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Sermon for October 31, 2010

Habits of Healthy Churches: Experiential

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.1 Cor. 12:4-11

Did you know that God gives us the equipment we need when we are called into service? Today we are going to talk about how God equips us with everything we need in order to join God at what He’s doing around us.

A man named Carl Bates wrote the following words: There came a time in my life when I earnestly prayed: “God, I want your power.” Time wore on and the power did not come. One day the burden was more than I could bear. “God,” I asked, “Why haven’t you answered that prayer?” God seemed to whisper back this simply reply: “With plans no bigger than yours, you don’t need my power.”

How would you measure our congregation’s spiritual impact? Do we clearly demonstrate our core values in compelling ways? Is there an irresistible quality about us? Sometimes I think we have pretty low expectations of what we can be spiritually. Sometimes we don’t realize that God has a God-sized task for us to do. So much of what we do around here has been going on for so long, it’s almost done automatically. It’s natural for us to become content with the programs and ministries that we’ve always participated in.

I’m sensing a new wind blowing at TCC. I’m getting that sense that some of you who’ve been coming here for years want more out of church than a place of Sunday morning worship and education. It’s not so much dissatisfaction with the church, but a yearning for something more. People are committing themselves to acts of service. People want to release worship from its strict formality. Hearts want a place where we can come as we are and know we will be accepted and wanted. They want a church that calls every single person, young or old, man or woman, single, married or committed, to be equipped and sent out to impact our community for Christ. People want a church known for its quality of caring, and its uncontainable eagerness to reach out to those in need. I think it’s exciting.

Here’s the problem. People come up to me and say, “Pastor Matt, wouldn’t it be great if our church had a way to reach out to shut-ins or college-age kids, or unchurched youth, or people who are down on their luck? And we could really use a way to greet and follow up on visitors, and reach out to new potential members. We could also use adult Bible studies and new volunteer opportunities to engage our membership.” Many of you have great ideas for how to reach out with God’s love . . . to which my response is, “That’s a great idea! Go ahead and start your dream ministry, and I will do what I can to support you.” So the great ideas never get started. Instead of being a church that is a ministering community, we often settle for being a community gathered around the minister.

I understand people’s frustration. It’s not just an expectation that the leadership is supposed to do all the work. I think some of you have a gnawing desire to reach out to others. God has placed a certain person or a certain group on your heart and mind. You can picture the God-sized transformation that can take place. You just can’t get it out of your head. But, at the same time, many feel unprepared or unequipped. Insecurity and doubt creep in, and the fire gets extinguished until someone more experienced or talented comes along to light it up. I feel the same way sometimes. I get into situations where I feel way over my head, beyond my expertise and knowledge–beyond my life-experiences. Yet God still asks me to minister to people in those situations. It can be scary. We have all these spiritual gifts that Paul talks about, but we don’t have the skill to use them. In our congregation, there are people with gifts of wisdom and knowledge. There are some with gifts of faith and others with gifts of healing. There are some with the gift of generosity and others with a talent for taking prophetic stands for justice. And many of us are too uncomfortable to put these spiritual gifts to use.

It may be helpful to look at the life of Solomon. Listen to this story from his life.

Solomon made an alliance with Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and married one of his daughters. He brought her to live in the City of David until he could finish building his palace and the Temple of the Lord and the wall around the city. At that time the people of Israel sacrificed their offerings at local places of worship, for a temple honoring the name of the Lord had not yet been built.

Solomon loved the Lord and followed all the decrees of his father, David, except that Solomon, too, offered sacrifices and burned incense at the local places of worship. The most important of these places of worship was at Gibeon, so the king went there and sacrificed 1,000 burnt offerings. That night the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream, and God said, “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!”

Solomon replied, “You showed faithful love to your servant my father, David, because he was honest and true and faithful to you. And you have continued your faithful love to him today by giving him a son to sit on his throne.

“Now, O Lord my God, you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?”

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for wisdom. So God replied, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies— I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have! And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life! And if you follow me and obey my decrees and my commands as your father, David, did, I will give you a long life.”

Then Solomon woke up and realized it had been a dream. He returned to Jerusalem and stood before the Ark of the Lord’s Covenant, where he sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. Then he invited all his officials to a great banquet. -- 1 Kings 3:1-15

I get the sense that Solomon must have felt the same way we do. In this story, Solomon has a God-sized task to do. He’s called to rule with justice over God’s chosen people, succeeding his father David, the highly popular and adored king of Israel. Leadership is a God-sized task that Solomon feels totally unprepared for. What does Solomon do? Let’s look more closely at the text.

Solomon acknowledges his need. He’s honest about his limitations and his lack of human ability to properly fulfill what God had calls him to do. At this point he could have given up, “Thanks, but no thanks God. Maybe you should find someone else more capable. It’s not that I’m unwilling. I just don’t know what to do. Call me in a few years.” But Solomon never backs down from his responsibility to obey God. Instead he does something decisive...

Solomon prays according to God’s will. In a dream God says, “Ask whatever you want, and I will give it to you.” Solomon was given carte blanche by the hand of God. He could have had anything. “God, give me money so I can expand my influence. Give me power so people will respect me. Kill all my enemies so we will have peace.” But no, Solomon says, “Lord God, please give me wisdom to govern your people and lead them in doing right.” Solomon prayed for exactly what he needed to fulfill the God-sized task he had been given. As a result...

Solomon received what he needed from God. And because he aligned himself with what God wanted from him, God gave him the money and power as an added bonus. And then something important happened...

Solomon worshiped. Solomon’s response to God’s goodness and generosity was to publicly praise the Lord. Unbridled worship is what one does when one has experienced the power and grace of God.

You may be saying to yourself, “So what?” What does this have to do with me?” Well, let’s make it practical. Healthy churches have an experiential quality about them. They use their varieties of gifts to live out the good news. So, if you feel like God is leading you into a specific form of outreach through this church, don’t be afraid. I am actually praying for it to happen. Perhaps you feel God calling you to begin a neighborhood Bible study, but every time you think about it, you get a nervous, queasy feeling. You feel like you don’t know enough about the Bible or you don’t know how to talk about your faith to other people. Maybe you have felt the Lord asking you to get involved in a social justice issue, but you don’t know where to begin. Maybe you have a great new of way of connecting church members to small groups. I want this church to be a place where you are resourced to fulfill your mission. I’m not going to do it for you. God already has a big list of things for me to do right now. If God has given you vision for a way to reach out, then I’m guessing that God wants you to do something about it. Be strong and courageous, and follow up on it.

Here’s what I recommend:

Like Solomon, acknowledge your need before the Lord. Don’t be afraid of your limitations. You are a human, and you are limited, but God can do awesome thing through you as you yield to the Spirit.

Pray and ask God what he wants from your life. Ask specifically, because I believe God will answer specifically. If you need help discerning what God is saying, make an appointment to come talk with me, and we will listen together.

If you see God moving in your life, if you hear God speaking to you, or of you feel God calling you to a specific outreach, don’t do anything. As someone once said, “Don’t just do something, stand there.” Before you plunge in, sit on it for two weeks.

If, after two weeks, you are still excited and eager about what God would like to do through you, talk to me or a member of an appropriate Board or Committee, and we will help get it moving.

And if God is moving in your life in the way I’m describing, I’m going to be excited with you, and celebrate God’s goodness to the church.

On this All Saints / Reformation Day, I think we are ready for our own reformation. We get so busy funding programs and maintaining traditions. But, tradition serves no purpose unless we are also willing to step outside of that tradition to think about what kind of church this need to be.

Be the church in which all who enter in know of God’s consuming love that will never let us go. Be the place where we can come and be reminded that God knows us each by name. Be the church that experiences the Spirit equipping you for service.

Be the church that’s not afraid of change. Be the church that is able to see where God is moving and knows how to join in. It’s a church that calls forth men and women, parents and grandparents, single people, youth, and children who are equipped and sent out to revitalize families and communities. Be the church that gives people tools to raise their families in faith . . . the church where people are encouraged to reflect God’ s Spirit at school, work, and home. . . the church that sends adds value to the lives of other people.

Be the church that is so vital to the community that it would be missed if it was no longer around . . . a church so blazing in its worship, its quality of caring, it’s eagerness to reach out to those in need, that it can be seen by all and not contained

A healthy church is an experiential church -- a church whose people understand that life is a journey, characterized by experience, learning, personal growth, opportunity, challenge, success and failure, joy and sadness. An experiential church appreciates the opportunity rest and renew their energy and strength, but they always move on to embrace the next phase of their life, whatever those may bring. An experiential church trusts God to equip all God’s people with the gifts of the Spirit!

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