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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: http://www.themeagannapierfoundation.com/home.php

Story Behind the Song: Matthew West, Forgiveness - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wz3tkHv5sbg

The Hiding Place: Corrie ten Boom's biography - https://www.amazon.com/Hiding-Place-Triumphant-Story-Corrie/dp/0553256696

CBS article on Charleston victims' families forgiveness - https://www.cbsnews.com/news/families-show-forgiveness-for-alleged-church-shooter/

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!