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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Soccer, Serving, and Church Membership

This post was originally an email to the church body at Bethany Place but it applies well beyond our church.

I have enjoyed watching the Olympics in the past couple of weeks. I learned, to my surprise, that I enjoy watching soccer. You soccer fanatics will have to forgive me but I’m still figuring out the game. I didn’t learn a lot watching Will and Hannah play amoeba ball when they were young. You know what amoeba ball is: 22 six years olds chasing a soccer ball around the field wherever it goes. Plus, we didn’t have soccer at my school back in the Dark Ages. Basketball, football, and baseball were it. So back to the Olympics, of course, there are lots of individual sports to watch, but I enjoy the team sports more. It’s fascinating to watch a group of people working together, interacting in real time. I love the intensity on their faces, the skill in which they operate, and the excitement when they score. I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like the celebration that occurs when someone scores in soccer. It’s nothing like the strutting antics that somehow has become professional football in this country. It’s seems less about the individual and more about the team. 

That image of a gifted soccer team; everyone playing hard with passion and skill reminds me of the words of Romans 12:3-8 (ESV):
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
The Bible makes clear that God assigned you a function within his church and gifted you with special abilities called spiritual gifts, to enable you to effectively contribute to the team, the church. These concepts are not easy to grasp as Americans because we are so individualistic, we don’t think much of our responsibility toward other believers. There are other places in scripture that make it clear that not only has God gifted you, given you a function, and expects you to serve, but that the actual gifts God has given you, don’t belong to you. They belong to the church and you and I have no right to withhold them. God intends for you to serve with passion, with joy, and with skill. Your abilities may need to be developed, but if you genuinely belong to God, then you have at least one spiritual gift which for which he will hold you accountable. 

Serving within the organized ministries of the church is not the only way for you to exercise your God given spiritual gifts, but a fair treatment of the biblical material on this subject seems to require the conclusion that everyone is responsible to serve in some clear way through their own local church. This is one of reasons I believe church membership is critically important. It’s not exactly the same thing, but trying to serve Christ without being connected to a local church body is like saying, “I want to play soccer but I just want to do it by myself.” You may kick the ball around a bit, but it’s not much of the real experience of playing soccer.

So for God’s sake get in the game. We can help you discover your spiritual gifts and where you might best fit on the team. That’s what our class 301 is for, which will be coming up soon. In the meantime we are working to clarify our various ministries to be sure that you are aware of current needs as well as how you can get connected and get involved. 

This Sunday, I’m continuing the message series from the book of Philippians called Unity Under Fire. This message is called The Arithmetic of Joy from Philippians 3:1-11. This text clarifies a fundamental misunderstanding with which most of us struggle. I urge you to be reading over that text and pray that God will open all of our eyes to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus (our) Lord.”  You can see the scripture, outline, and discussion questions for this message below. No audio exists for this sermon.

The Arithmetic of Joy
Phil. 3:1-11
Unity Under Fire 2

1.    See the equation that leads to joy

Philippians 3:1–3 (ESV) Finally,  my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—

2.    Identify what you truly value

Philippians 3:4–6 (ESV) though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

3.    Rework the problem with the correct values

Philippians 3:7–11 (ESV) But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Questions for further exploration
Do you think joy is connected to unity? If so, how?
How would you define self-righteousness?
What evidence do you see that our natural tendency is toward self-righteousness?
What are you depending on to make you right with God?
Do you see a difference in believing in God and knowing God?
What do you think it means to know Christ and the power of his resurrection?
How would you describe Paul’s desire to share in Christ’s sufferings? In what sense is God calling you to do that?

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