When I was a little boy the beginning of a New Year almost always was accompanied by a time of reflection. We were encouraged to think about our past year and then think about the year to come. All of this was done with an awareness that Jesus Christ was coming back someday to call for His bride, the church. We, the church, and we, as individuals lived with an ever present belief that one should always be ready for the return of our Lord.
As a church we are very intentional and serious about the mission Christ gave the church to do on this earth. The leaders that make up the staff of this church are here because of their commitment and drive to make sure that no matter what we as a church stay on mission and that we do it in a way that is effective. As we begin yet another year we are more determined than ever to make sure that this church remains connected to the community in a way that allows us to be the body of Christ. We will push you and pull you if necessary to make sure that our focus remains outward but we also are taking steps to strengthen the spiritual commitment and daily walk of those on the inside.
We will continue to find ways to invest our resources in people. Every now and then I will have to have a conversation with someone that wonders why we don’t have certain ministries and more often than not the questions revolve around a sort of country club church mentality. I try gently to remind us that we are not that kind of a church. We exist to share the message of Jesus Christ with the world around us and having more and more church things for church people does nothing to accomplish that mission.
Today I want to draw our attentions for a few moments to just one of the passages of scripture that we believe drives us to do the things we do as a church. Of course the church is nothing more than a collection of individual Christfollowers who move and function as the body of Christ on this earth.
Today I am asking you to think mostly about our church but we will also make personal applications as we move along through this sermon.
In Luke 12, Jesus shifts into one of His first teachings about His second visit to earth. We just spend the last month remembering and reflecting on His first advent.
He uses some metaphors and illustrations to encourage His disciples to be vigilant and expectant. He certainly expects the church and individual Christfollowers to be about His business on earth.
1. Be Prepared:
35 “Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks. 37 The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded. I tell you the truth, he himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat! 38 He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn, But whenever he comes, he will reward the servants who are ready.
A Hebrew wedding celebration could last for several days, so that the time of a master’s return could be anyone’s guess. The uncertainty did not put off these excellent servants. They were ready and they were prepared. The oil in their lamps was replenished. The lights were kept brightly burning. They were awake and alert.
We are called to be prepared for the return of Christ. It is not a passive, lethargic wait, but one filled with active service and joyful anticipation.
Can you imagine the scene when master returned? Warm light streaming from the windows, breathless, smiling servants each holding a shining oil lamp. They offer the master of the house a snack or a meal depending on the time of day. He is so moved by their generosity and more importantly their faithfulness that he quickly reverses the roles and seats the servants and begins serving them.
Several months later, Jesus lived out this story with 12 disciples in an upper room just hours before His death. The bible says that Jesus took off His outer garments and washed the feet of His disciples. This role was always reserved for servants that would refresh the dirty and dusty feet of the guests in a home. We are told when this world wraps up that all the people of the world will be judged by the standard of being about the Father’s or Master’s business.
23 Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He replied, 24 “Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom, for many will try to enter but will fail. 25 When the master of the house has locked the door, it will be too late. You will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Lord, open the door for us!’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ 26 Then you will say, ‘But we ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 And he will reply, ‘I tell you, I don’t know you or where you come from. Get away from me, all you who do evil.’
28 “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, for you will see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, but you will be thrown out. 29 And people will come from all over the world—from east and west, north and south—to take their places in the Kingdom of God. 30 And note this: Some who seem least important now will be the greatest then, and some who are the greatest now will be least important then.” Luke 13:23-30 NLT
Jesus also used the metaphor of being vigilant like a homeowner who knows they are about to be robbed.
39 “Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would not permit his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.”
As a recent victim of a robbery out of my truck I understand this passage clearly. The night after my truck was broken in to; I got up five times and looked out the window hoping to see someone trying to do it again. I was ready the night after; of course it was a day too late. Jesus uses this great illustration to once again remind us to be prepared for His return.
Will we as a church be doing His work or things that we want to make the church about?
Will we as individuals be busy minding our own spiritual lives and caring for those who don’t yet know Him?
Robert Murray McCheyne, a great pastor and leader a couple of centuries ago used to ask groups of pastors the question, “Do you think the Lord is coming tonight?” The preachers would more often than not quietly respond with a “No.” McCheyne would counter with a quote from this passage of scripture: “You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.”
Let us be prepared as individuals and as a church.
2. Be Passionate:
41 Peter asked, “Lord, is that illustration just for us or for everyone?”
Jesus answer is somewhat indirect but ultimately you can safely conclude that it is for the twelve and those who would follow in the footsteps of leadership in the church. To lead a church is a trust that God gives a person when they answer His call to be a pastor.
When you are charged with the responsibility to lead people toward the vision Christ gave the church to do you must be faithful and passionate to that vision.
These verses however can be taken to heart by everyone that is a Christfollower:
42 And the Lord replied, “A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them. 43 If the master returns and finds that the servant has done a good job, there will be a reward. 44 I tell you the truth, the master will put that servant in charge of all he owns. 45 But what if the servant thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? 46 The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant in pieces and banish him with the unfaithful.
Being passionate about the call of God on our lives and church needs to be put in perspective so that we don’t lose sight of the concept of servanthood. Our passion should be driven by the mission not our ministry.
I want to say this very clearly so that everyone in this room hears it. I think the staff of the church knows this but we all should know it. There is no one in this room, involved in ministry that is going to be doing what you are privileged to do for God for the rest of your life. That includes me and anybody else on the staff or any leadership position. Serving God is not about position or placement. It is not about YOUR ministry or MY ministry. It is not MY church or YOUR church but God’s.
To be given the opportunity to serve God by doing ministry is awesome but the minute we start hanging on to a ministry like we own it we are deep trouble. In fact, if you or I have that kind of attitude we are probably doing what we do for all the wrong reasons. It is human nature to want to hang on to something that gives us a sense of worth but it is not a godly nature. I remember the organ player in a church my father pastored who kept the organ locked and she was the only person with a key for years until my dad became the pastor of the church. Of course when he demanded the key so other people could play the organ for weddings, funerals etc she went way up the miff tree and to my knowledge never came down.
I remember a few years ago when Cheryl Simpson was our children’s pastor. It became clear as the church grew that no matter how much she loved children there was no way she could do what was being demanded for a variety of reasons not the least of which is she is a school teacher and working a full-time job. I well remember the meeting her and I had when I informed her that we were going to make a change. After thinking about it and praying about it, I had decided to ask her to move to the position of pastoral care. Was it an easy transition? Not so much. I don’t enjoy making people cry but it was what had to happen. To my knowledge Cheryl never complained. She grieved for a few moments and then picked up the challenge of a new ministry and one that she continues in to this day. I can’t think of anyone that cares more for people then she does.
My point is this; the work of God is never ending and there is a tremendous need for passion and focus. We do what we do for God. There are no unimportant jobs when you are working for God. Don’t just go through the motions. If you are coasting wake up and breathe in the power of the Holy Spirit so that you do what you do with passion instead of passiveness.
“I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. 3 Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.” Revelation 3:1-3
As a church and as individuals we are called to be prepared for His return and to be passionate about serving Jesus Christ.
John Broadus was the faithful president of Southern Baptist Seminary during the Civil War. By the end of the war the seminary had four professors and seven students, and one of them was blind. Only the blind student took Broadus’s course on preaching. Many teachers would have been tempted under such circumstances to give less than their best. Not Dr. Broadus. He poured himself into every lecture for one student who would never read a handout of a book. Those lectures prepared with passion for the calling of God, not the position or lack of students, became the substance for the most famous and influential of all books on homiletics in American history. The classic, The Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, was used for decades and into the next century to train men and women to preach. Because he was faithful with a little God used him to bless and touch a lot of people. Because he didn’t take his eye of Christ and forget the mission Christ gave him to do he served with passion.
Be prepared Be passionate Be purposeful
3. Be Purposeful:
47 “And a servant who knows what the master wants, but isn’t prepared and doesn’t carry out those instructions, will be severely punished. 48 But someone who does not know, and then does something wrong, will be punished only lightly. When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.” Luke 12:35-48 NLT
I want us to really pay attention to that last sentence. This is one of the reasons we have structured the ministry of this church in this way. We are a church that exists to serve others. We have said it before but let me remind us again, we are either about service or serve us. Because of the vision Jesus Christ gave the church to do which is spread the gospel message we must serve our community in order to have a chance share this good news. There are people in all three of our churches today directly as a result of being a recipient of an outreach or ministry of this church outside the walls of the church. We will continue to be a community outreach focused church.
As to inside the church our focus, time, energy and resources are going to be directed toward making sure that as a church we are “making disciples.” Our own mission statement suggests that we are leading people to be in a growing relationship with Christ. As Christfollowers we will be in a growing relationship with Him and we will be intentional about making sure we take the steps daily in our lives to insure that this relationship happens.
There is a danger I see developing that many churches have succumbed to in the past. There is a school of thought that inadvertently would suggest that the church who has the most to offer wins. In other words, if you can have classes and more classes and yet even more things to have people do centered around the churches “mission” than you will be successful. One author refers to this as churches with ADD. There is a natural tendency to drift toward complexity. Many churches simply try to do too much. Without focus they may try to reach the world but lose their own community. Instead of being strong somewhere they are weak everywhere. Adding more and more programs or ministries tends to divide the resources that are available. This leads us to confuse activity with results. Ministry becomes diluted because it is flowing in too many directions.
I can sum up for you where we are going this year very simply: Discipleship and Community Outreach. That is what we are investing our time and resources in. To do this well we all need to make sure that we are prepared, full of passion for Christ’s mission and purposeful with our time talents and treasure.
“Be dressed and keep your lamps burning.” –Jesus Christ Be Prepared
“A faithful, sensible servant is one to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his other household servants and feeding them.” – Jesus Christ
“When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.” – Jesus Christ Be Purposeful
A big part of why we did this service was to celebrate and remember what God helped us do in the last year as a church. In you worship folder is a “balance sheet” that shows the investment of ministry time and effort. I would like you to watch this video reminder and thank God for His leadership in the life of our church. We do what we do only because we think it’s what He would want us to do.
When I was preparing this sermon a song I grew up singing kept going through my head. I don’t remember what kind of a service we would have sung this song in but maybe it was a song of invitation and yet it’s not about coming to Christ for salvation. It’s about what we have talked about today. Listen to these words:
When Jesus comes to reward His servants,
Whether it be noon or night,
Faithful to Him will He find us watching,
With our lamps all trimmed and bright?
Oh, can we say we are ready, brother?
Ready for the soul’s bright home?
Say, will He find you and me still watching,
Waiting, waiting when the Lord shall come?
If, at the dawn of the early morning,
He shall call us one by one,
When to the Lord we restore our talents,
Will He answer thee, “Well done”?
Blessed are those whom the Lord finds watching,
In His glory they shall share;
If He shall come at the dawn or midnight,
Will He find us watching there? –Fanny J. Crosby
Now today as we end this service we are going to sing an incredibly worshipful prayer that is both a declaration and a prayer to God. The last verse includes these words:
Your Kingdom come around and through and in me;
Your power and glory, let them shine through me.
Your Hallowed Name, O may I bear with honor,
And may Your living Kingdom come in me.
The Bread of Life, O may I share with honor,
And may You feed a hungry world through me.