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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.  I mention Optimus Prime's leadership, because I want to talk about the transforming spiritual gift of leadership today.

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.