the Lord
4.    Rejoicing in hope
5.    Persevering in tribulation
6.    Devoted to prayer
7.    Contributing to the needs of the saints
8.    Practicing hospitality

One Body, Many Parts

When we hear teaching about being part of the Body of Christ, I think many struggle to identify gifts or roles or purpose. It’s easy enough to say some are teachers or evangelists or help others, but I’m not sure what I contribute.

As we conclude, consider all that Paul covered in this relatively short passage. 

Every one of us called to offer ourselves to God as an act of worship. 
Gifts and Talents are for: 1) using; 2) using wisely; 3) using in a godly way 
Together, we are all are called to love and serve God, each other, and the world 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes (1 Corinthians 12.12-27)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; September 17, 2017 - 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
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:: Scripture and Music ::
Come, Christians, Join to Sing (MADRID)
Every Praise (Hezekiah Walker)
You are Mine (arr. Hayes) - worship choir
Oh, How Good it Is (Getty/Townend)
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Today we are starting a new series for the fall. It’s simply called “The Body.” That is a reference to one of the metaphors used many times in scripture to describe the Church. Over the coming weeks we will be looking at a number of those passages and the way that the human body illustrates and helps us understand how we relate to Jesus and each other. Today we are looking at Corinthians, a letter by the Apostle Paul to the early church in Corinth. That group had its issues (but who doesn’t?!) In particular, different spiritual gifts in the church were being ranked above others, and in general there was a “look at me” kind of attitude that distracted from worship of God and damaged relationships within the church. And so Paul wrote to his beloved fellow-believers to call them to a unity of spirit – unity of THE Spirit, that God would be worshiped and people would care for each other. Now, I’m not saying we have that Corinthian problem, but any church – ours included – will be blessed by growing in the worship of God and the care of people. In fact, that sounds a lot like the Great Commandment, doesn’t it? Love God; love others. So, in today’s text, Paul talks a little theology, but mainly offers this extended analogy of the church being one body with Christ. And it’s something I encourage you to take to heart.

One in Christ (vv.12-13)

Paul sets out what he has to say in verse 12: “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” Now he’s going to break that down and explore the implications of that shortly, but there is what he’s trying to say in a nutshell. The church is ONE body with Christ.

Now that’s already an analogy, because he starts it out with “even as” – just like the body, so is our spiritual reality. But before he really dives into the metaphor, he offers the theology behind what he’s saying: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” (v.13) The church is not supposed to be a ranked or caste system of insiders and outsiders, but one of equal and full participation in what God is doing. This particular verse conjures up the separate water fountains of the 60s; but God has a different plan, with different nationalities and socio-economic statuses in the same line for the same outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit.

And while the issue in Corinth was manifestly about gifting and role in church, no doubt there were ethnic and cultural divisions underlying and, perhaps, emphasizing the presenting issues around spiritual gifts as well.

But I will be the first to admit – even as a theologian – that hearing that you and I are “baptized into one body and made to drink of one Spirit” makes me think unity, but doesn’t really explain to me why that unity is good or how it works. So, with my appreciation, Paul turns to this analogy of the body.

Illustration #1: the body (vv. 14-24)

He really takes his time with this, in verses 14-24 (and beyond), and walks us through the theology by using the analogy. And I would divide the illustration into two parts. In the first, he illustrates the benefit of one body having many parts. In the second part he addresses the tendency to think some parts are more important or “honorable” than others.

So, for the first part, in verses 14-19, he sets the body parts to talking. You can almost connect the dots: maybe these were actual statements from members of the Corinthian church. So he imagines a foot saying, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body.” We know that’s ridiculous, right? Obviously, a foot is still a part of the body! And he repeats it with an ear also wondering if it doesn’t belong since it is not an eye. That’s the benefit of the analogy: we hear the ridiculousness that we otherwise miss. “Well, I’m not in the choir… [actually, let me be even more pointed]… I don’t really like to sing, I don’t really belong in this very musical church.” Or, “I’m new and don’t know a lot of people; I don’t really belong yet.” Paul’s claim is even stronger than “Yes, you do belong at Good Shepherd” it’s “You are part of the one Body of Jesus Christ and you are every much a part of that Body as the person singing at the microphone or as one of our elders, or anyone else here.”

That point flows naturally into the second: we tend to have a false tendency to elevate some roles over others. So perhaps we think the people in front of microphones are more important than people sitting in the back row. Or those who are highly visible matter more than those who are not. And Paul addresses that in verses 22-24, saying that all the parts are necessary, and those which are deemed weaker or less honorable are worthy of appreciation. So this is not talking about function. There are only a handful of people that can run the sound board. It does not mean that putting little Millie on the sound board is what we need to do. It is talking about belonging to Christ. My standing at the pulpit or your sitting in your “regular spot” or running the sound board with skill or reaching out to the community in the garden do not give higher or lower standing with Jesus. Those are all different functions like an eye seeing or a hand squeezing or a liver purifying the system. But each of you – EACH OF YOU – belong to Christ simply because he loves you and you trust him.

In between those two points of the body having many parts and those parts belonging to the one body, Paul makes two other applications within the analogy. In verses 17-19, he asks, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?” His point? We would not be complete with a whole church of sound booth operators, or seminary-trained preachers (yikes!), or 30 year-old white men. A body is made of many parts/members; that’s how God has desired and designed it (v.18) and that’s what a body is (v.19). And so, application two: don’t dare say to a member of the body, “I have no need of you.” That’s hurtful, harmful, and it’s a lie.

Other Illustrations

Let me break out of the analogy altogether (so avoiding using ‘body’ language) and try to state the points Paul is trying to make:

1.    The church is made up of a diverse set of people
2.    That amazingly diverse group of people make up one people belonging to God
3.    With God’s people, there is no place of honor, except perhaps to raise up the least among us
4.    To the extent that we push out or restrict the full breadth of God’s people, we distort and reduce the image of God that we bear

I’d like to offer briefly two other analogies for God’s people to see if we can hear these points more clearly and freshly. I went to the Butler-Providence game this past Friday night, so these two analogies are fresh on my mind.

Pep Band

So both schools had their bands there. Bands play at key times throughout the game, to celebrate what is happening on the field or to encourage the team and fans audibly. They are a part of the whole school there, which included team, students, cheerleaders, fans, band, guard, and more. But let’s focus on them for a minute. Let’s run our four points with the band.

1.    A band is made up of a diverse set of instruments.
2.    That diverse set of instruments also made up one band – as opposed to sitting randomly in the stands with a trumpet and playing whenever you wanted.
3.    We may be inclined to have favorites – oh, I love the drumline (after all, my kid is there) or the brass. We may be inclined to discount the flutes; who can even hear them? But they all play a role, sometimes seen and heard, sometimes not. In fact, during one song on Friday, the band was dancing and the flutes were dancing the best, perhaps because they didn’t have to also hold 40 pounds of brass on their shoulder while dancing.
4.    What if we played to our favorites – let’s just get rid of flutes and clarinets and maybe a few other things. While there are such things as a brass band, at that game, it would have reduced what having a pep band is for. We needed them all!

Sports Team

And of course there was a game going on as well. Think about the football team. Who comes to mind? The quarterback? The linemen? The kicker? The head coach? Other coaches? The assistants or medical staff? They all play a vital role for the whole.

1.    A team is made up of a diverse set of people and roles (not all of which even step onto the field itself!)
2.    That diverse set of individuals make up one team, especially as they work together towards one purpose.
3.    We may be inclined to have favorites – either because you know someone in one of those roles (when our team played against Myers Park last year, we found ourselves cheering for their kicker, because “we know him!”) or because we tend to think of certain roles as more important. Certainly some roles are more visible than others, but ask any coach or player… the effectiveness of the whole depends on EVERY person doing their role well. This past Friday, the game was more determined by extra point kickers and by sportsmanship decisions than by the QBs. Every role important!
4.    And what if we just had a few positions playing? Just two kickers squaring off, or two linemen without a ball? or two coaches without a team? It might be curiously interesting for a moment, but it wouldn’t be football.

God’s Purpose: Unity and Care (vv. 24b-27)

So, back to the church. Hopefully you’ve heard Paul well by this time. Because of and through Jesus, you are all part of this people of God. And God both desires and designed the many different ways we go together. Paul ends our text today by talking about the purpose behind God’s design. Listen: “But God has so composed the body… so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.” (vv. 24b-25) God’s purpose is two-fold: unity and care. It’s the two “so that’s” you just heard. It is so that there may be no division… that’s UNITY. And it is so that you may CARE for one another. He elaborates on the care. Because we are one, “if one member suffers, all the members suffer… if one is honored, all rejoice.” (v. 26)

So whether or not our issues line up with those of Corinth, what God desires and has designed for us is the same: that we would know unity in Christ and that we would suffer and rejoice with each other. That’s a healthy body; that’s an exciting pep band; that’s an effective team!

In the coming weeks we are going to look at several other significant texts which also deal with the Body of Christ. I invite you to come back and go deep, for you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. Amen.