In a culture of celebrity, be a servant. That’s what the Palm Sunday story tells us, well illustrated by the apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12.1-31a, in which he wrote to a dysfunctional church about the right use of spiritual gifts in the edification of the church. You can watch the whole worship gathering below, or the message alone below that.
A friend of mine relayed a story recently about Ray Stedman, a well-known American pastor from the 20th century. He had flown to a speaking engagement (remember the good old days, when people actually flew places?), and the airline lost his luggage (we don’t miss that part!). In that culture, preachers didn’t get up to speak without wearing a suit – and he didn’t have one, thanks to the airline.
Stedman asked his host what could be done, and the host pastor said he would arrange to get Stedman a suit in which to preach the next morning, making note of his measurements.
When the suit was delivered to the hotel, Stedman dressed, and tried to put his wallet in a pocket. Much to his amazement, he realized the suit had no pockets in the jacket or even in the pants!
He mentioned this to his host pastor, who quickly admitted that the suit had been acquired from a local funeral home!
This was a suitable reminder for Stedman, as for us, that ‘you can’t take it with you.’
I’m often amazed at the stories I hear – and sometimes witness – about people wanting to be buried with some sort of treasure that mattered to them, whether money or things. But they will do us no good in the afterlife. The only thing we can bring with us when we die, that will do any good, is faith.
As we are reminded when we sing the old hymn by Augustus Toplady, Rock of Ages, “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling!”
So rather than filling our proverbial barns and buying more when they are full, we can invest in opportunities that will enable more people to carry faith into the afterlife. The dividends paid by that will last for eternity.
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be” (Matthew 6.19-21, NLT).
A friend of mine was living and studying in Toronto in 1992, when the Blue Jays won the World Series for the first time ever. I remember speaking with my friend and mentioning this. I got a quizzical look back.
My friend had no idea that Toronto’s franchise had won baseball’s biggest title. I was gobsmacked!
Maybe you’ve heard the pejorative phrase, “He’s so heavenly minded, he’s no earthly good.” Perhaps you can think of someone who fits that description pretty well.
And it’s true: it can be challenging to deal with people who have no significant awareness of their surroundings or their culture.
At the same time, though, there are many people who claim to be followers of Jesus who are so focused on this life that they have no grasp whatsoever on the future for which Jesus has ransomed them.
It’s possible to be so earthly minded as to be (dare we say it?) no heavenly good.
Granted, there’s a lot about heaven that we don’t know. All we can know is revealed to us in the Bible, and a lot of what people actually believe about heaven bears no resemblance to anything Scripture tells us about it. Even in the church, there’s a lot of “folk religion” that’s held tightly, at least when it comes to the afterlife.
The key, I suppose, is balance. As God’s people, we want to be focused on what Jesus has promised for us. And we want to live in the world in which God has placed us in the here-and-now. We need to ask the Holy Spirit, who dwells within each believer, to help us bring about that balance, so that people will take us seriously when we do point them toward heaven.
I invite you to do that today: ask the Holy Spirit to help you balance the delights of heaven with the needs of the world. When he helps you achieve that balance, who knows how many people may look to you to have the same hope for the future that lives in you!
“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3.1-3, NLT).
Picture this: you have a friend whose birthday is coming up. You decide on the perfect gift to give him or her. You purchase it, wrap it up, and on your friend’s birthday, you hand it to him or her with a greeting and a smile.
Your friend thanks you for the gift, sets it down…and never opens it.
How would you feel?
Did you know that if you’re a follower of Jesus, God has given you at least one special gift by the Holy Spirit? Yet, in reality, most of us never open them.
Knowing our spiritual gifts is vital to our proper functioning as part of the body of Christ, the church. By knowing our gifts, we know how most effectively to serve the Lord in the edification of his church.
Lots of people burn out serving Jesus. Sometimes – oftentimes, I think – it’s because we’re serving outside of our gifting.
When we know and use our spiritual gifts, we are able to function harmoniously in the perfect role God has planned for us in his church.
Do you wonder what your gifts are?
This Sunday, I’ll be talking about the importance of service in the church as an expression of our faith in the Lord, and I’ll be inviting participants to join me in a seminar on Zoom for unwrapping our spiritual gifts.
The seminar will be held on Thursday, March 18 from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. If you’d like to join me in that seminar, I invite you to comment, with your email address. I’ll send you the Zoom link, and also a link to an inventory of your spiritual gifts that you will fill out before the seminar. It would be good to see your face – unmasked, even!
If you do know your gifts, use them to the glory of God, and the edification of his church. But if you don’t know your gifts, please feel free to join me. I look forward to hearing from you.
“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children” (Ephesians 4.11-14, NLT).
The recent news items centring around people’s offence over children’s toys and books have been poignant reminders of how easily society today is offended – often over little things. It’s not surprising that secular society should be like this. Without significant and historically-rooted moral footing, it becomes easy to get annoyed about anything. But God’s people can and must be different.
And yet, in the church, where we have a biblical moral compass, we often see people taking offence, don’t we?
Some years ago, I remember hearing a sermon by Craig Groeschel of Life.Church, the theme of which I adapted for use myself. Groeschel said that we need to lay down on the altar of God’s grace our right to be offended.
The antidote to offence is forgiveness. How do we do it?
First, give the other the benefit of the doubt. Assume the best was meant.
Second, don’t label people. Putting people in a box is unfair and usually inaccurate.
Third, remember that we’re called to forgive as we have been forgiven. In Jesus’ model prayer, he calls his followers to pray that God will forgive us as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.
And, as Groeschel said, the closer we get in relationship with God, the less forgiveness is a process; it becomes more reflexive.
How are you doing with laying down your right to be offended, both within the church and among your neighbours?
“Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs” (Proverbs 19.11, NLT).