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Monday, September 16, 2019

The Transforming Gift of Leadership

Introduction
The Transformers was one of my favorite cartoons and toys when I was a kid in the 80s.  Optimus Prime was the leader of the Autobots, the heroes of the story who fought for good and to protect the people of Earth.  Optimus Prime was a robot who could transform into a tractor trailer.  He was one of the strongest Transformers, but he was also a wise and noble leader who always put the good of others before his own.  

You see, when a person chooses to follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit gives them a special talent to serve in the Church and help transform the world.  Romans 12:6-8 teaches that some receive the gift of Prophecy, others the gifts of Serving, or Teaching, Encouraging, Giving, or Kindness.  But today, I want to talk about the spiritual gift of leadership.

I am an elder in the United Methodist Church.  That’s the technical term in the United Methodist Church for someone who has been fully trained, examined, approved, and ordained as a minister to lead a Methodist church.  It’s sort of ironic for me to think of myself as an elder.  On the one hand, my kids would agree; they think I’m old!  On the other hand, at 45, I’m still younger than most other United Methodist pastors.  Most United Methodist pastors are between 55-70 years old.  But the world elder to describe a Christian minster comes from the Greek word presbyteros used in the New Testament.  In the early New Testament Church, the leaders of various congregations were called presbyteros or elders.  They were people the Holy Spirit equipped with leadership.  Often, elders were older people with more experience.  But we also see examples of young people leading the church, like Timothy whom the Holy Spirit equipped to be an elder in the Church.  So age is not what’s critical for leadership.  What’s important is the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Listen to the Word of God.

1 Peter 5:1-4
1And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.

Caesar’s Leadership vs. Christ’s Leadership
Immediately we see some important aspects of Holy Spirit inspired Christian leadership that set it apart from worldly leadership.  In the ancient world during New Testament times, world leaders were very different from Christian leaders.  Caesar, the emperor of Rome, was the ultimate example of a non-Christian leader.  Caesar lorded his position over everyone in his kingdom.  His power led him to think he was a god and that everyone was put on earth to serve him.  Caesar even expected people to die for him; sometimes for frivolous reasons.  Gladiators in the Roman Colosseum were forced to fight each other to the death for the amusement of the Caesar.  People obeyed Caesar out of fear of death.  Now let’s contrast leadership in Caesar’s kingdom to the leadership of Jesus in the Kingdom of God.

In God’s Kingdom, Jesus is Lord.  He is the King of kings and Lord of lords.  John 1:2-5 tells us, “[Jesus] existed in the beginning with God.  God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him.  [Jesus] gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”  If anyone is worthy of worship, honor, total devotion, and absolute obedience, it is Jesus (not Caesar).  And yet, Jesus did not use his position to “lord it over” his people the way Caesar did.  Instead, Philippians 2:6-8 tells us “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.  Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.  When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

In other words, Caesar's leadership was about glorifying himself.  Jesus' leadership was to humble himself.  Caesar made his kingdom do what was best for Caesar.  Jesus always did what was best for the Kingdom.  Caesar indulged his own privileges as the leader.  Jesus gave up his privileges for others.  Caesar made everyone serve him.  Jesus served everyone else.  Caesar made others die for him.  Jesus died for everyone else so they could be forgiven and have eternal life.

Lead Like Jesus
1 Corinthians 11:1 says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”  If you follow Christ, you have the potential to lead.  Every Christian is a leader is some sense.  You might not think you are, but you are.  If you are a parent, you are leading your children.  If you are grandparent, you are leading your own kids as well as your grand kids.  If you are a young person, you are influencing your friends.  If you go to church, you are leading someone  doesn't go to church but knows you do and thinks you are an example of how a Christian lives.  Are you leading them well or poorly?

If you are a Christian, you are leading someone.  So, we all have a flock (so to speak), whether it is our kids, grand kids, our friends, our coworkers, or our neighbors.  As 1 Peter 5:2-3 says, “Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.


The Spiritual Gift of Leadership
The Holy Spirit gives some people the special ability to lead.  God has always used special leaders to guide His people.  He used Joseph to save his family and the Egyptians from starvation during a 7-year famine.  Then, God used Moses to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt.  And God used Joshua to lead His people into the Promised Land.  Without godly leaders the masses would not get anything done.  Just like in these Old Testament stories, the Holy Spirit of God raises up leaders today to lead in the Church.  Could leadership be your spiritual gift?  Well, let’s see.  Here are some traits of leaders.  Do you have any of these?

Leaders See Where Everyone Needs to Go – God gives leaders a vision for where He wants His people to go and enables those leaders to get people to follow them there.  Think of Moses.  He was just out in the wilderness tending a flock of sheep and he saw a burning bush.  God spoke from the bush and told Moses, "Go lead my people out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land."  You might not think you are a leader.  You might say, "I'm not a leader!  I can't do that!  No one would listen to me!  Besides, I no good a getting in front of people and talking!"  Funny, that's exactly what Moses said.  And we all know he was a leader.  He led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt!  So maybe you are a leader, if you see where everyone needs to go and feel God calling to you to lead them there.

Leaders Garner Loyalty – You can’t lead if no one will follow.  Someone with the spiritual gift of leadership earns people’s respect, trust, and loyalty.  Do people listen to your opinion and want to follow you?  Do you know how to garner their respect?  Then you’re probably a leader.  Now, be careful to love the people and build their loyalty, because they might have to follow you through some difficult terrain.  There may come times where they question why they are still following you because they don't understand.  So build their trust now and it will pay off later.

Leaders Are Usually A Few Steps Ahead – Imagine a tour group led through a museum by a tour guide.  The tour guide is probably walking a few steps ahead to show everyone where to go.  The guide is leading the group.  Leaders are usually out in front showing the way.  They have seen where everyone needs to go and now they are showing the way.  Therefore, leaders are usually the first ones to arrive and an event.  They may also be the last ones to leave, because they're making sure no one get's left behind.

Leaders Are Able to Delegate – It’s impossible for leaders to do everything that needs to be done.  It’s not that a leader thinks they are too good to do something.  There’s just too much to do and the leader has other things to do that only the leader can do.  A good leader knows they need help and also knows the people they lead need to be involved.  So a gifted leader learns what are people’s abilities and plugs them in in the right ways.  Giving people something to do helps everyone move forward and be more effective and develops each individual’s abilities.  It even raises up new leaders within the team.

Leaders Overcomes Resistance – Most people just want to remain comfortable, right where they are now.  They are wary of change and afraid of the unknown.  If a leader is doing their job, they are probably leading people out of their comfort zones toward a new and better place, but that doesn’t mean people will go willingly at first.  They will resist.  And there may also be resistance up ahead from the forces of darkness that don’t want God’s people to be on the move.  So a leader has find strength from God to overcome resistance from within and without in order to lead God’s people forward.

Leaders Are Able to Make Quick Decisions and Be Decisive – Sometimes, there is time to sit and ponder a decision and some very important decisions require a lot of time and study.  However, the pace of leading God’s people is often so fast that there just isn’t time to agonize over every minor detail for a long time.  Leaders always follow God's leading and know when it is important to go slow and when to make a quick decision and move fast.  A leader surrounds themselves with lots of wise and conscientious people and listens to good advice.  In the end, the leader makes a decisive decision and loyal people follow them wherever God is leading them.

Is God calling you to lead?  If He calls you to lead, the Holy Spirit with supernaturally enable you to lead.  Don't neglect the gift of the Holy Spirit within you.  Be faithful.  "Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God.  Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.  And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor." (1 Peter 5:2-4)

A Prayer for Godly Leaders
"Lord, God Almighty, lead us forward.  Raise up godly leaders among your people to guide us where you want us to go.  There are many among us who are afraid to lead or don't know or think they can.  Fill them with Your Holy Spirit to impart the gift of leadership.  Help them to trust You, to follow you, and so to lead the ones You have placed in their care.  That Your Name may be glorified and Your Kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen."


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Transforming Gift of Giving


Introduction
We’ve been studying how the power of God transforms all believers through the Holy Spirit so that we in turn can help transform each other and the whole world.  The Holy Spirit everyone who follows Christ as Lord a special gift.  Romans 12:6-8 tells us tells us the Holy Spirit gives some the gift of Prophecy, others the gift of Serving, or Teaching, Encouraging, Giving, Leadership, or Kindness.  Today, we will consider the spiritual gift of giving.

2 Corinthians 9:6-8
Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.

Giving Transforms Lives
When I was 21 years old, I started volunteering as a youth counselor at East Cobb UMC in Marietta.  We had a wonderful Youth Pastor, Eddie Bradford, who did a wonderful job.  I was there as a volunteer to just hang out with the kids, build relationships, and offer encouragement.  The kids seemed to respond well and I was truly blessed to be with them.  The youth of that church, like most, took several trips every year--a ski trip in the winter, a beach trip in the summer and a few camping retreats throughout the year.  It was a great time for each kid to spend focused time building relationships with each other, the youth pastor and volunteers, and of course God.  The youth's parents paid a fee to cover the cost of their trips and of course the youth pastor was on the church staff so his cost was covered.  However, I was just a poor, broke and starving college kids.  My parents weren't even able to help me pay for college (I was working my own way through) so I had no money for youth trips.  Some of those trips could cost between $300-500.  Thankfully, there were a number of generous sponsors at East Cobb UMC who anonymously paid to cover the cost of any youth or counselor who couldn't pay for a trip.  Because of their giving, I was able to go and build deep relationships with the youth and with God.  I was never even able to thank those donors, because their giving was intentionally anonymous.  But look at what a fruitful investment they made.  I have been a minister now for 20 years and those early youth trips were a large contributing factor to my decision to follow this path.  So all the lives my ministry has touched is an extension of the financial gifts of those donors at East Cobb.  Their investment has born more fruit than they could have ever imagined when they gave.  Even my family has been dramatically effected, because all three of my kids and my wife grew up engaged in a parish ministry setting.

Every Christian is Called to Give
Every Christian is called to give.  It is built into the very identity of the Christian faith.  Jesus paid the ultimate price by dying on the cross in our place.  Christ gave his life to save us from sin and death and to offer us enteral life with God.  We become a Christian when we surrender to God.  We admit we are sinners who desperately need the saving grace of God.  We repent of our sin—primarily, the sin of thinking and acting as if our life belonged to us when, in fact, our life belongs to God because He made us and gave us a purpose.  So we repent and give our life to Jesus, God’s one and only Son.
  
Jesus talked about money a lot; more than prayer, sin, heaven, or hell.  He talked about money so much because he knew how much people value money.  Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21).  In other words: if your heart truly belongs to Jesus (because you’ve surrendered your life to him), then the things you treasure most deeply (including your money) will devoted to him too.  A quick test to see how much you “treasure” Jesus is too look at your finances.  What do you spend your money on?  How much is yourself?  How much is others?  How much is given directly to the things that really matter to Jesus?

The biblical standard for giving is 10%.  That means if you earn $50,000 per year, you would give $5,000 to Jesus through the Church.  This is called a tithe.  It was a law in the Old Testament and Jesus confirmed that people should tithe (Matthew 23:23).  I encourage all of you to tithe for two main reasons. 

First of all, it will bless the Church.  If every family here at Pleasant Grove gave a tithe we would have no trouble paying off our mortgage and paying our bills, and we would have plenty left over to do all kinds of incredible, life changing ministry—to kids, youth, adults, even seniors.  The simple fact is, the Church cannot reach it’s full potential because all of God’s people do not give what they are supposed to give.  That’s just the simple Truth.  But there’s another reason you should tithe. 

It will bless you.  Giving the tithe is a spiritual disciple every bit as important as prayer, reading your Bible, attending worship, and serving.  You cannot grow the way God wants you to grow if you are not giving. Period.

So, if you aren’t giving 10% of your income to God through His Church, I encourage you to start.  Maybe you don’t think you have the faith or money you need to jump right into 10% giving.  Then start with a lesser amount and work your way there.  Don’t just talk about it.  Make a plan.  How will you work your way to 10% giving?  How long will it take?  One year?  Two?  Five?  Make a plan and then implement it.  Perhaps you could start with 3% or 5% and gradually work your way up to 10% in a year or two.  It can be done.  I know it, because Kelly and I started tithing when we didn’t have any money—in our early 20s when our combined income was probably less than $15,000 a year.  The good thing about tithing is when your income is small, your tithing is small.  If your income is only $10,000 per year, your annual tithe would be $1,000 per year (or $83 per month or $19 per week).  As your income increases, your tithe will increase; but by then tithing will already be part of your habit and you won't have to struggle with it.

Christians are called to begin with a tithe, and then go further.  Just because you are already giving 10% of your income doesn’t mean you cross your arms and proudly exclaim, “I’m done!  I don’t have to give anymore.”  Remember what the old hymn says?  “Jesus gave it all!  All to him I owe!”  Therefore, always look for how you can give more to Jesus.  You will find it is a great blessing to give.

The Spiritual Gift of Giving
All Christians are called to give.  However, just like some Christians have the gift of music or the special ability to preach, other Christians are empowered by the Holy Spirit with the special ability to give in order to help transform our world.  Those with the spiritual gift of giving have a special ability to understand the material needs of others and then give generously beyond the normal standard to meet those needs.
A giver’s basic motivation is to live frugally and save as much as they can so they can give as much as they in order to help others. Givers take special delight in figure out needs that most people overlook and then meeting those needs.  Givers delight to find less expensive ways to do things, so that the Church gets the most bang for their buck.  A giver’s family often thinks they are cheap—too concerned about counting pennies—but the people to whom they give think they are extremely generous.  Saving resources brings a giver almost as much pleasure as giving them, because they regard saving as the key that opens the door to even more resources. They seem to be able to accumulate savings, even in hard times.  Lastly, most givers prefer to stay out of the spotlight.  They often give anonymously in order to avoid recognition.  Their reward is knowing God’s Kingdom is thriving because of their gift.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Givers
Spiritually gifted givers have some great strengths to offer God’s Kingdom.  They tend to avoid impulsive spending.  They understand authority and expect to be held accountable and diligently hold others accountable.  They are usually hard workers with conservative values.  They often like to be personally involved in the lives of the people in whom they've invested.  Givers manage their money well and hardly ever spend more than they make or incur debt.  Givers love to motivate others to save and to give generously.

However, with those strengths come some weaknesses givers should avoid.  Sometimes a giver’s efforts to conserve resources can degenerate into being “cheap.”  They might sacrifice quality for quantity or even miss a good opportunity altogether because they are unwilling to spend.  Spiritually gifted givers sometimes come to care more about the money than what the money can do for God’s work.  So, givers need a strong prayer life to know what God is doing and also the faith to give when God calls them to spend on His Kingdom work.  Pride can become another great weakness for givers.  They may become proud of their great resources and their ability to influence with their money.  If offended, givers may resort to withholding their giving as a weapon, letting their feelings interfere with God-given opportunities to give.  Furthermore, givers sometimes get too focused on one issue they see as a priority and ignore other issues that may be important to others or may be even more important to God’s Kingdom work.

Do You Have the Spiritual Gift of Giving?
Do you have the spiritual gift of Giving?  Do you have a knack for saving money—both by putting it away and also by getting a good deal?  Do you enjoy helping others more than spending on yourself?  Are you a hard worker with integrity, able to be held accountable for the way you use the resources God gives you?  Are you using your spiritual gift to have the greatest impact possible for the Kingdom of God?  As we get ready to close, I want you to pray about it.

As we close, I want to share one more story.  When I was a young minister—about 26-years-old and just starting out in the ministry.  I left a good paying job as the director of quality assurance at 1888 Mills to work as a youth director at a small church.  Our first child, Gavin, was just a baby.  Part of my job was to lead worship for our church’s youth group.  I had an old guitar that was barely adequate.  It seemed like it broke a string just about every time I played. Then I’d have to stop the service and take 5 minutes to put anew string on and retune (and you just couldn’t get it tuned right in that type of situation).  One of my volunteers, Eddie, called me and said, “Chris, meet me up at guitar center today.  I want to buy a guitar and I want your advice…”

Monday, September 9, 2019

The Transforming Gift of Encouragement


Introduction 
We’ve been studying how the power of God transforms all believers through the Holy Spirit so that we in turn can help transform each other and the whole world.  The Holy Spirit everyone who follows Christ as Lord a special gift.  Romans 12:6-8 tells us tells us the Holy Spirit gives some the gift of Prophecy, others the gift of Serving, or Teaching, Encouraging, Giving, Leadership, or Kindness.  Today, we will consider the spiritual gift of encouragement.  The Word of God tells us how to encourage one another.

1 Thessalonians 5:14
14 Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone.

Encouragement
Preaching is so enlightening for me.  I learn so much.  Today’s message is a perfect example.  I’m 45-years-old and in all this time, I never really thought very deeply about encouragement.  But preparing and preaching a sermon challenges me every week to look deeply into things I otherwise would have taken for granted.  The concept of encouragement is a perfect example.

What is encouragement?  The Greek word the New Testament uses is parakaleo.  Some versions translate it exhort.  Exhort is an outdated word people don’t use much anymore.  (I always have to look the word exhort up to remember what it means).  So a lot of new translation use the word encouragement.  But encouragement seems too easy that just makes me think of cheering someone on.  Cheering people on is only part of what the New Testament means when it talks about encouragement.  The spiritual gift of parakaleo (or exhorting or encouragement) is much more broad than just cheering people on and making them feel better. 

Parakaleo/exhorting/encouraging means to invite, invoke, beseech, call for, comfort, or intreat.  It's a kind of encouragement, but it's more like what a good football coach does.  Think of a football team with all the players having different personalities and problems.  Each player needs a different kind of “encouragement” from their coach.  One player is being lazy and needs the coach to bark at them, “Johnson!  Get off your butt and get to work!”  Another player is discouraged because they made a stupid mistake.  The coach says to them, “Shake it off Taylor.  Forget about it.  You’ve got this.”  Another player has a serious injury and is out of the game and the coach kneels with them and comforts them, “Don’t worry about it.  We’re gonna get you fixed.  You’ll be as good as new by next week.” 

A good coach “encourages” each player according to exactly what they need.  But always, a good coach is also thinking about the bigger picture and leading the whole team in their mission.  His words and actions are meant to drive the team forward toward victory.

Well, football is great, but the Church is on a mission from God.  We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the whole world.  And for this purpose, the Holy Spirit has given some Christians the special ability to encourage “the team” (the Church).  The gift of encouragement is the ability to inspire, admonish, embolden, and support others so that they are strengthened in resolve, faith and spirit.  The gift of encouragement is not so much about making people feel better as cheering them on in the right direction to do what God is calling us to do.  It is a motivational type of encouragement.

You want to know something really cool?  In the New Testament, the Greek word for the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete.  It’s the Greek word for Helper or Encourager.  So if you have the spiritual gift of encouragement, you are doing the very work of the Holy Spirit of God!  That’s just cool!  It’s like you’re a little holy spirit walking around getting people fired up to do God’s work!

Slide – Tips for Encouragers
Now let me give a few tips for all the little holy spirits in the room—the encouragers and exhorters. 

First of all, get to work!  We need you!  We need you to offer your encouragement.  All Christians ought to try to encourage one another.  But those who have the spiritual gift of encouragement can have a powerful influence on the Church.  Your words and actions get us fired up.  They motivate us to do the Lord’s work.  So speak up.  Offer your encouragement.  It really makes a difference!

Second, ground yourself in the Word, the Bible.  God gives some people the ability to teach—to offer facts and figures and knowledge about God’s story in the Bible.  (We talked about the spiritual gift of teaching last week.)  But exhorters/encouragers are practical teachers who emphasis getting things done rather than just knowledge for knowledge's sake.  Teachers says, “This is how you should live.”  encouragers says, “I will help you to do it.”  So encouragers need to know the Bible so they can help people live the Bible’s teaching.  (One of the best partnerships is between Teachers and encouragers.  The Teacher shows the deep meanings of the Bible to the encourager and then the encourager helps people put it all into practice to accomplish God’s mission.)

Third, plug in to ministry.  Find ways to put your encouraging gift into practice.  People with the spiritual gift of encouragement make great counselors, Sunday school teachers, pastors, deacons, people who visit shut-ins or people in the hospital.  If your spiritual gift is encouragement, get some training in one of these ministries and then get to work!
  
Lastly, go deep.  Be careful that your encouragement is more than just superficial cheeriness.  You know what I mean?  Yes, sometimes people just need a cheerful word and smile.  But other times, they need a kick in the butt!  And if they need a kick in the butt and you just give them a cheerful word, you’ve not helped.  You might have made the situation worse.  So make sure your encouragement caries the full strength of this remarkable gift.  Let God lead you to be honest and truly helpful as you provoke people to be all that God wants them to be.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Transforming Gift of Teaching

Introduction
We’re in the midst of a series of sermons about the transforming power of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.  When we believe in Jesus and choose to follow Him as Lord, the Holy Spirit comes to live inside us.  And the Holy Spirit gives each of us a gift—a special ability—to use to serve God in the Church and help transform our world.  Romans 12:6-8 teaches about seven of these spiritual gifts:  Prophecy, Serving, Teaching, Encouraging, Giving, and Leadership.

As we’ve gone through this series together, I’ve been remembering the transforming robot toys I played with as a boy—the Transformers.  I would watch the cartoon series on TV after I got home from school.  Then I would play with the Transformer toys my Mom gave me.

I’m not a little boy anymore.  I’ve grown up (somewhat!).  And so has the Transformers series.  The What started out as simple cartoon drawings on TV has grown up into sophisticated CGI movies on the big screen that look so realistic you can hardly tell the difference between what’s real and what’s animation.  The toy makers at Hasbro, the creators of the Transformers, are marketing geniuses.  They know that all those little boys from the 1980s (like me) have grown up into men who now have a little money to spend at the movie theater.  And they have adapted their Transformers into a movie format that appeals to men my age who want intense action and realistic graphics paired with the toys we played with as kids.

Unfortunately, though the graphics have matured quite a bit, the movies is still very childish.  They have paper-thin plot lines filled with cheesy one liners (that might sound cool to a boy, but) are kind of silly.  They are full of pretty girls, cool cars, and action packed sequences, but there’s no real meat or substance.  The Transformers are not going to win an Oscar anytime soon.

But what’s all this got to do with the transforming power of Jesus?  I’m glad you asked!  Our faith has to grow and mature much better than the Transformers series has. Listen to the Word of God.

Hebrews 5:12-14
12 You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. 13 For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. 14 Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.

Growing into Mature Christians
This Scripture makes it clear that we are to grow and mature as Christians.  Our growth is more than just our outer appearance.  Our mind and spirit must mature.  Thankfully, God has given some the spiritual gift of teaching to help us grow and mature.

Teaching is the God-given ability to clearly communicate the truths and applications of the Bible in such a way that others will learn.  People with the spiritual gift of teaching might say things like: “I enjoy research.”  “I tend to analyze everything.”  “I love to read and study.”  “I enjoy helping others to learn.” 

Spiritually Gifted Teachers
Spiritually gifted teachers have a passion for God’s Word.  They love reading and learning the Bible and then sharing what they learn with others.  They believe in the transforming power of Scripture, because they’ve seen it in their own lives and they want others to experience it too. 

Spiritually gifted teachers know what to teach.  They focus on the Bible, because they know Scripture is the Living Word of God and the foundation of all Christian belief and practice. 
Therefore, they favor the Wisdom of God in Scripture of the teachings of man.  That doesn’t necessarily mean they will only ever teach the Bible by reading it line-by-line.  A gifted teacher knows how to mine God’s Truth in the Bible and teach it in ways that the average person can understand and use in their everyday life. (They might even use silly toys are props to make their lessons more memorable!)

Spiritually gifted teachers know how to communicate ideas in organized manner.  They are always thinking, “How can I get people to understand and remember this?”  One of the great challenges for teachers is keeping their lessons simple.  For themselves, they love to go into the deep end of the pool of God’s Word.  They are fascinated by all the interesting facts and ideas they find there.  But the best teachers realize, not everyone has their same passion for the little “details”.  If they overwhelm their students, they won’t get anything out of their lesson.  And so gifted teachers find creative ways to make their lessons deep enough to provide real meat, but simple enough that average people can get it.  And one of their greatest joys is seeing people “get it”.

Spiritually gifted teachers hate when Scripture is twisted or misused.  They want sound teaching because they know people are easily misled.  And they know the damage that is done when people follow bad teaching.  That’s why they are so diligent to do their very best to teach well and found their teachings upon the eternal Truths of God in the Bible.  And it really disturbs them when they see other teachers spreading false teachings that twist and corrupt God’s Word.  Also, they do their best to counteract false teachers who would deceive.

We Need Spiritually Gifted Teachers
The Church needs gifted teachers.  Americans in the 21st century do not know the Bible.  Although 85% of people in America own a Bible and 51% can’t name the 4 Gospels, 60% can’t name 5 of the 10 commandments.  My church is struggling to find a Young Adult SS teacher.  When people don’t know the Truth of God’s Word, they are susceptible to the Enemy.  If the Church doesn't teach, they will simply believe what the world tells them.


Are You Learning, Growing, and Maturing?
Hebrew 5:12 – You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.

Weekly worship is a god way to start and get a general teaching.  In my church, I work very hard to make sure I give a good lesson each Sunday in my sermon.  If people are willing to give up their Sunday morning to come hear me, I want to make sure the time is meaningful to them.  It is difficult though because I have so many different kinds of people coming with widely varying spiritual maturity.  Some people come needing to be fed the milk of very basic teachings.  Other come needing a steak of more advanced lessons.  But I can only give one message to them all.  I do my best, but I encourage everyone who want to learn, grow, and mature to go deeper.

One way you can go deeper is to study on your own.  Pick up your Bible.  Read it and pray about it and ask God to speak to you and teach you as you study.  There are many helpful resources available to help you go deeper as you study on your own.  I recommend The Story by Randy Frazee or the great resources at Disciple Dojo,  But if you really want to grow and mature, you really must go even deeper.

It's crucial that you study God's Word with other people in a small group.  Join a Sunday school class or Bible study.  You will never learn all you need by studying by yourself.  Working with other people will give you questions and insights you never thought of while encouraging you to keep to keep at your studies and not give up.  Plus you will be learning the way the Twelve Disciples learned from Jesus--together.  The Christian faith was always meant to be lived out together in a community, right from the very start.  So commit to grow and mature through worship, reading, and study--on your own and with others.

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Transforming Gift of Service


Introduction
When I was a kid I love the Transformers cartoon series and children's toys.  The Transformers were alien robots that could transform into cars, jets, and other cools things.  Even more amazing, each individual robot warrior could combine with other robots in their unit to form a huge super robot.  Some Transformer would be the legs, and others the arms or body.  And this reminds me of what the Bible says about the Church.  All who follow Jesus Christ are filled with the Holy Spirit, who transforms us from our old nature into a new creation of God.  Furthermore, when believers work together as the Church, we make up the body of Christ.  The Holy Spirit gives each believer a special ability we are to use in cooperation with others in the church to help transform the world.  Isn't that cool!  Christian are the real Transformers!

List of Gifts
Romans 12:8-9 list seven gifts the Holy Spirit gives to transform us so we can transform the world. There are other lists in the New Testament list additional gifts.  The number of gifts is not as important as the idea that we are all give gifts by the Holy Spirit that we're to use to build up the Church and make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.  The gifts we are studying from Romans 12:8-9 are: Prophecy, Serving, Teaching, Encouraging, Giving, Leadership, and Kindness.  Click here if you would like to take a quick and simple assessment to discover how the Holy Spirit may have gifted you.  Today, we will study the transforming gift of Service.

Luke 17:7-10
7 “When a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of sheep, does his master say, ‘Come in and eat with me’? 8 No, he says, ‘Prepare my meal, put on your apron, and serve me while I eat. Then you can eat later.’ 9 And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not. 10 In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’”

Important Ideas About Servants
There are several ideas Jesus teaches us about servants.  First of all, a servant does things that need to be done—important things that might get overlooked because they aren’t necessarily the things most people think about.  However, if these important tasks are left undone these it will lead to serious problems.  What important yet easily overlooked tasks do we see in the passage?  There is plowing.  Plowing is not a glamorous job; but if you don't plow, you won't have much of a harvest and no food.  The passage also mentions taking care of the sheep.  Again, not a fun thing to do, but if you want wool and milk and meat from your sheep, you've got to do the dirty work of taking care of their hooves and health and making sure they are safe and have food and water.  Menial tasks like these and cooking dinner are essential for daily life and the servant is the one who see to them.

Second, a servant puts the needs of others before their own. Jesus says after working all day, the servant prepares the master’s meal and serves the master before the servant eats.  The servant doesn't complain that they've been working all day.  They know their job's not through.  It's who they are and what they do.  They're servants.

Third, a servant doesn’t expect to be thanked. They are just doing what they are supposed to do.  It's their job.  In the biblical world, it was their very identity.  Many people were servant their whole life.  In the Transformers cartoon, there was a robot names Rachet.  Rachet was the medic who transformed into an ambulance and repaired any injured or malfunctioning Transformers.  He was a real servant.  He reminds me of the firefighters, police, and EMTs from real life.  They are always serving, doing those things we don't think about until we desperately need them--when your house is on fire or you have an intruder or you're injured and need emergency medical attention.  We call them public servants we we express our gratitude.  Sometimes we even call them heroes when they do something heroic like save someone from a burning building.  Yet the most often simply respond by saying, “I’m not a hero; I'm just doing my job.”  That's the attitude of a true servant.

Jesus shared the characteristics of the best servants.

Matthew 24:45-46
45 “A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. 46 If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward.
  
The Best Servants
All believers, who follow Jesus as Lord, are called to serve.  In fact, Lord Jesus came to serve.  He set the example. He left the glory of heaven to come do what we couldn’t do for ourselves.  And while he was here, he didn’t sit back and expect everyone to serve him.  No.  He served everyone else.  The Greatest among you will be the servant of all.

All believers are called to serve.  But some believers have the exceptional, Holy Spirit empowered gift to serve others.  Gifted servants have a special talent for pinpointing exactly what needs to be done and then finding ways to get those things done.  Their serving frees others to work more effectively.  Gifted servants usually don’t need or even want recognition.  Their greatest reward is knowing that the job was done and it made a difference in the overall mission. 

The best servants are the ones you can trust to get the job done without anyone supervising them.  You don’t have to ask them.  You just trust them to figure out what needs to be done, how to best do it, and to make sure it gets done.  Most of the time, they do the work without you even being aware it’s getting done.  Now, some people would feel taken for granted if they did something without anyone else noticing or saying thank you.  But a true servant sees that this is just part of their purpose.  When they do their job really well, no one will notice, because no one even knew the job needed to be done.

Are You A Servant? 
Are you a servant God wants to use to help transform the world? Do you have the gift of the Holy Spirit to serve exceptionally well? A true gifted servant tends to say things like:
  • "I like to do useful, helpful things for people.
  • I show my feelings by what I do for others more than what I say to them."
  • "I prefer doing a job instead of delegating it to someone else to complete."
  • "I like to assist people in practical ways."
If that’s you, you might be a Holy Spirit empowered servant God wants to use to help transform the world! We need gifted servants in many places around Pleasant Grove:
  • Fixing things - In a large church facility, there are always things that need to be fixed.  We need self-motivated, faithful people who can spot things that need repairs and just get it done.
  • Children/Youth ministry - We already have a gifted youth minister and childrens' minister, but their gifts are teaching.  Our biggest need right now are servants who can assist these ministers by watching over the kids, chaperoning retreats, helping out behind the scene so the youth and children's ministers can focus on leading and teaching.
  • Wednesday night suppers - We always need helpers out our church to set tables, help in the kitchen during dinner, serve food, and clean up after dinner.  Is this something you would help with in your church?
  • Checking lights and doors - Sometimes, you don't need any special skills at all to be a faithful servant.  In a large church facility, there are always light that get left on and doors that don't get locked.  One helpful way to serve is just to go through the building regularly and check that all the lights are off and doors are locked.  This is tremendously helpful.
  • Counting money - We are always grateful for the generous giving to our worship offerings, but the money doesn't magically transport from the offering plates to the bank.  It takes faithful, conscientious servants to count the money, record it properly, and deposit it.  Could this be a way you could serve?
  • Planning events - You don't have to be a creative, visionary person who comes up with great ideas to help plan.  We often have innovative thinkers with great ministry ideas.  Unfortunately, creative types don't always know how to translate their ideas into practical ministries.  They often need help with the details and with carrying out the plans.  Are you a servant who likes to work and get things done?  Perhaps you could help with planning.
There are countless ways to serve through the church, the Body of Christ, especially for people who like to get things done and aren't concerned about getting credit.  All glory be to God and his Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit who empowers us to work together to transform the world.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Transforming Gift of Prophecy


Introduction
I loved the transformers when I was a kid.  The brilliant people at the toy company Hasbro really came up with a winning formula when I was a kid.  Eight-year-old Pastor Chris loved the transformers and so did millions of other kids.  Now, Hasbro didn’t just manufacture toys.  In a bit of marketing genius, they made toys and developed a cartoon TV series featuring their toys, which told the fictional story of the transformers.  So of course, kids all over America where watching these little mechanized robots that could transform in to cars and truck and jet airplanes.  And then they would go to mommy and daddy and beg for the toys so they could play with them at home.  The transformers have been a lucrative franchise every since—spawning seven movies and numerous television series.

The Transformers are definitely, “More than meets the eye.”  But I don’t want to talk about transforming robots today.  I want to talk about how the Holy Spirit of God transforms us and how we in turn can use the special power God gives us to transform our world.  The Word of God tells us some of the gifts the Holy Spirit offers each of us to help transform our world.  Listen.

Romans 12:6-8
In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

All Believers Are Given A Gift.  What’s Yours?
Now this is not an exhaustive list of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but it gives you a good idea of some of the special powers God may give you to help you transform our world.  Click here to take a spiritual gifts assessment to help you begin to identify which gift(s) the Holy Spirit may have given you.  It will give you some indications about your spiritual gifts.  Each week, I plan to talk about a different gift of the Spirit.  Today, I want to talk about the transforming gift of prophecy.

Acts 2:17-18
17 ‘In the last days,’ God says,
    ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young men will see visions,
    and your old men will dream dreams.
18 In those days I will pour out my Spirit

    even on my servants—men and women alike—
    and they will prophesy.

Everyone's a Prophet
This is an important and incredible statement. In Old Testament times, God only chose a few special people to be prophets. But now that Jesus, the Son of God has come, the Word of God says the Holy Spirit will be "poured out" on everyone who believes in Jesus. And the gift of prophecy will be found in young and old, men and women. And it seems like everybody's going to be seeing visions and dreams and prophesying. 

Notice it says, “poured out”.  I want you to close your eyes for a moment and imagine the Holy Spirit hovering up above you.  Now imagine the Holy Spirit of God pouring His power down around you and it’s splashing all around and soaking over you.  That’s the image.  If you've decided to follow Jesus Christ as your Lord, you’ve been drenched with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  And Acts chapter 2 indicates prophecy will be one of the most frequent results.

What is Prophecy?
The Word of God is True. Every believer of Jesus Christ has been Spirit empowered to prophesy. But the gift of prophecy is frequently misunderstood.  When most people think of a prophet or prophecy, they think of someone predicting the future.  However, prophecy is not about predicting the future.  Prophecy is simply telling people what God says.  (Sometimes in the Bible, God told a prophet to tell people what was going to happen in the future.  But the main point is not telling the future; it is telling what God says.) 

Prophecy is the Spirit-given ability to determine and proclaim God’s Truth.  A prophet “hears” what God says.  And when I say “hears” I want you to understand it’s not necessarily an audible voice.  Remember, Jesus liked to say, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!”[i]  Well everyone has ears, but not everyone listens.  A prophet listens and understands what God is saying—whether it is an audible voice or (more likely) God’s truth as revealed in the Bible through a sermon or a study or something else.  A prophet perceives what God is saying and shares it with others.

Now, every believer has some ability to prophecy.  If you can read the Bible and understand John 3:16 and then tell someone who needs to know, then you can prophecy.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that who ever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  If What have you done?  You've understood God’s truth, shared it with others, and even foretold the future (which is just a bonus).  (Yes!  You did predict the future!  You spoke about eternal life that everyone who believes in Jesus will receive; that's the future.)

Everyone can prophecy, but the Holy Spirit gives some people a special gift for prophecy.  What are some marks of a person who is truly gifted as a prophet?  Someone the Holy Spirit has gifted with prophecy has an extraordinary knack for hearing and expressing God’s Truth. 

Hearing God’s Word
First of all, a gifted prophet hears God’s Truth.  This is very important.  2 Peter 1:20-21 says, “Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.”

A true prophet is not sharing their own brilliant opinions and ideas.  A prophet is sharing God’s Truth.  We see this again and again in Scripture.  God told the prophet Moses, “Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (Exod. 4:12).  The Lord said to Jeremiah, “I have put my words in your mouth” (Jer. 1:9).  To the prhophet Ezekiel, God said, “You must speak my words to them” (Ezek. 2:7).  God tells prophets what to say.  So someone with the extraordinary, Holy Spirit imparted, gift of prophecy today, first has to listen for what God has to say.

God can speak in many ways, but the primary and most important way God speaks is through Holy Scriptures.  So a gifted prophet will be an avid student of the Bible.  They will become familiar with its teachings and discern the deeper meanings of what God says through the Bible, and not just what people say about it or God.  A true prophet will want to know, “What does the Bible say?” because they know what the Bible says is God’s Word.

And I must say a word of caution here, beware of any prophet or prophecy who consistently and fundamentally contradicts what God has already said in the Bible.  God inspired the Apostles and early church leaders to write and compile the Holy Bible.  It’s very unlikely that God is going to tell a new prophet to contradict what God has already said in the Bible.

Speaking God’s Truth
So first, a gifted prophet hears God’s Word.  Second, a prophet speaks God’s Truth.  Someone with the special Holy Spirit gift of prophecy feels compelled to share what God has told them.  The prophet Jeremiah described it “like a fire in my bones.”[ii]  Prophets are often ridiculed or persecuted, because God may lead them to say things people don’t want to hear.  The first Christian martyr, Stephen, said, “Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute?” (Acts 7:52).  But because God has told them to speak, someone with the gift of prophecy candidly speaks the plain truth when God compels them to speak.  They will speak the truth (even at personal risk) and speaks the truth even if it causes pain or hurt feelings. Furthermore, they will speak in such a way that people clearly understand what God is saying and have no one else to blame but themselves if they don’t listen.

The Problem of False Prophets
Now, the Bible warns us to watch out for false prophets.  2 Timothy 4:3-4 warns, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”  And 2 Peter 2:1b says, “…there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.”

In the Transformers cartoon series, it’s real easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys.  There are the honorable Autobots sworn to fight for good and protect the earth and its inhabitants from evil.  Then there are the evil Decepticons who want to rule the universe and will destroy anyone and anything that gets in their way.  The very name “Decepticons” makes it pretty obvious that they are the bad guys.  Buy if that weren’t enough, they always punctuate their evil schemes with a maniacal laugh. 

Unfortunately, in real life, the Decepticons (or false prophets) don't give themselves away with a maniacal laugh.  But there are some clues to help you watch out for false prophets.

First of all, false prophets will twist or even contradict Scripture.  Now, sometimes there is room for different interpretations of Scripture and not every preacher or teacher will get it right every time.  But there are also many places in Scripture that are plain and easy to understand.  And if someone is consistently contradicting and twisting the plain teachings of God's Word, watch out.  If they're telling you that the teaching of the Holy Bible are outdated and no longer apply, be on guard.  They might be a Decepticon (false prophet).  That's why it's so important for Christians to know the Scriptures so you won’t be fooled.  I understand that not everyone is going to be an expert in Scripture.  However, there's no reason why almost every Christian in America shouldn't at least be familiar with Scripture.  At the minimum, you need to know enough to question when someone says something that might contradict scripture, and then be able to take those questions to a Christian teacher you trust (or a small group for study) and know how to look for answers in your Bible.  This is becoming more and more important in the world in which we live, where there are so many who would seek to lead you astray.

A second way to spot a Decepticon (false prophet) is by their fruit.  Jesus said you can identify a good person from a bad one the same way you tell a good tree from a bad one—by their fruit. A good tree produces good fruit. A bad tree produces bad fruit. Luke 12:35, “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart.”

I Have a Prophecy for You Today
I have a prophecy for you today.  It's very simple and straight forward.  First of all, if you believe in Jesus and follow him as Lord, you will have eternal life.  His Holy Spirit will live inside you and transforms you and give your a special ability to help transform the world.  And Jesus wants you to know and use your spiritual gift(s) to help him transform our world.  And if he is truly your Lord, you will gladly get to work.  You can use the spiritual gifts assessment here to better understand what gift(s) you may have.

The second part of the prophecy is this:  If you do not believe in Jesus or follow him as your Lord, that's not good at all.  You do not have eternal life.  Something much darker lies ahead in your future.  You will not experience the blessings God wants for you in this life and after you die, you will face God's judgement and eternal punishment in hell where their will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, and eternal separation from God, the source of love and live and peace.  The Good News is you can repent and turn to God today.  Through Jesus Christ, you can receive the free gift of God's salvation and eternal life.  Won't you turn to Him today?  All you have to do is decide, close Your eyes, and ask God to save you and then start following Jesus as your Lord from this day forward and you will be transformed.


[i] Matthew 11:15, 13:9, etc.
[ii] Jeremiah 20:9