Gospel in a Nutshell

Retirement versus Legacy-building Part Two

When I spoke at Winebrenner Memorial, a couple weeks ago, we talked about Paul’s plight while writing to the church at Philippi. Paul was at the end of his rope, if you remember. Paul said,

‘For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me, yet I don’t know which I prefer: I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more vital for your sake that I remain in the body. And since I am sure of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for the sake of your progress and joy in the faith, so that what you can be proud of may increase because of me in Christ Jesus, when I come back to you.’ Philippians 1:21-26

Let’s review the Pastor Joe paraphrase.

For me, living is doing what Christ has left me here to do, while dying is getting the heck off this planet and spending the rest of eternity in heaven on my all expense paid retirement plan. If I have to stay here, I need to be productive doing God work, but I’m not sure I want to. Matter of fact, I really want to retire and go hang out with Jesus on the golf course, which is a lot better than being stuck here. But it’s more important for me to stay here with you and since I am sure that’s what God wants, I will stay and continue to build a legacy of faith in all of you, so that you can be proud of me.

Because Paul knows he is still alive and breathing, he knows God has something left for him to do. God’s retirement plan doesn’t kick in until we have breathed our last breath. In the meantime, our job to build a legacy of faith, to build up the big C global and eternal Church, continues on. I gave you homework before I left two weeks ago. Find one person that you can pour your experience, strength, and hope, your knowledge and wisdom of living a life of faith, into. I won’t ask for a show of hands how many have their homework done. Only about 30% of my middle school students get theirs turned in on time, and I usually end up extending due dates, like I did with my most recent assignment…hahaha.

We know how Paul felt now, as he was coming to the end of his earthly ministry. We can estimate that he lived, at most, ten years past this point; probably far less. Now I want to turn to Jesus. Jesus, the night he was betrayed, hours before his trial, torture, and death, just days before his resurrection, and only about 45 days before he ascended into heaven, was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. John recorded his prayer for us in John 17. There are three things Jesus focuses on in his final prayer. Jesus prayed that we understand what eternal life really is. He prayed that his disciples, those he had worked with and taught during his earthly ministry, would be set apart in the truth and remain set apart from the world as they go out into the world to proclaim the Gospel.  Finally, he prayed that all believers, everyone who comes to believe in him through the work of his disciples, would be one with each other, just as he was one with the Father.

While we know from history that his early disciples did remain set apart once he brought them back together again, and preached the Gospel, lighting a fire of faith that has continued to burn until this day. The other two: Jesus has not truly gotten his heart’s desire. We still constantly misunderstand what eternal life is, and the church has never been more divided in its entire history. Not only that, but the divides in the church also started within the lifespan of his disciples. It is my belief that a big part of the divide is caused by our misunderstanding of eternal life as well.

But what can we few, here and now, do about any of that? What can we do about problems that have existed for 2,000 years? We start small. We start with our own understanding of eternal life and then, through prayer, reconciliation, love, and more prayer build our own spiritual legacy while we yet have breath in our bodies.

Jesus said,

Now this is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you sent. John 17:4

1st– We need to live in the knowledge and power of God. We do that through God’s very own Holy Spirit that Jesus asked his Father to send to us as a comforter, teacher, and empowerment for us to perform his work as his Body here on earth.

2nd– We need to pray, pray before we start, pray as we go, and pray some more. When Paul shared the secret of joy and contentment in Philippians chapter 4, he told us:

‘Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice! Let everyone see your gentleness. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything. Instead, in every situation, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’

He continues on to say in verse 13

‘I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.’

If we are going to continue to live building our legacy of faith, we are going to need God’s strength and power. We only find that strength and power through prayer.

3rd– We need to live set apart but in unity and love. Our lives cannot look like the rest of the world lives. But Jesus said he didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it. Unfortunately, the world frequently sees the church as judgmental, hateful, and standoffish. We try to force those who do not know Christ as Savior to live as if they have a relationship according to the same understanding and commands that we have. It becomes even worse when the outsider world sees those within the Body of Christ fighting amongst ourselves. Living in unity and love is only possible if we reconcile with those whom we have had differences. Within the Body, we need to live according to those things we can hold in common, and love each other enough to follow Paul’s instructions in Ephesians 4:1-6, he says…

‘I, therefore, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live worthily of the calling with which you have been called, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.’  Ephesians 4:1-6

When we can do these three things; live in the strength and power of the eternal life we have right now through God’s Holy Spirit, pray, and live set apart in reconciliation and love; we can build our legacy of faith one friend, acquaintance, neighbor, parent, child, grandchild, great grandchild, and stranger at a time. That is living out the Great Commission, our purpose and the mission Christ left us with.

A Reflection on Reconciliation

Before we remembered our Lord’s death and resurrection by taking communion together, I wanted to share a little bit about reconciliation with the congregation I was serving last week. I want to share with you as well.

Jesus said,

‘So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift.’ Matthew 5:23-24

Author Howard Zehr says,

“When and why do people seek reconciliation? If individuals or communities value a relationship, then it becomes imperative for them not to let a wound fester. Sometimes, reconciliation becomes necessary as the individuals need to share same social space. A human being is not merely collection bones, liquids and chemicals. A human being is also a collection of memories. Our memories (good, bad, pleasant and painful) determine our actions and approach to relationships. Reconciliation is a mechanism of addressing memories which are not pleasant and healthy.

Often, in the daily usage, the word ‘reconcile’ is deployed to mean that an individual(s) or community(ies) should accept the state of affairs as they are and must learn to live with it. To subsist with pain caused by broken relationships indicates a life not fully lived. Therefore, to reconcile should mean something more than to plough through life with a collection of painful memories.”

In the biblical context, reconciliation is equated more to a financial transaction. If someone has something against you, a slight or resentment, believe you owe them some sort of debt, emotional, spiritual, or physical, if you are taking space in someone’s brain rent-free. Clean up your side of the street. Offer what amends you can, whether it’s really your fault or not, do your part to restore the relationship. Forgive, as you have already been forgiven by God. The rest is up to Him to work on the other person’s heart. But sometimes, through our own behavior, we become someone else’s stumbling block before they approach God.

We need to try to be reconciled and represent our Lord and Savior so as to be a light to draw people to Him, not a putrid stench to drive them away.

Retirement or Legacy-building?

I have the pleasure of serving in many different congregations in my position as a pulpit supply pastor. One thing I notice in everyone of them is the question, how do we move forward? Of course, other questions continue to come up, once we ask that question. Does our congregation have a future? What will the future look like? Is it okay to embrace change? What changes are okay to embrace and what should we avoid?

And inevitably, in some of the congregations I serve, the statement comes out, “we are too old to change now.” “We aren’t going to go door to door doing evangelism. Besides, everyone I know is already a Christian.” From my conversation with Pastor Don, it sounds like this is the realm your congregation is currently living in. He also told me, “They don’t need a hell, fire, and brimstone message; just give them some encouragement.” Allow me to give you some encouragement straight from the apostle Paul.

But I myself am fully convinced about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.

Romans 15:14 NET

            I promise I will stay away from the hell, fire, and brimstone. I do have a quick question in that regard… By show of hands, how many of you believe that Jesus wasn’t lying and hell actually does exist, and that unbelievers will face judgment after they die? Okay. Believers face a different judgment, but that isn’t today’s message. Whoo, dodge a bullet there, right? It’s okay to chuckle…

            If you are like me, you may have a hard time remembering verse references, or what I call its address, but how many of you know what Matthew 28:18-20 says? That is the passage called the Great Commission. Jesus said (and this is my own translation),

All authority under Heaven and on Earth has been given to me, so while you’re going make disciples of all nations by baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded to you. Know that I am with you to the very end of the age.

We typically here this message along with some plea to send money to overseas missionaries, when asked to join a mission trip going to some remote land, or when encouraged to do some sort of door to door evangelism.

            As a friend of mine would say, “Okay PJ (Pastor Joe), what’s your point?” The point is, in any congregation, young or old, know matter how many people are sitting in the pews; our focus is on discipleship, not going anywhere specific. The title of my message to you this morning is, “Retirement or Legacy-building?”

            I am here today to tell you; they missed the point. The only imperative verb here is “MAKE DISCIPLES”. Can you truly tell me with 100% Godlike certainty judging the heart, every friend, every child, grandchild, great-grandchild, acquaintance, and neighbor you know is a disciple of Christ. We are called to be teaching disciples how to obey Christ. Is everyone you know following Christ to the best of their ability? A better question may be, do you think you are? Discipleship isn’t necessarily about going anywhere, it’s about obeying Jesus’s commands to help others learn to follow him in a closer relationship.

            Earlier, Paul told you…

you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another.

If you are full of goodness and filled with all knowledge; you are able to instruct one another. You are also able to instruct your friends, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, acquaintances, and neighbors. What are the two things we have been told for generations, maybe starting with your generation, we should never discuss at the dinner table? Religion and politics, right. I am here to tell you one of the most important topics you could possibly discuss is your relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ in the power of his Holy Spirit. Jesus said wherever two or three are gathered together, there I am.

            These conversations should be, as another passage says, about spurring one another on to love and good works. They should also be about strategies and tools to continue learning and growing and praying and following Jesus’s example. To be conformed to his image and fulfill his purpose.

            At the time of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he is in prison again. He is tired and frustrated and ready to die. He tells us:

My confident hope is that I will in no way be ashamed but that with complete boldness, even now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether I live or die. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me, yet I don’t know which I prefer: I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more vital for your sake that I remain in the body. And since I am sure of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for the sake of your progress and joy in the faith, so that what you can be proud of may increase because of me in Christ Jesus, when I come back to you.

Philippians 1:20-26 NET

You are still alive. Your building is still open. You still have a pastor. Even if your building was closed, and you went and sat in the pews somewhere listening to another pastor because you don’t feel right sitting at home on a Sunday morning. You are still alive, just like Paul, and just like Paul— Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me… it is more vital for your sake that I remain in the body. And since I am sure of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for the sake of your progress and joy in the faith, so that what you can be proud of may increase because of me in Christ Jesus.

            You may be retired. However, as believers, our true retirement from our responsibility to build a legacy of disciples doesn’t come until we are present with the Lord at the great banquet.

            As you go out into the world today, brainstorm at least one relationship you can invest in as your legacy of faith. That’s your homework.

Treating others with respect (what can you do, or do differently?)

To help middle school students understand how to treat others with love and respect, I pulled these excerpts from various places and adapted them.

I think we can all learn lessons from these suggestions from some wonderful authors.

The ‘golden rule’ says, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” One author calls the ‘platinum rule’, “Treat others how they want to be treated.”

I have always said two things. “Treat others better than you want to be treated.” and “Treat others with as much grace as you’ve already been shown by God.”

Adapted from “How to Win Friends and Influence People”
1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
2. Smile.
3. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
4. Be a good listener.
5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests.
6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.

Adapted from “The Five Love Languages” school appropriate ways of demonstrating love and respect, making people feel appreciated.

  • “words of affirmation.” Verbal compliments, words of appreciation, constant encouragement
  • “quality time.” This means doing something together
  • “receiving gifts.” Some people love surprises, honor this by giving gifts 
  • “acts of service.” Can range from doing little things to larger projects— tasks that require thought, planning, time, effort, and energy

Adapted from “21 Way You Can Earn The Respect of Others”
1. Be relentlessly proactive
2. Keep Your promises
3. Earnestly apologize and make amends (do it right)
4. Don’t waste other people’s time
5. Stop gossiping immediately
6. Stop being too nice (it’s fake), don’t let people use you either
7. Practice humility
8. Have a moral code
9. Be open-minded
10. Add real value
11. Always do your homework
12. Be inspiring
13. Learn to say, ‘No’
14. Respect yourself
15. Believe in your ideas
16. Speak up when you’re mistreated
17. Stand up for someone else
18. Speak your mind (in kindness)
19. Stop talking and listen 
20. Care about others
21. Control your emotions (Curb your instant reactions)

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Rejoice Always

There are a lot of places in Scripture where it specifically says, ‘this is the will of God”, although it is certainly implied in most places. And, definitely is in the commandments…

Yet, here is one where it’s absolutely clear. It was our kids memory and handwriting verse at school Monday and Tuesday. Originally, until I said something, they looked at three verses and saw them as separate.

I had they take a closer look then zoom back out again. Guys, it’s all one sentence, one thought, one instruction.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16‭-‬18 ESV
https://bible.com/bible/59/1th.5.16-18.ESV

The Prayers of the Savior

This is part four in our series, Jesus, Who? In our first message, Jesus According to Jesus, Jesus told us his identity and purpose. We then listened as he taught The Sermon on the Mount. And, we walked with his closest friends during their Conversations in the Garden.

Today, we are going to be parked in John 17. The Prayers of the Savior. These are Jesus’s prayers for his Church (that’s us) and his apostles right before he is handed over to the Jewish leaders for trial.

They are our Lord’s final words of prayer before his death, burial, and resurrection. This is also the longest prayer of Jesus we have recorded. We have been flying through Jesus words and teaching at about 30,000 feet. Today, we are going to kneel in the Garden with Jesus and listen closely to his prayer. I believe it’s worth taking a close look.

Thanks again to my son, Robbie, for video editing…the camera worked right this week!

Audio is available here…