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Series: Faith in God

Last week we looked at the importance of faith. It’s crucial to our Christian lives because as James (1:7) tells us, without it, we should not “expect to receive anything from the Lord.” But with faith, as Jesus tells us (Mark 9:23) “all things are possible.” All that God has for us is made available to us by faith. This is how we receive from God.

Today we look at the kind of faith that receives from God, getting a bit more specific. There are actually three parts to faith. And if you want to receive from God, you need all three of these working in your life.

Let’s jump right in. First of all, you need –

1. A word from God

You need something from God concerning his will and his purpose to believe in. You need something to stand on; something to claim that comes from God, not from your own mind or what someone else thought up.

Jeremiah 23:16 speaks of “vain hopes” that are not based on God’s word, but the words of people who have not heard from God. And this is what our faith is if it’s not based on what God says – “vain hope.” Rather, as the Psalmist says to God, we are to “hope in your word” – Psalm 119:114.

What we need is a knowledge of God’s promises; an understanding of God’s word; and the ability to hear God’s voice by the Spirit speaking to us. This is what makes faith possible.

As we saw last week, Abraham had a promise from God for a son. He had something from God to stand on.

  • In Genesis 12:2 the Lord said, “I will make you a great nation,” which means he has to have a child.
  • God said in Genesis 12:7, “To your offspring I will give this land.”
  • And in Genesis 17:16 God said more specifically, “I will give you a son by Sarah.”

As we see in this example, from “the man of faith” as Paul calls him (Galatians 3:9) our faith must be grounded in a word from God. Without this it’s fake faith; it’s simply presumption on our part, not faith. Without a word from God we will find ourselves vainly waiting on God to do something he never said he would do! We’ll talk more about this in a later message.

Second, you need –

2. Firm trust

I also call this “faith proper,” because this is what Scripture usually means when it talks about faith.

Hebrews 11:1 speaks of this. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” First of all, we have “things hoped for” and “things not seen.” These refer to what we are looking for God to do, based on his word to us. What we are hoping for but can’t see yet.

The firm trust is referred to by the word “assurance”, or it can also be translated “confidence.” And also by the word “conviction” which can be translated “certainty.” So, firm trust means being sure of God’s word to us. Being certain in our hearts that what God has said to us, God can and will do.

Abraham trusted in God’s promise to him. After hearing that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars, it says, “he believed the Lord” – Genesis 15:6. That is, he trusted in God and God’s promise to him.

As Paul says, “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” – Romans 4:20-21. He had nothing to go on in the natural; they were both too old to have children. But he had “an assurance of things hoped for” – a promise from God; and a “conviction of things not seen” – that God would give him a son.

He trusted that what God told him would come to pass; that his circumstances wouldn’t remain the same. He was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” – which is an excellent definition of firm trust. We too need to be fully convinced that God is able to do what he promises us.

Finally, we need –

3. Appropriate action

– which flows from our certainty in God’s promise. Paul calls this the “obedience of faith” – Romans 1:5. This has to do with our actions of obedience to God in light of the promises that God gives us.

Abraham is an example. He acted on his faith in a way appropriate to the promise given to him. He left his family and home behind. He moved to Canaan. He waited for a son.

You can see his certainty in the way he acted. He would’ve never done these things if it weren’t for the promise and his firm trust in God and God’s promise. In the same way, when we are truly convinced of God’s word to us, it will show up in our actions. 

As Jesus said, a “tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:44). What is within us, in our heart, whether faith or unbelief – is made known in our words and actions, what comes out of us. There is a correspondence between what is inside us and what comes out of us; the fruit of our lives.

A sure sign that we don’t really trust God is that we will hesitate to act on God’s promises. And conversely, when we have true faith, we are willing to act on that.

Putting these three parts together faith is trusting in and acting on God’s word to us.  We hear God’s word, we fully trust God in our hearts, and this flows out into how we live our lives.

So this is –

The kind of faith that receives from God

We need, not just one part or two parts, but all three.

  1. You need a word from God as a foundation.
  2. You need firm trust in this word from God.
  3. You need appropriate actions that flow out of this certainty and make your faith complete.

You need all three to receive from God.

And, in fact, all three of these are a part of the Greek word for faith:

1. This word can be translated as “the faith,” referring to what we believe , or God’s word to us. Jude 3 says, “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to you.” (Other examples: Galatians 1:23; 3:23, 25; 1 Timothy 4:1, 6; 6:21)

2. Or it can be translated as “faith” meaning firm trust, which is the most common meaning. Just to give one example, in Mark 11:22 Jesus says, “Have faith in God” that is, trust in God and God’s promises.

3. Or this word can be translated as “faithfulness.” For instance, in Galatians 5:22, “faithfulness” is one of the fruits of the Spirit. It refers to our actions of faith. (Other examples: Matthew 23:23; Romans 3:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:4)

(The context determines whether it means on specific part of faith or all of them).

These are all a part of faith, and we need them all if we want to receive from God.

This, then, brings us to –

God’s faithfulness

When we have all three parts of faith working in our lives, the result is that we receive what God has for us. God comes through on his word to us; God acts on our behalf!

God is always faithful on his end. As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 – “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” He will do what he says he will do.

Abraham had faith and so he received the promise of a son. Isaac was born to him 25 years after the promise was originally given (Genesis 21). God came through for him. And God will come through for us as well.

Let me emphasize again, as I said last week –

Our faith is key

We have looked at four things today:

  1. God gives us a word
  2.  We trust in God’s word to us
  3.  We act in faith
  4.  God acts to fulfill his promise

Notice that God begins the process, and God ends it. But we have a crucial role in the middle connecting the beginning and the end. Our faith is the bridge between what God promises and what God does. (God has chosen for it to be this way)

Faith is what gets us from the promise to the reality. Before God acts to fulfill his promise we must trust and we must act on our faith (#2 and #3). God wants to see us trust and act first.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Our faith isn’t anything in itself. It’s just like the completion of a circuit so that the electricity can flow through it. It’s the electricity, or power of God that’s the big deal. God flows through our faith and then works his will in this world, bringing promise into reality.

This is what I think: God has tons of blessings, and he wants to pour them out. God want to use us in amazing ways. But we only receive a small amount. We are limited by our lack of vision and so that’s all we get. We need faith so that we can receive all that God wants to give us.

As we end, let me share with you a –

A call to faith

We are studying and praying about how God wants to use each one of us to lead people closer to Christ; that they might know him and walk in his ways. Whether that is planting seeds or harvesting, or whatever.

God’s will for us is to “make disciples of all peoples.” And this comes with the promise that Jesus is “with us always to the end of the age” to help us do this – Matthew 28:19-20. This is our foundation; a word from God for us.

And so we need to choose to have firm trust in God that he can and will use us. We don’t look at the outward circumstances – “I’m too shy,” or “I don’t know what to say,” or “I’m not good at this,” or “I don’t know many people.” We trust that God can use us.  We know that God spoke to Balaam through a donkey, so I’m pretty sure he can use me and you!

And we need to act when God opens doors for us to share with others. When the door opens, we should be courageous to speak, or serve or listen or bless – or whatever is called for in the situation, to help the person toward Christ.

Do you have this kind of faith? This is the faith that brings God’s promises into reality. This is the faith that makes all things possible. And this is the faith that I am calling you to, so that God might use you to touch people’s lives.

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Series on Witness

Well, today we are wrapping up our teaching series on reaching out. It is my hope that you have all been challenged, encouraged and at least in part, equipped to share your faith with others. And I hope that as a whole, we can be a congregation that is not just focused on our needs and concerns or what makes us comfortable, but that we can learn to take risks to be an outward, outreach focused church.

We have been using the word witness as an acrostic. Remember with me:

  • The “W” is for Why we reach out. Our motivation is Christ’s love for the lost. Do we have Christ’s love in our hearts moving us to act?
  • The “I” is for Idolatry and reaching out. The end is not growing and getting big in itself, but being faithful to God to reach out whether there are results or not. Are you just focused on results or on faithfulness to God?
  • The “T” is for Taking risks. Sharing our faith can be risky, and we prefer to be comfortable. But we need to step out in faith, and trust that God will work. When was the last time you took a risk to share?
  • The “N” is for New life in Jesus is the point. We don’t just want people to come to church or be our friend as we reach out, we want people to receive new life from God so that their lives are truly transformed! Are you praying for God to move among us to make this happen?
  • The “E” is for Everyone can be a part of reaching out. Some have special gifts and callings to do this, but all of us can participate in various ways. And it is only when the whole body of Christ in this place is functioning together and doing their part that we will be the effective agent of outreach that God is calling us to be. Are you using your gifts and doing what you can to help Cedar Street reach out? We have various kinds of outreach opportunities listed on the foyer table.
  • The first “S” is for Several way you can reach out regardless of your gifts and callings. We spent two weeks looking at some practical examples of this, from sharing your story to praying for the lost. Are you putting into practice at least some of these 10 ways of reaching out, that anyone can do?
  • And then today, the final “S” is for Spirit enablement is key.

We have talked a lot about our role in reaching out, because we need to be encouraged to step up and do our part. But today we focus more on God’s role; and God’s role is what is all important. And he is always faithful to do his part. God works tirelessly by his Spirit to bring people to faith in Jesus. Here are ways that the Spirit does this.

1. The Spirit empowers the lost to respond

That’s because by ourselves we can do no good thing (John 15:5). Apart from God’s work in our lives:

  • We are blind. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
  • We are dead to God. Paul speaks of the former lives of Christians in Ephesians 2:2-3, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world . . .”
  • We are under the influence of Satan. Paul speaks of unbelievers in Ephesians 2:3 as “following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.”
  • We are slaves to sin. Jesus tells us in John 8:34, “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”

So, you can’t just decide to change. You are enslaved, you are clueless, you are hopeless. And that’s why God has to act for each one of us.

As Jesus said in John 6:44 – “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” God has to go before and prepare the way. God has to give light. God has to awaken people to hear him in the haze of their sin and Satan’s influence over them. This is called by some “prevenient grace” – the grace that goes before salvation, that makes it possible for us to even hear the gospel and respond. And God works by his Spirit to do this.

Jesus said this about the Spirit in John 16:8 – “The Spirit . . . will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” The Spirit works in the hearts and lives of unbelievers to show them the truth and to call them to it. To point out their condition; their sin and to show them the path of new life.

This is a part of what we pray for when we pray for the lost – that they will be enabled to hear the gospel and respond to receive new life in Jesus.

Well, if this is how God works in the lost, God works in us also to reach out to the lost.

2. The Spirit empowers us to share

Now, as we learn from the Balaam story in Numbers 22, God can communicate through a donkey. So even without the Spirit’s anointing we can say and do things connected to witness and God can probably use it. But to be effective; to be in tune with what God is doing we must have the Spirit working in us as we share.

Jesus said in Acts 1:8, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses . . .”

Now the Spirit can empower us in many ways but I would highlight two this morning:

The Spirit gives us the right words to say – Luke 12:11-12. Jesus said, “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”

So here people are called to account for their faith by the authorities, and this becomes an opportunity to witness. And Jesus promises that the Spirit will give just the right words to say.And if God can give the right words in such a grave situation of persecution, he can surely give us the right words in our conversations and interactions with others in our daily lives.

A second way that God empowers us is that the Spirit gives us boldness to share – Acts 4:29-31. The early church in Jerusalem had experienced persecution and opposition. So they gathered together to pray. “’And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”

The Spirit doesn’t just give us the words, he gives us the boldness to speak them out, here even in a context of persecution. And the Spirit can give us boldness in our everyday interactions with others as well.

So if you want to be an effective instrument of God as you seek to reach out to others, pray for the Spirit to help you; to fill you; to work in you. Jesus gives us this beautiful promise in Luke 11:13 – “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” God wants to give the Spirit to us! Pray for the Spirit to fill you and empower you to be an effective witness for Jesus.

A final thought that sums this up God is the real evangelist seeking after the lost through the work of the Holy Spirit. Working in the lost and working in and through us to reach the lost. We do our small part, but God is the one who is in charge and acting all throughout. We have to see the bigger picture. It is not all on us, thank God! We don’t need to take the weight of the world on our shoulders or the eternal destiny of any specific person. God is working through various people and circumstances to bring them to himself. We just do a small part. That’s all God asks. And God will work to draw all people to himself (John 12:32).

A story from high school . . .. I shared the gospel but he didn’t really get it then. But someone else shared later and he became a believer. My point is that we all try and do what we can, and sometimes we do it well and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we are more like Balaam’s donkey and sometimes we are really anointed by the Spirit. But it is really God who is working in each person’s life. It is God who orchestrates various ones to come into a person life to draw them to himself. I was just one of many.

So be open to do your part and trust that God has been working before you ever talk to any person, and God will still be working in other ways after you are done to reach each person. We do our small part, and then we leave it in God’s hands.

Prayer for the church – The Spirit to move among us to stir us up to be outreach focused – out of love for, to be faithful even when there is little fruit – raise up workers, evangelists and others . . open all of our eyes to doors that you open for us to share.

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Series on witness

Last week we began looking at ways that any one of us can reach out – no special gifts or callings needed. Remember with me the first five:

Live a faithful Christian life. Let your light shine so that others can see God’s work in your life and give glory to God.

Share what God has done for you. Look for ways to share your story and how God has blessed you. Not just when you first became a Christian but also what God is doing in your life today.

Pray for the lost. Ask God to put specific people on your heart that you can regularly pray for.

Pray for outreach workers,that God will raise people up to minister to the lost, even from our congregation.

Support those that are called to reach out. Give financially so they can fulfill their calling and encourage and pray for them.

Today we continue on with yet more ways each one of us can reach out. And the first is to –

Build relationships with the lost

Sometimes long-time Christians are hindered from reaching out because all their friends are fellow believers. They don’t have a lot of connections with the lost. This certainly wasn’t true of Jesus. Luke 15:1-2 says, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’”

Now this comes to us in part as a complaint from his critics, but it is true. Jesus was around the lost, and while he was with them in genuine relationship with them, he engaged them with the gospel. It says, they wanted to hear him. Are you open to this? The lost are all around us, but are you open to being in relationship? It’s easier to just hang out with fellow believers. But as Jesus said, “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matthew 9:12).

In my former church we began a ministry to the homeless in our area. And I met tons of people, both Christian and non-Christian. And we would eat together and get to know each other and talk about needs and spiritual things. And my family and I formed relationships with some that last to this day.

But you don’t have to do this. Just be open to whoever God brings across your path. And even take the initiative.

Make use of outreach opportunities at church

Paul says in Colossians 4:5, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.” (NIV) This verse obviously applies very broadly. But it certainly applies to the point that one of the easiest ways to share your faith is by inviting people to church. This isn’t the end goal, of course, but it can lead to the goal of someone discovering new life in Jesus.This is using wisdom to take advantage of opportunities in relation to outsiders.

  • So come to VBS and invite children to come
  • Come to VBS follow-up and meet the families of the children.
  • Come to events like our recent block party and invite others to come.
  • Come to our upcoming Christmas activities – wreath making, Christmas caroling, and invite others.
  • Come and invite people to our Sunday services

*Think for a moment, who might you invite? Maybe it’s the same person or persons whom God has put on your heart to pray for.

Did you know that 66% of the people that come to church come because a friend has invited them or brought them along with them. This is by far the highest percentage. For instance only 8% come from a pastor’s efforts; only ¼% from evangelistic crusades.

Along these same lines . . .

Show hospitality to those who visit

The writer of the book of Hebrews tells the church he addresses in chapter 13:2, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.” We are to be loving, warm and welcoming to every single person who comes to our church, whatever their background might be.

Now we have a hospitality ministry team that works at this and I am grateful for them, but everyone needs to be involved.

According to the experts a person decides if they like a church and will come back within their first 11 minutes. So take the initiative, get to know people, learn their names, find out some things about them, connect them with other people in the congregation, invite them over for dinner.

*Are there people here today, or maybe who have been coming for a while that you still don’t know their names? This is something to work on so that we can be a more hospitable congregation.

Serve others in Jesus’ name

Jesus said in John 12:24 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” He is talking about laying down his life for others on the cross. And when he did this it bore much fruit in that so many have come to salvation based on seeing the love of Jesus on the cross for them.

And we are to take up our cross and serve others. Give of your time, your talents to serve and bless others. Lay down your lives to help others. And when we do this it too will bear much fruit. People respond when they see such love.

*Some of you have been working at this and I am so thankful. But we still have opportunities to serve here in SW Chambersburg. Denise has put together some action cards, some of which have to do with serving and others with sharing. You can look at these after the service. What might God lead you to do?

And then finally,

Love one another

This is our corporate witness as a congregation. Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

It’s not common to see real love for others – especially beyond family or friends. But we are to love each other deeply from the heart. We are to give our lives for each other by ministering to each other’s needs, sacrificing for each other, encouraging each other, and forgiving each other.

This kind of love is supernatural. It is fruit of the Spirit of God working in our hearts. I would like for us to be a congregation that is known for our deep love for one another; so that when people come they sense it and know that God is at work. And will be drawn themselves to be a follower of Jesus.

* In your bulletin you have the handout: 21 Traits of Love – A Test. Most of you have seen it before, but look it over again. Take it home with you and see how you are doing loving others – especially your brothers and sisters in the Lord.

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Series on witness

By way of context and keeping the bigger picture in view, I am calling our congregation to spiritual renewal, and that in three areas:

The first has to do with our use of time and our busyness when we get caught up in too fast of a pace of life, so that we are too busy to serve the Lord and do what God has called us to do as a local congregation.

The second area has to do with becoming a more loving, caring and connected community. We want to be a congregation where resentments are dealt with, relationships are healed and our love for each other will be evident to anyone who comes in the door.

The third area has to do with being more outwardly focused so that we move from being comfortable, to where we are willing to take risks to reach out and include new people among us. And this last emphasis is where this series of messages comes from.

Today we are looking at several ways you can reach out, even if you are not gifted in this area or called to a specific ministry of outreach. We will begin today and then I plan to finish this up next Sunday before Communion.

Live a faithful Christian life

It matters how we conduct ourselves because others are watching. Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16 – “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

We are a witness by how we live our lives. For others will “see our good works” and by this means they can come to give glory to God. This is the testimony of our deeds and it is foundational to all else. Because without this it doesn’t matter what you say.

So let people know you are a Christian, and then live it out by your integrity, your work ethic, your love for others, by how you handle conflict, and by how you go through hard times trusting in God. People are watching and if your life reflects God’s work in you it will be a witness to the truth of Jesus.

*Think for a moment: What area of weakness or failure do you have that discredits your witness? What I am saying is that it is not just a matter of faithfulness to God, but also of your witness to others.

Share what God has done for you

I told the story recently of the man who had many demons and how he was out of his mind and he lived naked in a graveyard – and how Jesus set him free. Well this is what Jesus said to him at the end of the story – Mark 5:19 – “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

If the first was the witness of our deeds, this is the witness of our words. And we need both.

What’s your story? What has the Lord done for you? How has he had mercy on you? Every Christian has a story. This is what you share. And not just about when you first came to Christ, but how the Lord helps you and has mercy on you now. Learn how to tell your story so you can share it with others and then look for opportunities to do this.

*A story from my life in high school . . .

 Pray for the lost

The psalmist, in Psalm 67:2, prays for God to act, so “that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.” We looked at this Psalm recently. As you will remember the writer wants those who don’t know God, to come to know God. And we should pray similarly.

So you can be in your prayer closet hidden to the world and still be partaking in God’s great kingdom mission in this world through prayer.

Who is on your heart – unsaved loved ones? neighbors? coworkers? SW Chambersburg? The Gambia? Who has God put on your heart?

*Let’s pause for a moment to pray for someone who is already on your heart, or to ask God to put someone on your heart.

Pray for outreach workers

People that have spiritual gifts and talents that make them effective at this, and also those who are called to have special roles like missionaries and evangelists. Jesus tells the disciples in Matthew 9:37-38 – “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Not only are we to pray but notice, we are to pray earnestly. Do you pray regularly for this?

*Let’s pause for a moment to pray for Gary and Denise, for the outreach ministry of our congregation and for God to raise up others among us to reach out.

Now that we have prayed let me just say I hope you will be open to being the answer to your own prayers, as the disciples were, when right after Jesus spoke of the need to pray, he sent the disciple out into the harvest to work.

And then finally for today . . .

Support those that are called to reach out

That is, those who have a regular ministry in this and are gifted and called by the Lord to this – missionaries, local evangelists, pastors and other leaders.

In Luke 10:7 Jesus says this talking about those involved in ministry receiving financial support. He says, “the laborer deserves his (or her) wages.”

We need to understand that there is a mutual relationship between someone who is called to reach out and those who support them. The first is obvious – the one who ministers needs to be able to be free to do the work of the Lord, and so they need support. But also note that the one who gives shares in the reward of the work they do. (Mark 9:41; Matthew 10:41.) So that’s a good deal for you. Through your support of their work you share in the blessings that will come both now and on the final day.

And certainly those who minister need more than just financial support to do their work. They also need love, encouragement and prayers.

*This is a missionary couple . . .. Let’s take just a moment now to write a check or gather up some cash for their ministry, which you can give on your way out of church today.

William Higgins

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Series on Witness

(Edited). We are making good progress in our sermon series on witness. Today we are up to the “E” in our acronym of the word “witness.” And the title is “Everyone can be a part.” What we are doing today is remembering some general teaching about the body of Christ and how the body works, and then applying this to our topic of reaching out.

1. Everyone has something to offer

God created each one of us and God has given each one of us unique abilities and talents. As David said to God in Psalm 139:14, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” And so are we all. A good example of this in our congregation is our worship team.

And as Christians each of us have spiritual gifts, because the Spirit has come to live in us and work through us. This is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 – “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 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. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”

I don’t think that this is an exhaustive list, but it does show us some of the unique ways that the Spirit works through different ones of us. And as each of us allows the Spirit to work in us for the common good the body is built up.

In terms of reaching out, some of you are specifically gifted to reach out. Some of you have talents and abilities and spiritual gifts that empower you to be effective at reaching out. And on top of this, some of you may also be called to the role of an evangelist. I have known a number of evangelists and I love to see them at work. Gary and Denise are among this group. And maybe God is calling others of you to the role of an evangelist. May that be so!

2. God calls forth leaders in the body

Paul says this is Ephesians 4:11, talking about gifts that Christ has given to bless the church, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers . . ..” This verse speaks of four or five different leadership roles in the body of Christ. This is my take:

  •  apostles plant churches
  • prophets encourage and call the church to faithfulness
  • evangelists share Jesus with others
  • shepherds or pastors oversee congregations
  • and teachers teach the Word to the body. These last two may well be just one since teaching is a, or the key activity of a pastor.

As each leader uses their gifts and callings, the whole body is blessed and built up.

In terms of outreach some have been called to lead in reaching out to others. Gary and Denise are helping give leadership to our congregation. The Elders and I work at this. And here recently the Fun and fellowship team has given leadership as well.

3. We are all to be well-rounded Christians

That is, able to do lots of different things as mature Christians. For instance, not everyone is called to be a teacher, but we are all called to teach each other. Paul says in Colossians 3:16 that we are to be “teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom.” So you don’t have to be called to teach SS now and then, or to teach your children about the faith as parents, or to speak a word into a fellow believer’s life that needs to be taught something.

Another example, not everyone is gifted as an encourager, but we are all called to encourage one another. As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “encourage one another and build one another up.” So you may not have the gift of encouraging or a ministry focused on this, but you can still see someone who is down and say a good word to build them up and bless them.

So we all have gifts and specialties. But we are all also to be well-rounded, able to let God use us in all kinds of ways, depending on the situation.

In terms of outreach, not all are evangelists, but Jesus calls us all to be a witness for him. Jesus tells us in Acts 1:8,  “you will be my witnesses.” Not all have a ministry focus on outreach, but each of us are to always be prepared, as Peter says in 1 Peter 3:15, “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

  •  we can all speak and talk about the Lord
  • we can all look for opportunities that God opens up for us to share our lives and faith with others
  • we can all pray for the lost
  • we can all support and encourage those who do focus on outreach.

4. Leaders are to equip you for ministry

This is where there is often confusion. We fall into thinking that the pastor or other leaders are here to do the work for us. You support them and they get things done on your behalf. But this is not a scriptural understanding of ministry.

Yes, you are to support them, and yes they are to get things done according to their gifting. But what leaders do ultimately has to do with equipping us all for ministry. Paul makes this point in Ephesians 4:12. After talking about apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers, he tells us that leaders are “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” Not to do it for them, but to empower them to do ministry.

For instance those who lead as teachers help all of us to know how to teach and what to teach. And those who have a ministry of encouragement help us all to know how to encourage others better. We become more well-rounded.

In terms of outreach as well, leaders empower and prepare us all to reach out. Neither the Elders and I, nor Gary and Denise are here to do the work for you. Rather we are here to encourage you, to do the work with you, and to provide opportunities for you to reach out in ways that any Christian can do.

5. To be healthy all parts of the body must be doing their part

As I said to you several years ago, the best way to see me have a breakdown is to put all the expectations on me and sit back and don’t participate. Or maybe even criticize. None of us can do all the work of the body by ourselves. And sometimes the ones who are criticizing are the very ones who have strengths who could come alongside to help leaders and others to be stronger, working as a team. Now, I have learned not to take on false expectations of doing it all, but you get my point.

We are a body! What would it be like to be a body where all of the parts looked at the right foot and said, “hey it’s all on you! We’re not going to do anything.” “Hey right foot, we’re hungry!” Or “Hey right foot let’s go into the other room.” One foot can’t move a limp body. Or “Hey right foot, the ear has an itch can you scratch it?” What can a foot do by itself??

No, we are a body. And when every part is functioning, a body can do all that a healthy body can do. And when we are all functioning as the body of Christ, using our gifts, leaders doing their part to minister and to equip the body so that we are all well-rounded – God can do anything through us. Amen?

Paul says this in Ephesians 4:15-16 – “We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Notice the phrase – “when each part is working properly.” That’s all of us. Then, the body grows and builds itself up.

In terms of our focus, everyone can contribute to outreach on some level. Leaders, leading and equipping; evangelists and others with outreach gifts doing what they are empowered to do; and each one of us being well-rounded, reaching out as there is opportunity, praying for the lost and supporting those with special gifts and callings.

And then God can do a great work here among us.

William Higgins

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Series on Witness

We are back to our series on witness, encouraging us all to be focused on reaching out to others to share our lives and faith with them. We are working with an acrostic from the word witness and so far we have covered:

The “W” – which is for Why we reach out. Our motivation is Christ’s love for the lost.

The “I” – which is for Idolatry and reaching out. The end is not growing and getting big in itself, but being faithful to God to reach out whether there are results or not.

And the “T” – which is for Taking risks. Sharing our faith seems risky, and we prefer to be comfortable. But we need to step out in faith, and trust that God will work. This is how God works in every area of our lives – we have to take risks and live by faith.

Today we look at the “N” of the word witness, and the title is New life in Jesus is the point.

What I mean here is that the goal of reaching out is not just trying to make new friends, or getting people to come to church or helping people with pressing needs. Now, these are all good things. But the goal of reaching out is to have each person we share with, experience new life in Jesus. This is the point.

We want God to work in people’s lives so that those who don’t know Jesus or have wandered away from him will come to him and will receive the gift of new life; we want their lives to be powerfully transformed.

Jesus talks about this –

New life in the gospel of John

This life comes from God through Jesus. Jesus said, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” – John 5:26. As Jesus said later, “I am the resurrection and the life.” John 11:25. He has this life in him from the Father and he is this life.

And Jesus came to share this new life with others; with us. As he said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” – John 10:10. Notice he came not to give us just a taste or a little bit of life – but he wants us to have this new life in great abundance.

Jesus describes new life in different ways. First he talks about it as a new birth. He talks about being “born again” in John 3:3, and being “born of the Spirit” in John 3:5. We are all already born of the flesh. We live and breathe and walk in this world. But by the Spirit we can be born again or from above by the work of God in us. We move from being dead spiritually to coming alive with a new heart that is alive to God.

Jesus also talks about it as living water. “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:14. We are all spiritually thirsty. There is a longing in our hearts for more. Jesus is talking to the Samaritan woman here, who has gone through several marriages and was living in sexual immorality. And Jesus offers her new life – seen as a spring of living water in her heart, that brings true satisfaction; that quenches spiritual thirst.

And as we just saw, Jesus talks about new life as eternal life. “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life” – John 6:40. This is the life of God within us right now, not off in the future.

It’s not just talking about life that endures forever – a quantity of life, but about a certain quality of life – the life that comes from God himself who is life within us.

And then to help us further understand what this new life is, let’s look at some –

Stories of new life in Luke

This gospel has a number of these – I have chosen just a few to share, briefly.

A sinful woman – Luke 7:36-38; 48; 50

“One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.”

And he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’”

So here is a woman, likely a prostitute –  “a woman of the city, who was a sinner.” She had apparently already heard Jesus’ message of repentance. And so she finds him and in an act of humility and love and anoints him with perfume. She shows faith in Jesus and he responds by forgiving her sins. All her shameful past is wiped out! She is saved and Jesus tells her to go in peace. Instead of her old life she now has a fresh new start. She is forgiven, saved and at peace.

A demon possessed man – Luke 8:26-39

“Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.’ For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) Jesus then asked him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Legion,’ for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.

When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.”

Here is a man who was tormented under the power of Satan. He was homeless, mentally ill, naked, and living in a graveyard. And he is unable to be bound even by chains. He must have been terrorizing people. But Jesus set him free! The demonic powers that were too much for him and those around him were as nothing before Jesus. Look at the transformation. Now the man is clothed and in his right mind, sitting at the feet of Jesus. And he is seeking to serve Jesus; he has a new life purpose. And Jesus sends him to share with those in the city where he is from.

A tax collector – Luke 19:1-10

“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully.

And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’ And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.’”

Zacchaeus was a tax collector who made his riches overcharging people. He was a sinner. He was lost. But he repents. He gives away his wealth and he makes amends for cheating people. As Jesus said, he was saved. He has a new start and a new life in Jesus. He moved from a man of greed and fraud to a person of generosity and righteousness.

So this is the goal of our sharing – that people will receive new life as Jesus teaches about in John, and that lives will be transformed as we saw in the stories from Luke. We are not just trying to make new friends, or just getting people to come to church, or just helping people with pressing needs.

New life in Jesus is the point! This is what God’s love is all about. As that most familiar of all verses says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” – John 3:16.

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Series on Witness

We are continuing on in our series on witness challenging us to be sharing our faith as individuals and as a congregation.

We are doing the whole acrostic thing with the word “wintess.” So far we have looked at the “W” of witness – Why we reach out. Our motivation is Christ’s love for the lost. And we talked last week about the “I” of witness – Idolatry and reaching out. We saw that we can have a wrong motivation – growing and getting big in itself. But what God asks of us is to be faithful to share whether there are results or not. Today we look at the “T” of witness, and the title is Taking risks.

Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t often like to take risks. Sure, I have done some crazy things here and there, like jumping out of an airplane once. But basically I like things to be calm and controlled; stable and routine. Like most people, I like to be comfortable.

The problem with this is that –

We are called to live by faith

 And faith is all about risk, or challenging us to come out of our places of comfort.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” It’s risky because you can’t see how things will turn out, but yet you have a conviction and God calls you to step out and act on it. It’s like Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:7, “we walk by faith, not by sight.” You can’t see what’s ahead and you don’t have control. But we are still called to move forward.

But this is the whole point – you have to trust God, because only God can make it work. It’s beyond you. Faith is all about being in a place where if God doesn’t come through it’s not going to go well. And the question is, are we willing to go ahead and act relying fully on God? We want to be comfortable, but God calls us to live by faith.

Hebrews 10:38 says this about faith, “my righteous one shall live by faith” This is a defining characteristic of the Christian life. And then it goes on to say, “and if he shrinks back (that is, is afraid or gives up), my soul has no pleasure in him.” God calls us to live by faith and not to shrink back from taking risks as we do his will.

Let’s look at some –

Examples of risk

Think of Noah. He built a huge boat in a place where there was only land. And how many years did it take? And how much ridicule did he receive? But Hebrews 11:7 says, “By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household.” He acted by faith and not by sight and God’s purpose was fulfilled through him.

And then there is Abraham. Hebrews 11:8 says, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” He acted without knowing what was ahead or being in control. And God used him to fulfill his purpose in the world.

And finally think of Moses. Hebrews 11:29 says, “By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.” Can you imagine? They are trapped and about to die, but God opens up a sea before their eyes. And then God tells them to go through it! What if the waters come down on them? But because of Moses’ faith and the faith of the people, God fulfilled his purpose in the world.

Now there might be the temptation to think that taking risks in faith is for those who are younger. But let me remind you that Noah was no spring chicken when God told him to build the ark. Abraham was 75 years old when he set off for Canaan. And Moses was in his 80’s when he crossed the Red Sea.

The lesson is that –

God asks us to take risks before he does his work

This doesn’t mean that God can’t get things done without us, but it does mean that we won’t be partaking in the blessing; we won’t be the ones through whom God’s purpose is fulfilled in the world.

No risk, no stepping out in faith – no gain.

For instance, living the Christian life involves risk. We give things up, we serve, and we trust that it will all be worth it in the end. And this is a risk. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:29, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Why? Because of all we give up to serve God in this world.

And this is true in other areas of obedience to God. It is a risk to trust God for our finances, but we believe that God will take care of us. It is a risk to love our enemy, but we believe that God will take care of us.

And certainly sharing our faith with others involves risk. For instance, if all your friends are Christians, this might mean taking a risk to befriend someone so that you can share your life and faith with them.

And then when it comes to actually sharing it’s risky:

  • What if I share and the person makes fun of my faith?
  • What if they don’t want to be friends anymore? Or it complicates a business relationship?
  • What if they ask a question I can’t answer?
  • What if it doesn’t go well?

Sharing our faith means taking a risk, and it can be scary. But we must trust that God will be with us and take care of us.

In the bigger picture asking God to move among us involves risk. As we saw, God asks us to take risks before he does his work in and among us.

I have been praying for God to move among us and I have invited you to also be a part of this. Do we want God to do something great among us? Do you think that this will happen if we just sit back and are comfortable and take no risks; that we can watch safely from the sidelines? What great thing has God ever done that didn’t require a step of faith, a risk from his people?

No, if God is going to move among us and bring renewal, you can be sure that he will ask us to step out in faith and take some risks.

One final thought. Growing as a church involves risk. What if people do respond? What if we step out in faith and share, and God moves, and people respond? This leads to another risk – change.

If we are comfortable, then by definition we like things the way they are. But if we reach out and grow, things will change. You have to make room for new people, new personalities, new problems and new points of view.

Are we willing to take this risk? Do we love God more than we love being comfortable? Is sharing Christ’s love with the lost more important than our love of comfort?

All I can say is that if we do step out and risk – God will be with us, God will take care of us and God will fulfill his purpose in this place through us.

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