Our theme for the month of February is Thrive. The Christian Band Casting Crowns have written, “It's time for us to more than just survive; We were made to thrive”.
Last week I looked at what it means to thrive and where we as Christians need to start.
Many of us Christians are just surviving spiritually due to many issues that just make life hard. It’s the same with church. It ought to be thriving resulting in people coming to faith, baptisms, testimonies of God working in people’s lives, numerical growth, new church plants, the poor and vulnerable being cared for… Jesus said to the church in Laodicea that they were only just surviving. They were lukewarm. He wanted them to be on fire!!
This series, I’m looking at four areas that are essential for Christians and Churches to get out from the rut of surviving to thriving. Two weeks ago we looked at the first one. It is all about having the right foundation. For we Christians and for our church, we will thrive when we place our roots on the solid foundation of Jesus – not on materialism, not on nice philosophy, not on some good church growth principles. None of these. We will thrive when we place our roots on the solid foundation of nothing else but Jesus Christ – but even more specifically – the Lordship of Jesus Christ. This means that we trust Him as our God and honour Him as our Sovereign reigning in our lives.
This means the keys to our money, to our priorities, our hearts, our dreams, our struggles – every area must come under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
When we as Christians and together as a church surrender every area to the lordship of Jesus, acknowledging that Jesus is God and Sovereign then we will begin to thrive.
And last week we looked that if we want to thrive rather than just survive, we have to love. It kinda makes sense doesn’t it? If you are a rev head, you love your car by spending time on it and under it. If you love surfing, you spend whatever time you can riding those huge swells. What you put in is what you get out. And if you sow love you will reap love. And so last week we looked at the greatest commandments in Matthew 22 of loving God and loving others. Out of all the 613 commandments, we are told the most important in loving God and loving others.
It’s so hard to love those who have wronged us, those who have hurt us, and those who gossip about it. And yet as Christians we are told to love and love and love. And last week we spoke about the amazing work of the Holy Spirit that sanctifies us through and through from 1 Thessalonians 5:23. Sanctification is the wonderful Christian doctrine that is all about a process of being made holy – to be more like Jesus - resulting in a changed lifestyle for the believer.
As the Holy Spirit continues to chisel away at us, gradually we are being sanctified, and so our ability to show the 1 Corinthians 13 type of love starts growing. Come before God asking him to sanctify you through and through. Confess your sins, your wrong attitudes, and ask that He’ll keep chiselling away all those things that bind you. Love is does not envy, so chisel that away please God. Love doesn’t boast, so chisel that away please God. Love is not proud, so that needs to go please God. Love does not dishonour others, so that’s a big one God and so is the next one that love is not self-seeking. And please God, chisel away my ease to anger and how I keep those records of wrongs. Sanctify me through and through so I may thrive!
Today I want to look at how responsibility is essential for the church of Jesus Christ to thrive. You see, all thriving churches have a few things in common. One is that they have a clear expectation that its members are to serve.
The biblical premise for this is clear. It’s called stewardship. Bible passages like Matthew 25, The Parable of the Talents, is a call to be a good steward. Stewards are mentioned in the Bible quite a bit actually. The basic message that I have gotten from the Bible about being a good steward is that God has entrusted me with things down here on earth and it is my responsibility to do something good with them.
And what God has given each of us are spiritual gifts and therefore it is my responsibility to do something good with them.
In passages like 1 Corinthians 12 we are told that God blesses individual Christians with spiritual gifts for the purpose of serving. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:7: “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other” (1 Corinthians 12:7 NLT). And then in our reading, Peter also says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others” (1 Peter 4:10 NIV).
This is what spiritual gifts are about. They are gifts from God to you, so you can build up the church. That’s our responsibility. To build up the church. Peter talks about this in the same verse, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10 NIV). We are called to be faithful stewards, meaning that it is your responsibility to do something good with the gifts that God has blessed you with.
Peter gave a couple of examples of spiritual gifts. There are about twenty mentioned in the bible, but I don’t even think that they are even an exhaustive list. Look at the two that Peter mentions in verse 11, “Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God Himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies…” (1 Peter 4:11 NLT).
The Apostle Paul’s message to Timothy I think is a message for some of us today: “I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord…” (2 Timothy 1:6-8 NLT).
For our church to thrive, each of us, not just some of us, need to fan into flames the gifts that God has given us. For God has given us a spirit of power, love and self-discipline. The Holman Christian Standard Bible puts it this way: “keep ablaze the gift of God that is in you” (2 Timothy 1:6 HCSB).
Fires often need to be stoked. When they are dying down stoking a fire allows oxygen to refuel the little red glow. It is like a slow combustion fire. When the fire dies down you push the lever that opens the inlets allowing oxygen to flow in and combust with the red glow.
Sometimes we need to be stoked. Sometimes the inlets of our church need to be furthered opened allowing God’s Spirit to move freely, gently and powerfully, and then watch it thrive!
It’s fascinating to me that while spiritual gifts are very important; we are never told how to figure out what gifts we have as there aren’t any assessment tools found in the Bible. There are over 20 gifts listed, but there’s no emphasis put on how to discover your gift. Instead, the focus is put on deployment. The Bible is clear that gifts are given to be used; and servants are to serve because they are stewards.
Imagine that this gift bag represents the spiritual gift I was given at conversion. I can learn about the fact that I have a gift but until I open it I won’t do anything with it. Actually, even after opening it, I still have to use it. Some may not even know that we’ve been given at least one gift. Others of us know but we’ve never bothered opening it. Still others have opened it and have never used it. I can open the bag and see a box of Tissues, representing the gift of mercy. I have a choice to make. I can use these tissues to help hurting people or I can throw it back in the bag and put it up on the shelf. What will I do? What will you do with the gifts you’ve been given?
Here’s another way to look at it. Some cry out to God, asking Him to show them His will. Perhaps He’s not letting them know simply because He knows that they’re not serious about doing His will. If you want to know what your gifts are, first settle the servanthood issue and make sure you are completely surrendered to His Lordship. Once you are, you will have multiple ways to minister using the grace gifts He has given you.
What this means practically speaking is that God does not want us to be timid or tentative when it comes to serving. We don’t have to take a course on spiritual gifts before we start serving. The key is to settle the servanthood issue and then to start serving.
I can hear some say, that you don’t know if you have the capacity to serve. In his book called “The Volunteer Revolution,” Bill Hybels writes: “If I had to sum up the key to finding the perfect serving niche, I’d do it in one word: experiment… we have learned that spiritual gifts are less something we ‘figure out ahead of time’ than something God reveals to us as we serve… Embrace wholeheartedly your fundamental identity as a servant of Jesus Christ…L ook at the needs in your church and community. Then jump in with a willing heart and an open mind. Drape the servant’s towel over your arm and get busy”.
If you’re not sure where to serve, take some time to experiment and explore by trying out some different ministries. I can assure you that you won’t be made to feel guilty if a particularly ministry isn’t you. Just jump in and try something. Get out of the stands as a spectator and start serving as a servant. Remember, that this is your responsibility to be a faithful steward of the gifts that God has given you.
At a Hillsong Conference I heard a powerful message from Louie Giglio. He encouraged us to turn to Ephesians 6. I was excited because I was thinking great. Maybe he is going to speak on about children obeying their parents. Then I thoughts – my kids aren’t at this conference, so they won’t hear this sermon. Then I though great, Louie is going to speak on the armour of God and how we can defeat the evil one.
Then he told us to turn to Ephesians 6:21-22: “Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you” (Ephesians 6:21-22 NIV).
There was silence. Not really the most inspirational of bible passages. I didn’t hear anyone say amen to this passage.
There are only two people mentioned in this letter of Ephesians. One was Paul. We all know Paul – church planter, missionary, wrote most of the New Testament letters, evangelist. And the other person is Tychicus. He had volunteer role in the church. He believed that he had a supporting role in building the church.
Interesting when Paul commenced his mission trips he had plenty of support. By the end few stood by him. Few wanted to end up in prison with Paul. Look at 2 Timothy 4:9 “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:9 NIV). This often happens in the church. Life gets busy and so we cut back. The church is struggling so we go to the happening church.
Paul says that we are the body of Christ and we each have a part in it. For Demas it got too hard and risky, so he deserted Paul, Tychicus didn’t. At the close of his 3rd missionary journey, Paul was returning from Greece into Asia, with a view to go to Jerusalem. This journey proved to be the last before his imprisonment. Tychicus volunteered to go with him
It was while he was imprisoned that Paul gave Tychicus a task. You see we elevate people like Paul. We study Paul. We learn much from Paul. Paul is like our hero, but nobody knows anything about Tychicus. It’s like this with movies. We elevate actors and the directors. But when the credits come at the end of the movie we aren’t interested, and we hop up and leave the cinema while the credits are rolling and yet our movies are made because of those who do the stunts, make the scenes, edit the boring parts, and so on. It’s the same with the church. We elevate a few but don’t recognize the many. Its takes many to see the church thrive and yet some say I’m too busy, someone else we do it. Paul says: “keep ablaze the gift of God that is in you” (2 Timothy 1:6 HCSB).
The Early Church had many problems both internally and externally, and yet it thrive as people wanted what they had! To put it into perspective 120 people were filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. The population of the Roman Empire at the time was around 50 million. Therefore these 120 Christians represented .00024% of the population that Jesus commanded them to reach out to (and we’re concern that 10% of people go to church). Some fifty years later 10,000s had become Christians and by the third century AD Christianity had become the official religion of the empire! What had happened? The church was built on the Lordship of Jesus, they showed amazing loved to those in the community and boldly witnessed for Jesus, and they were all involved in church life. They were responsible in the way that they served. Yes, they prayed and worshipped and listened to the Apostles preached, but they also rolled up their sleeves and served others.
I read an anonymous quote, “Faith can move mountains, but don't be surprised if God hands you a shovel”.
To our chaplains here, God has given you a shovel. And you are there in the trenches with the troops and students and prisoners. Good for you and may God honour you for your faithful stewardship. And to some others, God has given you a ministry outside of this church. Bless you.
And to others, God has handed you a bag with gifts. So many are using these precious gifts. Thank you so much. I know that it can be tough turning up week after week to serve but thank you. You are helping to build His church.
Perhaps for others, God has given you that bag containing a gift or two. Perhaps you have been hurt by the church in general and you’ve put that gift back in the bag? Perhaps life has just been crazy for you, you are barely surviving and so you don’t even know where your gift bag is? Perhaps you just haven’t ever pulled out from the bag what your gift is because, well, let’s face it, serving isn’t your thing.
One of the keys to thriving is learning to serve, to think of others above yourself. Maybe it’s your time now to look inside your bag and in prayer say, “God fan into flame the gift you have given me”.
As a church, we would love to have a team of people who can show pastoral care. Did you know that after running Tribes with 80 kids on Fridays, the same team of leaders then run a teenage program called Radiate of 20 teenagers? We need people willing to serve? Our Playgroups have two wonderful coordinators with some helpers, but we would love to see more Christians come along to befriend the community mothers who come along? Clover Hill and Hillcrest are calling for mentors to walk alongside of students. We need people who can play an instrument and people who can drive the data projector to serve on Sundays. It would be great to have people who would organize some activities for our seniors. The list continues. So many want to see our church thrive. If God has called you to be a part of this church for this season of your life, then He is calling you to be a responsible steward with the gifts God has given you. As Peter says, “Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to Him forever and ever! Amen” (1 Peter 4:11 NLT).