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Posts Tagged ‘serving God’

Our title this morning is “Be faithful in the little things.” We are looking at a principle that Jesus teaches and how he applies it to two different areas of our lives. The principle is stated most clearly in Luke 16:10. We can call it –

The principle of little and much

Luke 16:10 – “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is unreliable in a very little is also unreliable in much.”

(Unreliable is usually translated as “dishonest,” but the former seems more appropriate as a counterpoint to “faithful.” The principle is also in Matthew 25:21/23, see below. See also Luke 19:17. Luke 7:47 goes in a different direction.)

So we have what is little and what is much. And there is a relationship between them. How one does with what is little is a clear indicator of how one will do with much. This is stated in both a positive and a negative way – whether you are faithful or unreliable.

This principle can be applied in many ways, for instance with parents working with children or bosses with employees, or even in relationships. If someone you are dating treats you poorly or lies to you, you can be sure that they will do so once you are married. But our focus is on how Jesus applies this principle and first we look at the topic of –

How we use our wealth – Luke 16:11-13

The statement of our principle and these verses come right after the parable of the dishonest manager, which we looked at a few weeks ago. Let’s remember together briefly what it taught us:

There was a manager who had squandered his master’s funds and was about to be fired. But then he figured out how to take care of himself. He cut the debts of those who owed his master, so that they would like him and take care of him after he was fired and had no money. He said, “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.” Luke 16:4. Through a shrewd use of his master’s wealth he took care of his future.

Jesus’ point is that Through a shrewd use of the world’s wealth (giving it to the needy) we take care of our future. He said at the end of the parable, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” Luke 16:9  That is, the poor ones we help, will welcome us into the eternal kingdom.

And then comes v. 10 which states the principle of little and much, and then in Luke 16:11-12, Jesus applies this principle to the topic of wealth.

11If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” Here we learn that the wealth of this world is not real wealth. True riches, that don’t fail (v. 9) and that one has because of righteousness, as opposed to how things often work in this world, true riches will only be given out in the world to come.

12And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” Here we learn that the wealth of this world is another’s. But what we are given in the world to come is going to be our own.

And in both of these statements it is clear that the “little” has to do with what we do or don’t do in this world with the wealth God gives us. The “much” has to do with what we will be our situation in the world to come – whether we will have the true riches that are our own. And the first, what we do or don’t do with the little, determines the second – the much. Because God knows based on what we have done with what is little, how we will do with the much of what is to come in the kingdom.

The key in all of this is, ‘Will we give of our wealth to help the poor and needy?’ This is being faithful in the little, this is being reliable in the little.

Then in v. 13 Jesus gets to the heart of the matter. “13No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” If we love God, we will do what God wants us to do with the little of this world’s wealth. We will give to help those in need. But if we love our wealth, we will keep it for ourselves and we will not have friends to welcome us into the kingdom.

Second, Jesus applies the principle of little and much to –

How we serve God – Matthew 25:21, 23

The context here is the parable of the talents. Let’s remember together the meaning of this parable. Jesus is about to go away to the Father after his death and resurrection. And so Jesus leaves his kingdom work to his disciples – the church, to you and me. And to some he gives a lot of responsibility, 5 bars of silver, to some 3 bars of silver and to some only 1 – each according to our ability. And we are to fulfill our tasks.

And then Jesus returns for the final judgment. And here we have the little and much principle stated clearly, as the master says to the one who had five bars of silver and increased them, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” Matthew 25:21. And again to the one who had three talents and increased them, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” Matthew 25:23.

Like before with wealth, the “little” has to do with what we do or don’t in regard to serving God with the tasks he has given us to do. The “much” has to do with what we will be our situation in the world to come – what our levels of responsibility will be in the fullness of the kingdom. And once again, the first, what we do or don’t do with the little, determines the second – the much. Because God knows based on what we have done with what is little, how we will do with the much of what is to come in the kingdom.

The key here is, ‘Will we serve God and do what he has tasked us to do?’ If we are faithful with the small responsibilities in this life that God gives us, God will give us greater responsibilities and honor in the world to come.

But heed the note of warning with the third servant. If we are not faithful here, we will not have a place in the world to come but will go to place of weeping and gnashing of teeth – Matthew 25:30.

The principle of little and much

This principle teaches us that what we do in this life will determine what we have in the life to come. God tests us in the little things of this life, before we get the real blessings of the world to come. Because he can tell from what we do in this life, what we should have in the life to come.

If we aren’t faithful in the little things, we will not be entrusted with the greater things – the much of the world to come. So whether it is how we use our wealth in this life, or how we fulfill the tasks that God has given to us in this life, we are being tested.

And so my word of encouragement to you this morning is this be faithful in the little things of this world! Be radical in your giving – don’t let fear of being without hinder you. Serve God with abandon – don’t let the things of this world distract you from what is truly important. Do this and you will be blessed with the much of the world to come – with what is true, with what is lasting and with what will be your own – untold blessings in the kingdom of God.

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We are looking at the parable of the workers this morning in Matthew 20:1-16. And I am asking the question, What is God asking you to do?

Matthew 20:1-16 – “1For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ 5So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. 6And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’

8And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ 9And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’

13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first last.”

There are a lot of different interpretation of this parable that go in lots of different directions. Here are some examples. 1) The first = the Pharisees, and the last = tax collectors. And they are made equal. 2) Similarly, the first = Jewish Christians, and the last = Gentile Christians. Certainly this is possible, but these are not being discussed before or after this, and the idea doesn’t fit into the flow or context here, especially of  19:30. 3) Along similar lines, but more remote still, the first = long time Christians, and the last = those saved late in life. 4) The parable is meant to teach that you shouldn’t serve Jesus for reward. It’s about motivations. It’s a rebuke to Peter, who in 19:27 asks “What then will we have?” But, as we will see, he is not boasting or serving for the wrong motives. He’s concerned about whether he will be saved or not. 5) The parable teaches that there are no levels of reward. We all get the same thing no matter whether we work much or little. But this goes against other teaching in Matthew, as we will see later, there are levels of reward in the kingdom. I will share with you my understanding. First some –

Background

The vineyard owner hires day laborers in town. The workday at this time was 12 hours long. About 10 hours of actual work, with breaks for meals, prayers. The last worker only worked an hour. A “denarius” equals a day’s wage, something like minimum wage today. The workers get paid at the end of each day in accordance with Deuteronomy 24:14-15. Those who live hand to mouth, must be paid right away so that they can feed their families each day.

There are also –

Some basics from the parable

– that are fairly clear. 1. The point of the parable is that the first will be last, and the last first. The parable is sandwiched between two statements that say just this (an inclusion).

  • 19:30 – “But many who are first will be last, and the last first”
  • 20:16 – at the conclusion of the parable – “So the last will be first, and the first last” (This last phrase has “so,” or “thus” in front of it, meaning, in this way the last will be first. It offers an explanation for the saying of 19:30)

And the  language of last and first shows up throughout the parable itself.

Now, although in other places this phrase “the first will be last and the last will be first,” means reversal (e.g. Luke 13:30), 2. here “the first and the last” speaks of equalization. The last are treated like the first and the first are treated like the last, which is not about reversal.

The climax of the parable in v. 12 shows this. Those who worked the longest complained, “These last worked only one hour, and “you have made them equal to us” who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” The issue here is how all the workers were treated equally, even though some had done more work.

3. The basic identities of the first and the last is clear. 

  • v. 10 makes it clear that “the first” are those who have worked all day, the 12 hour workers.
  • v. 12 makes it clear that “the last” refers to those hired last, who worked the least, the one hour workers.

This much is clear. But if we ask more specifically who is Jesus talking about when he speaks of the first and the last, I would say that –

The context of the parable is the key

That is, the preceding story of the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-30. Let’s look at this:

1) The rich young ruler asked, “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” – Matthew 19:16

2) After enumerating many of the commands, Jesus demanded that he sell his possessions and follow him. (Both Mark and Luke make it more clear that Jesus means “all” his possessions). Then he will gain eternal life (19:16-22). Apparently Jesus saw that he had a problem with a desire for wealth and a desire to keep it for himself.

3) Then Jesus talks about how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom. It is, basically, impossible (19:23-24). Now, this is not talking about an actual camel’s gate in Jerusalem. This interpretation comes from the middle ages. It’s a proverb that expresses something that is impossible.

4) Well, the disciples are astonished by all this. They ask, “Who then can be saved?”

5) Jesus replies that God can make it possible (19:25-26). God can help those who have more than they need to give up self-indulgence and to share with the needy.

6) Peter is concerned about whether they, the twelve, will make it into the kingdom, because they are not doing as much as was demanded of the rich man. Peter said, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” (Matthew 19:27). ‘Jesus, you told him to have life he had to sell all. We have left all. Is that enough?’

7) Jesus reassures them, Yes, they will enter the kingdom and will have 12 thrones and judge the people of God. Then he expands it beyond the 12 in Matthew 19:29. “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”

So we have a situation where:

  • Jesus is more demanding of the young man – sell all and follow me, and
  • Jesus is less demanding of the 12 & others – leave everything behind and follow me

Yet both would receive eternal life!

Now all of salvation is a gift of God, but it is also true that God requires that we obey him. And along these lines God asks some to do more by way of difficult obedience. And God asks some to do less to enter the kingdom or inherit eternal life.

The meaning of the parable

This rightly raises the question, “Is this fair?” – which is what this parable is all about.

The first are those whom Jesus demands much from – sacrifice and hard work, like the young man who has to sell all and follow Jesus in full time ministry. They work 12 long hours in the heat of the day.

The midday workers are those whom Jesus demands less from – perhaps the 12 disciples who leave all and follow Jesus, but don’t sell all; something less than what the first have to do.

The last are  those from whom Jesus demands relatively little from – perhaps ordinary Christians who don’t even leave all. They stay at home and support those who do.

So, we all have to obey; everyone in the parable worked some. But God requires of some more sacrificial obedience than others. God is sovereign and can do what he wants in this regard. He can be generous with some whom he doesn’t require as much from. Yet all who do what God calls them to do will receive eternal life. The last is like the first, and the first is like the last, in that they all enter the kingdom. So the parable is a footnote to the conversation about the rich young ruler and wealth and the saying in 19:30 about the first and the last.

What do we learn from the parable?

Don’t be alarmed if God requires more of others. 1. As long as you are doing what God has asked you to do, you are fine. Eternal life in the kingdom will be yours on the final day. So this is a word of assurance to us all just as it was to Peter and the 12 who were worried about what Jesus required of the rich young ruler.

2. If God has laid on you a difficult path of obedience, don’t complain that others don’t have to do what you do. Don’t be like the 12 hour workers in the parable.

A question, 3. Is God calling anyone here to leave all and follow Jesus? Or to sell all and follow Jesus? To a life of ministry as a pastor or missionary or some other form of service to God that is beyond being an ordinary Christian working in a local congregation? Are there any rich young rulers here today? Do you here Jesus calling you? What is God asking you to do?

Instead of comparing yourself with others – 4. Focus on doing what God has called you to do, and do it well.

Now some say that this parable teaches that everyone gets all the same rewards in the kingdom. But this doesn’t fit with many other passages of Scripture (Matthew 5:19, 11:11, 18:4, 23:11, 19:28, 20:20-28). There are rewards for diligent and sacrificial obedience within the sphere of what God has called us to.

The question is how well do you do what God has called you to do? If you are called to preach, for instance, how well are you doing this; how hard are you working at this? Or if you are called to support those who do full time ministry and to work in a local congregation, how well are you doing this: how hard are you working at this? This is where rewards come in. And this should be a challenge to us all to serve the Lord with our full obedience in the sphere to which he has called each one of us.

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It is a central truth of our faith that new life comes through brokenness. We all want new life right? But we don’t want brokenness because brokenness is all about humility, weakness, suffering, pain and sacrifice.

I want to share with you today three examples of how new life can come from brokenness:

1. The brokenness of repentance

Turn with me to Psalm 51:17. This is, of course, David repenting for some very serious failures before God. He is confessing his sin and seeking cleansing and renewal. And then he talks about animal sacrifices and how what God really wants comes from the heart. v. 17 – “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  This is a description of his repentance.

As Elders we have focused on calling the church to spiritual renewal; on prayer and on seeking God for renewal in our congregation. For our vision we have not focused on a new building or some new defining program. We believe that God is calling us to be renewed and that God needs to come and move powerfully among us to transform us – and then we can talk about these other things.

This is what I would highlight for us this morning in terms of what I am talking about:

  • we are too comfortable as a congregation and set in our ways. We don’t want to take risks for God. Many like things just the way they are, as long as their needs are taken care. There is too much focus on us and not on the needs of others and the work of the kingdom.
  • we have too many walls that separate people in their relationships with each other. Not that people are fighting, but there are wounds, scars and bitterness from the past that haven’t been dealt with, which creates separation. So that we aren’t the close, loving and caring community that we could be.
  • we are too busy, always doing things and overwhelmed with our fast pace of life. Often what gets cut is our local congregation – investing in relationships with each other and doing ministry together. Let’s be clear, we are not victims here. Our lives are like they are because of choices that we make. And we need to make different choices.

And so spiritual renewal is needed. I don’t know if you accept this or not, but I am your pastor and I am telling you that spiritual renewal is needed. And this requires repentance as a first step.

Now if we do have the brokenness of repentance, God can come in and renew us. As David says in Psalm 51:10-12 – “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” New life comes through the brokenness of repentance.

2. The brokenness of difficult situations

Turn with me to 2 Corinthians 12:7-8. Paul is here talking about various “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” (v. 10) that he has gone through. Starting halfway through v. 7  he says, “a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.” He is most likely talking about some physical ailment or the constant persecution that followed him around everywhere.

Well, we have difficulties in our congregation –

  • people who have physical needs – some long term with no fix.
  • people who struggle with depression, anxiety and more.
  • people who have gone through deep waters.

And as a congregation we have experienced brokenness in our most recent trial . . .

All of our trials are painful, whether our individual trials or our congregational trial. There is definitely brokenness among us.

When these things happen we can despair and give up. Or our suffering can lead us to God; to come to God in our weakness and pain and to find strength through more fully relying on him.

Paul talks about the new life that suffering can bring when he goes on in 2 Corinthians 12 to talk about the strength God gives. In vs. 9-10 he quotes the Lord who said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” And then he says, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” A deeper spiritual life of greater dependence and relationship with the Lord can be ours, because of the brokenness of our trials.

3. The brokenness of serving God

This comes from the verse on the front of your bulletin from John 12:24. Jesus is talking about his own life which he is about to give up, but it teaches the path that we are to take as well. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

Serving God is all about walking in weakness. We are called to do things that no one is capable of doing in their own strength. And serving God is all about sacrifice – giving of ourselves to others, laying down our lives – even if people don’t receive it.

But through such death to self comes new life – for ourselves in terms of inner joy and the hope of the coming resurrection, and for those who respond to the ministry. It “bears much fruit.”

That life comes through the brokenness of service to God is supremely illustrated in the Lord’s supper. Jesus’ body was what? It was “broken” on the cross. Jesus’ blood was what? It was poured out on the cross. He laid down his life. But his brokenness led to his resurrection, and it also poured forth new life for all who will receive it.

As we receive the Lord’s supper today let’s remember the three kinds of brokenness:

1. If you need to repent, I invite you to do so, so that you can receive new life from God – a new heart and a renewed spirit.

2. If you are going through hard times, and as a congregation as we go through a hard time, let us throw ourselves at his feet and find spiritual renewal as we completely rely on him, so that in our weakness the power of God will shine forth more powerfully.

3. If you are tired and broken from serving God, I invite you to receive encouragement from God to know that it’s worth it; to receive joy now and remember your great hope for the future.

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Next week is our baptism and recovenanting service! And as a part of this I am highlighting two different parts of our church covenant. Reminding us what we have and are committing ourselves to.

  • Last week we looked at Christian fellowship, how we are related as a family in Jesus and then how we are to relate to each other, to care and support each other, and how this takes an investment of our time.
  • Today our topic is Christian work, using our gifts and talents to serve God and do the work of the kingdom.

Let’s begin by remembering a foundational truth –

We are the body of Christ

So we are working with an analogy here, between the church and the human body. The human body is one, but is made up of many parts. In the same way the body of Christ is one, but is made up of many parts. This analogy shows up in Romans 12:4-5 – “4For as in one body we have many members . . . 5so . . .” with the body of Christ.

Christ is pictured as the head. Ephesians 5:23 says, “Christ is the head of the church, his body.” And we are the members of his body. 1 Corinthians 12:27 says, “now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

We learn several things about working for God from this image of the body of Christ:

1. Each one of us has gifts

Just as a body has an eye that sees, a foot that walks, an ear that hears, a mouth that speaks – so in the body of Christ we each have a place, a function, a role to play.

By creation we all have natural abilities – music, leadership, creativity, social skills, business expertise ands so forth. And then beyond natural talents we all also have spiritual gifts – ways that the Spirit can work through us, given to us by God at our conversion.

Regarding these spiritual gifts, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:7, “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Paul names some of these in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. “For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.”

Each one of you has a gift or gifts from God, to use to do his work.

2. Our gifts are different

As Paul says, “the members (of the body of Christ) do not all have the same function” – Romans 12:4. And he says, we have “gifts that differ according to the grace given to us” – Romans 12:6. Each one of us in unique.

3. All the gifts are needed for the body to work

Sometimes we focus on certain gifts and say, “Oh, I don’t have that one – I’m not needed; I’m not a part.” But for any body to function, all the parts need to be working.

Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 12:14-19. “For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be?”

Your gifts are needed; your contribution is crucial. Think of a human body – when parts stop working, it’s not a good thing! So it is when we hold back, or don’t contribute in the body of Christ.

Here’s a question to ponder. Are there any age restrictions on contributing to God’s work? This is what I tell the young people I work with, if you’re old enough to be baptized, you’re old enough to work for God. And I would say this to those among us who are older, if you’re young enough to be of sound mind, you’re young enough to work for God.

As long as we are able, we are to do our part.

4. All the gifts need to be working in unison for the body to work

With all of our differences in gifting, we need to work together, not separately, for the body to function.

Paul addresses this in 1 Corinthians 12:20-26. “As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”

We are a team. And all are to be honored for their contribution – the one up front and the one working behind the scenes; the one in leadership and the one not in leadership. Because without all of us working together, the body loses its capacity to function.

So my exhortation to you today is –

Use your gifts and do God’s work!

Romans 12:6 says, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” This is the whole message today. Let us use our gifts to do God’s work. We want to be a church where everyone uses their gifts; where everyone is doing God’s work.

So find what your gifts are and put them into practice. Find what gives you energy and life; what brings joy to you as you do it. And focus on this in your work for God.

But also just doing things that need to be done. You don’t have to have a gift or a calling to wash dishes, to wash dishes, when the dishes need to washed. You don’t have to have a gift or a calling to pick up trash on the church grounds, to pick up trash, when the trash needs to be picked up.

To use the language of Ecclesiastes 9:10, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might . . .”

Now, if you are already busy doing the work of the kingdom – blessings to you!!! Thank you!!! May you find joy and satisfaction in it now and may the Lord say to you on that day, “Well done, good and faithful servant . . . enter into the joy of your Master” – Matthew 25:21

But if you have some room in your life to work for God, or to do so even more, I invite you to consider several possibilities here at Cedar Street right now. . ..

William Higgins

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Now, my title today isn’t meant to refer to what will happen when we eat our fellowship meal today. I’m talking about growing deeper in our Christian lives and as a church body.

As your pastor I carry a very real concern for our congregation. I think and pray hard about the direction we are moving, our health as a congregation, our ministries and our faithfulness to God. And I will confess that thoughts about such things are never far from my mind and heart. You know, How are we doing? What needs to be focused on? Where are we weak? Where are we strong? What needs to change?

As I reflected this week several things came to mind in terms of areas of emphasis and areas of growth for us. And I thought it would be good to share these with you and to invite you to pick up the challenge to move forward in these areas, so that we can grow as a congregation. So here we go.

1. Let’s grow in our love for one another

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” John 13:34. Paul said to the Romans, “Love one another with brotherly affection.” Romans 12:10. Peter said, “Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” 1 Peter 1:22.

Paul said to the Thessalonians, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another . . . But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more.” 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10. I like this last phrase. You have love for one another, but do this “more and more.” In the same way, we do have love for one another here at Cedar Street, but we are to do this “more and more.” We are to grow in our love for one another.

What do I mean? Let’s work at getting to know each other more. Let’s build our relationships with each other. Branch out beyond those you already know. Do things together.

I mean encouraging one another, praying for one another and helping one another. I mean being kind and gentle with each other. And outdoing each other in showing respect and honor to one another.

Here are two specific suggestions: If you don’t already, come to Sunday school. This is a place where you can get to know others. And also, if you don’t already, be a part of a share group. We have four right now, but if needed we can always start another one. This is a place where you can build relationships, and get support.

2. Let’s grow in our maturity in handling our differences

We are held together by our common faith in Jesus and our commitment to follow him, and this is summarized in our church covenant.

Paul says it this way, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:4-6. Notice the seven “ones”: We are all a part of one body of Christ, the church. And we all share in one Holy Spirit who dwells within us. We have one hope, one Lord, one faith in Jesus, one baptism and one God the Father.

Yet, all congregations have differences also. Certainly we do. And this is perfectly normal. We have different gifts and callings that give us different things to focus on. For instance if you are an evangelist, you are gonna focus on evangelism and want everyone to do this. Or, if you have a gift of worship, you are gonna want everyone to make this the focus. And so on.

We have different levels of maturity and understanding among us. We have generational differences. This impacts all kinds of things, for instance how we might prefer to worship.

We have different personalities, which affect how we approach everything we do. We have differences of opinion on all kinds of things, including politics, which if we focus on will lead us all in different directions.

We come from different backgrounds – city, rural, suburbs – we have it all. And we have different church backgrounds, some were raised Mennonite, some have no church background and everything in-between.

So what do we do with all this? It can discourage us, weigh us down or even tear us apart. But it doesn’t have to. We need to learn to discern what God requires – and then be flexible with the rest. We need to be able to tell the difference between Gods’ will and just what we prefer or want, as opposed to others who see things differently. And in the part that God does not require of us, we can learn from each other and try different things.

Here’s an example. Some prefer it when we use flat bread for communion. The Lord’s supper, after all was a Passover meal with unleavened bread. And it is nice to use the same kind of bread that Jesus used. But some prefer to use regular bread, the kind that we call “bread” in our everyday lives. It has a different feel to it and breaks differently. So we can learn from each other here, and be flexible by using both, taking turns.

And then, when we can’t seem to agree on an issue, or come to an easy resolution, we need to be mature Christians about it, as we have been, and are learning about in our conflict resolution class Sunday school class. Right?

  • Don’t pull back and just drift off if you are in disagreement about something, grumbling like the children of Israel in the desert.
  • And also on the other hand, don’t strike out and tear down others.

Rather, we are to love each other, look to God for help and work toward peace. As Jesus has taught us, “Be at peace with one another.” Mark 9:50.

3. Let’s grow in owning and using the gifts that God has given us

Paul said to Timothy, “Do not neglect the gift you have . . ..” 1 Timothy 4:14. He also said to him, “I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you . . ..” – 2 Timothy 1:6. We are to discover and use the gifts that God has given us.

Just like in the realm of physical health, it’s not healthy to be a Christian and not be active, doing nothing. Don’t be a pew potato! Don’t just come and sit here once a week and feel like that’s what it’s all about.

Exercise your gifts. Be active and engaged in serving God. We have focused on this before, but I am reminding you here again today.

I think there are two really big obstacles here. The first is time. We live overcommitted lives. We are overbooked, overscheduled and overwhelmed. And often it is serving God that gets cut out as we try to make time for all else that there is to do today. We are trying to do too much, too many good things, and we end up making idols of these things as we devote ourselves more to them than to serving God and working for the kingdom.

The second obstacle is that you might feel you have nothing to share. Maybe you think you are too young. Or maybe you think that you have already served God and are “retired” now. Well, the truth is that everyone has some way to serve God. Paul says, “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” 1 Corinthians 12:7. And this is not restricted by age.

So, find out what your gifts are and use them! Next year we plan to have a Sunday school class focused on this. But, you don’t need to wait, try some things and see what you enjoy, see what you do well. And if you need help, talk to me and I will plug you in somewhere.

4. Let’s grow in our emphasis on outreach and hospitality

It’s easy to be comfortable as Christians. Comfortable with just hanging out with other Christians. (Some don’t even know unbelievers very well.) Comfortable with just talking to those we already know when we are at church.

But Jesus calls us to something more. He said, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10. This is why he came. And he calls us to follow his example, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19.

Now, I am certainly grateful for all those working in the areas of outreach and hospitality in our congregation, using their gifts, but these are things that each of us need to grow in.

And I’m not talking about being artificial or forcing things. I mean just being a Christian in your everyday relationships and looking for opportunities to share what God has done. I mean being friendly and welcoming to those who are new to the congregation. That’s all.

In our Sunday school coming up soon, we will have chance to focus on the outreach part of this. And I hope this will spur us in this emphasis.

5. Let’s grow in our desire for more of what God has for us

I want to instill a yearning for more in each of your hearts.

We can see what God wants for us by looking at the picture of the church in the New Testament, especially the book of Acts. They had great love for one another, the Spirit moved in power among them, they willingly suffered for their faith, they shared deep fellowship with each other, they boldly witnessed for Jesus.

As we look at this, we can see that God has so much more for us. We talk about revival and renewal, well this is what we are talking about – getting back to this.

And the problem is not on God’s end. Instead of being satisfied with where we are, we need to be seeking this. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8. James said, “You do not have, because you do not ask.” James 4:2.

We need to ask for this, seek and knock. Life isn’t long! What are you waiting for? This is our chance. We can be a community that embodies Jesus and serves him in powerful ways.

Don’t be satisfied with what we have, as good as it might be. Let us press on for more of what God has for us.

William Higgins

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God Can Use You

I want to share with you a word of encouragement today. I want to affirm that God can use you. God can work through each one of you to advance his kingdom on this earth.

  • He can use you right where you are in your place in life – your job, school, network of friends and family
  • Or God can call you out and put you in a different place, perhaps as a  missionary, pastor, bible translator, teacher, service worker, etc.

Now this might seem like an impossibility in your own mind. Perhaps you think, ‘I’m not worthy,’ or ‘I’m not significant enough,’ or ‘God only uses certain kinds of people’ or ‘I’m not gifted enough.’ But I want to challenge you that God can and will use you, if you’re open to it. And I want to show you this from the Scriptures.

First of all –

Age is not an obstacle

Children, listen up. Samuel was just a boy and yet God spoke to him and told him about the future – 1 Samuel 3.

And remember the children who thanked God for Jesus as the Messiah when he taught in the temple – Matthew 21:15. The children knew more than the scholars and leaders of Israel. And Jesus approved of their praise to God.

God can use you. You are not too young.

Teenagers, Daniel was a teen when he was taken away from his home and carried off into exile in a strange land.

But he was faithful to God. He decided to be a vegetarian in order to avoid any possible contamination from idolatry. And God blessed him for this. He was stronger and looked better than the rest.

Daniel 1:17 says, “As for these four youths, (Daniel and his friends) God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” And they stood before the king as his favored counselors because they were “ten times better” than the others – Daniel 1:20.

How does God want to use you? Have you thought about it? Are you open to it?

Older adults, have you bought into the American idea that life is for the young, and that you are to be put out to pasture when you retire? Well, God doesn’t agree.

Think about it:

  • Abraham & Sarah were called to a whole new life when he was 75 years old – Genesis 12:4.
  • Moses began his ministry when he was 80 years old – Exodus 7:7. And he ministered for 40 more years.
  • Caleb was 85 when he fought for and obtained his portion of the promised land – Joshua 14:10-12.

So, let’s say you are 55, or 65 or more. Have you thought about the possibility that God has a new thing for you to do; that perhaps the most important part of your service to God is still before you? This was the case with all four of these people. But you have to be open to this, and listen to God.

Age is not an obstacle to being used by God to do great things for his kingdom.

A sinful past is not an obstacle

Maybe you get down on yourself because of all you have done wrong before, and you think, ‘I’m not worthy to be used by God.’ Well you’re right, but this applies to all of us. None of us are worthy to be used by God.

But God is a God of mercy and uses us nonetheless. Think about these people who had a checkered past, but who were greatly used by God:

  • Moses had murdered someone (Exodus 2:12). But he became the greatest of all Old Testament prophets. God spoke to him face to face – Deuteronomy 34:10-12.
  • Rahab, who was a Gentile prostitute, became an ancestor of the Messiah and an example of faith – Joshua 2, Matthew 1:5, Hebrews 11:31.
  • Matthew was a tax collector hated by his people for oppressing them. But Jesus said to him, “’Follow me’ and he rose and followed him.” – Matthew 9:9. He became an apostle.
  • Peter denied Jesus with curses and oaths (Mark 14:71). This is a horrible sin for any follower of Jesus. But Jesus called him again to “feed my sheep” – John 21:17. And he became a crucial leader in the early church.
  • Paul, who persecuted Christians, imprisoning them and watching some die, said, “I thank . . . Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” – 1 Timothy 1:12-13.

When we repent and are forgiven – we are forgiven. We are clean and pure! God gives us a new start; a chance to begin again. So instead of serving sin following our selfish desires, he gives us a chance to serve him and work for his kingdom.

A lack of ability is not an obstacle

This may seem strange, but it’s true. Here are three similar examples:

  • God called Moses to speak for him, but he wasn’t a good speaker. He said, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent . . . but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” – Exodus 4:10. But God said he would help him and gave him Aaron to help him.
  • God called Jeremiah to be a prophet, but he wasn’t a good speaker. He said, “Ah Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak . . .” – Jeremiah 1:6. God touched his mouth and said, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.” – Jeremiah 1:9.
  • Paul was an apostle of Jesus, but he was not a good public speaker. As the Corinthians said, “his speech is of no account” – 2 Corinthians 10:10. But God worked powerfully through him.

All of these call to mind what is recorded later in 2 Corinthians 12:9. Speaking of Paul’s weaknesses, Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Our inabilities are places where we have to rely on God. Often it is precisely because we have a lack, that God can work powerfully through us.

Lowly circumstances are not an obstacle

You might think that God only wants to use “important people,” or “famous people.” But God loves to use those who are insignificant in the eyes of the world, but who are significant to him.

  • God chose lowly Israel to be his people. God said to them, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples – Deuteronomy 7:7. But God made himself known through them and from them came Jesus.
  • God chose Gideon to be a judge of Israel. Gideon said, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” – Judges 6:15. But God said, “I will be with you” – Judges 6:16. And he used him powerfully.
  • God chose David to be king. He was the youngest, most insignificant son of Jesse. As God said to Samuel – “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7. God used him mightily.
  • God chose Mary to be Jesus’ mother. She was a simple peasant girl. She was not famous. She did not stand out. She herself spoke of her “humble estate” – Luke 1:48. But God did a miracle and used her to bring forth the Messiah.
  • God chose Peter, Andrew, John and James as apostles. They were hardworking fishermen. As Acts 4:13 says, “They were uneducated, common men.” But God did great things through them.

1 Corinthians 1:27-28 speaks to this – and really to all of the obstacles we have looked at.

“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are . . ..”

And God still chooses this way. It is just how God likes to work.

Let me just end by saying that there is nothing more amazing than having God use you. We were made to be used by God to bring forth his plan for his creation – whether we are an evangelist through whom thousands are saved or whether we simply encourage others to be faithful right where we are.  This is what gives us true significance, meaning and purpose. And it is what gives us a true sense of fulfillment and peace.

I encourage you – open yourselves up to what God has for you.

William Higgins

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We are bringing our series on Haggai to a close today. I hope that you have been looking at the book yourself, reading through it and thinking about it over these last few weeks. I certainly welcome your comments and questions. As I said at the beginning, it’s short, but it has a lot in it.

What we are doing today is looking back at the book as a whole to learn some things about serving God. Some of it will be review, some of it new. I thought it would be good to pull together the teaching on this theme and look at it all at once. The first lesson is that –

1. God requires our service

This comes out clearly in chapter one in the contrast between God’s house and the people’s houses and what God has to say about this. The Lord asks, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house (the temple) lies in ruins?” – Haggai 1:4. This is one of the most pointed questions in all of scripture, especially given the wealth that we have in this country.

And then God says, “Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord” – Haggai 1:8.

They were putting themselves first, busying themselves with their affairs and not God’s. And God calls them on it and requires them to put him first.

God also challenges us because we so often put ourselves first. Our work and our houses are fine, but God’s work and God’s house gets little attention in our busy lives. What we learn from Haggai is that we need to fulfill the call to serve God.

2. God calls us to serve even when it’s hard

In Haggai they were experiencing bad economic times. And so to obey meant taking a risk; giving of their time and resources to do God’s work when they already felt that they didn’t have enough to take care of their needs.

It was also hard to obey because people were critical of their work on the temple. It lacked the glory proper to a temple of God. And so people were thinking and saying things that discouraged the workers.

It won’t always be easy for us either. Whether it is has to do with lack of resources, or criticism, or other factors. God speaks to us through the book of Haggai to say to us as well that we need to serve God even when it is hard. If you only serve God when things are easy, you won’t be serving God for long.

3. Disobedience brings God’s judgment

They were under God’s corrective discipline for not working on the temple. This comes out in several places. The Lord says, “You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce . . .” – Haggai 1:9-10.

If they had obeyed, God would have blessed them according the covenant he had with them. But they disobeyed and the blessing was withheld.

Too often we think that we can walk in willful sin and still have God’s blessing. But we clearly learn from Haggai that blessings only come with obedience.

4. The only solution to disobedience is repentance

We saw how they tried to cover over their disobedience with sacrifices. But their sacrifices were unclean. They weren’t acceptable because of their disobedience.

What God wanted was that they “turn” to him (Haggai 2:17); that they set aside their disobedience and serve him.

We also have all kinds of ways of trying to gain God’s favor even while we willfully choose to rebel against God. We try to do other good things to cover over or balance out our sin. But none of these things work.

What we learn from Haggai is that we need to repent of our sin and get to work serving God.

5. God helps us to serve him

This is the sequence of events in chapter one:

  • God challenged their disobedience
  • They resolved to work
  • God stirred them up, and
  • Then they worked

What comes before the work, is God doing a work in them.

Haggai 1:14 says, “And the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. And they came and worked on the house of the Lord of hosts, their God . . ..” God acted to move them along and enabled their obedience.

It’s the same with us. God doesn’t just call us to serve, he empowers our service. That’s because none of us can serve God in our own strength. And so, we learn from Haggai that we need to receive God’s help as we serve him; we need to have God stir our spirits. We need God to stir us up!

6. God encourages us as we serve him

This is a big theme in Haggai. God is revealed as an encourager. For instance, in chapter one, as soon as the people decided to obey, the Lord encouraged them. Haggai 1:13 – “I am with you,’ declares the Lord.” God was concerned to give them hope, to know that they could do what he asked of them.

In chapter two when they were discouraged at the prospects of their work on the temple, the Lord spoke to them. Haggai 2:4-5 – “Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.” Here we have lots of words of encouragement, so that they wouldn’t give in to discouragement and stop working.

When they began to obey the Lord, he told them in Haggai 2:19 – “from this day on I will bless you.” God wanted to assure them that his hand of judgment was lifted and they would have a good harvest to provide for their needs in the coming year.

Finally, the Lord encouraged Zerubbabel with a word to him and a promise concerning the house of David. Haggai 2:23 – “I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.” Zerubbabel is not rejected, but will be used by God, along with his line.

It’s easy to be discouraged as we try to serve God. We have our own personal weaknesses, other people that discourage us and hard circumstances.

But we learn from Haggai that we need to receive God’s encouragement into our hearts, so that we can be strong and continue on. Whether it’s through other people, through the scriptures or straight from God, however it comes, we need to receive it.

7. God gives value to our work

This comes out clearly in the second message, when they fretted about their lack of ability to make the temple glorious with silver and gold. Their work wasn’t amounting to much. As God said, the temple is “as nothing” – Haggai 2:3.

  • But God promised to bring in silver and gold for the temple – Haggai 2:7-8.
  • And God promised great glory for what they were working on. It would be more glorious than the previous temple – Haggai 2:9.

God took what they had, which wasn’t much, and gave a value to it that it didn’t have in itself.

And in the same way, we need to trust that God will take our work and give it lasting value. Even if we can’t see it with our own eyes, or if it is off in the future.

———————-

So, the book of Haggai is a call to do God’s work. And I hope that by looking at this book you will be challenged and encouraged to do what God is calling you to do.

And I also hope that you will take to heart the lessons that we learn from Haggai about serving the Lord.

William Higgins

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