January 27, 2019 - The Heart and Soul of the Church: What Do You Have to Offer?
This morning we continue our series of messages from the book of Acts, with this week’s message coming from chapter 3:1-10. Before moving into what I have to say about the text, I want to tell you about a conversation I had with my mom about ten years ago. My home church had recently called a new minister, and in the course of our conversation I asked my mom, how is the new minister doing? Her response included a pause and then a well…. Obviously, I couldn’t let that pass, as there seemed to be a story there, so I asked why the hesitation in her answer. Her reply was surprising, as she said, well, he doesn’t really preach. Doesn’t preach, I said. What does he do then? My mom then gave a very interesting reply, as she said, he doesn’t really preach. He gives Bible studies instead of sermons and they are not the same thing. I have thought about that statement a number of times over the years, and I believe my mom is correct – preaching is not the same as leading a Bible study. Obviously, preaching includes a Biblical text upon which a minister expounds, but preaching is more of a “birds-eye view” of a text. A sermon does not go into the level of detail that one would encounter in a Bible study, where there is an opportunity for questions, answers, and discussion. A sermon is much more thematic and may only draw from one verse or one phrase from the longer Scripture text (I understand not everyone would agree with the manner in which I have defined preaching, so I will acknowledge that is my opinion and my point of view).
I mention this because this morning I will focus on just one phrase of today’s Scripture text. The text we are studying tells the story of Peter and John entering the temple one afternoon, at the time of prayer, and as they entered the temple they encountered a man who had been unable to walk from his birth. The man asked Peter and John for money, and Peter gave his famous reply silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk. In this message I want to concentrate on the words of Peter – what I have I give you– as I speak about what we have to offer in service to God.
Follow along with me as I read from Acts 3:1-10 –
1One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer – at three in the afternoon.
2 Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts.
3 When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money.
4 Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!”
5 So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.
6 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”
7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.
8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.
9 When all the people saw him walking and praising God,
10 they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.
I want us to think this morning about what it is that we have to offer to others in the love and service of Jesus. What do you have to offer? What do I have to offer?
I want you to know these three truths this morning –
1. Everyone Has Something to Offer.
When I was living in Louisville in the early 80s, and attending seminary, I visited a lot of churches. After visiting a number of different churches, I began attending one regularly. I really liked the worship services and the minister was an outstanding preacher. It was a rather large church and was located in a neighborhood of Louisville that was quite prosperous. I would drive into the parking lot on Sunday morning and park my old clunker of a car between BMWs, Mercedes, and Jaguars. I attended a Sunday School class that was comprised of very successful individuals, while I was living a hand to mouth existence as a poor student. There were times I would sit in that Sunday School class, or in worship, and think to myself, what am I doing here? I don’t belong here. I certainly don’t have anything to offer that compares to what the people here are able to offer. When I recall those thoughts, I realize how wrong I was. Love and ministry do not function as a game of comparison, where we see how we stack up to others. Love and ministry do not function as a competition, where are trying to outdo one another. Love and ministry have nothing whatsoever to do with what the person sitting next to you is doing or giving. Love and ministry have everything to do with using what God has given us to use for his kingdom.
Throughout my years of ministry, I have heard so many people remark that they do not have anything of value to offer to God. People will say they have little or no money to offer, little or no talent to offer, little or no ability to offer, and on and on the list goes. Nothing, however, is further from the truth! Every person is equipped by God with a gift or gifts to offer in service to His kingdom. Listen carefully to what I have to say – you have something to offer! God has not left you without talents and abilities. In fact, God has given you something special that can be used in ministry to others.
Luke 21:1-4 tells us the story of the widow who put two very small copper coins in the temple treasury one day (1 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”) Luke notes that the rich were also putting their gifts into the temple treasury that day. Now, I don’t know, but I imagine the widow could have felt that, in comparison to the rich, she had very little to offer. She put in two mites, which were the smallest of coins, and which had very little monetary value. It would have been easy for her to believe that offering such a small gift was of no value, certainly not in comparison to the much larger gifts offered by the rich. Jesus, however, commended her above all the others, which was a great testimony to what she had to offer.
John 6:1-13 tells the story of the feeding of the 5,000, and out of the six passages that tell of the feeding of the multitudes it is this one that tells us that a young boy offered the five loaves and two fish (1Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee [that is, the Sea of Tiberias], 2 and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. 4 The Jewish Passover Festival was near. 5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” 8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. 12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. In verse 9 of that passage Andrew says here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many? Even in the voice of the disciples you hear the skepticism that such a small amount could accomplish much. Philip could only see what they did not have in terms of resources – where shall we buy bread for these people to eat? As Andrew presented the young boy with his meager rations, he too wondered out loud what difference such a small amount could accomplish – here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?Well, Philip and Andrew were about to find out just how far those few loaves and fish would go, weren’t they? One of the elements of this story that I love is that Jesus had the disciples pick up 12 baskets full of leftovers. Do you know why there were 12 baskets? I assume it was because there were 12 disciples, and Jesus wanted each of the disciples to carry the bounty of what God was able to provide, so they would not be as prone to doubt the miraculous provision God is able to make. In this story, we also see the beauty of young people; they don’t tend to have the sense of defeatism and doubt that we have as adults. We call itreality, as we tell them you have to be realistic, you can’t do that. That’s not possible. I’m just telling you the way the world works. Well, maybe it’s time we start telling them how God works! Do you think so? Maybe it’s time for us to stop thinking from a theology of scarcity and impossibility to one of bounty and possibility! Do you think so? How often do we think too small? How often do we hope for the equivalent of a few tiny coins from God when he has so much more to offer to us?
Take a few minutes and read I Corinthians 12:4-31. In this passage, Paul writes of the reality that every person is gifted by God in some capacity, allowing them to work for the greater good of His kingdom. Paul specifically refutes, in this passage, the idea that anyone is without some gift, or that some gifts are of lesser value or lesser importance. As he writes in verses 6-7, there are different kinds of working, but the same God works in all of them in all…now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. What are the gifts that God has given to you? Do you have trouble seeing yourself as possessing gifts and abilities that can be used in God’s kingdom and the church? You have something to offer!
2. What Will You Offer?
The man made a request of Peter and John directly. Notice that Peter did not say let me find someone who can help. Maybe one of the other apostles are more skilled at this and they can help you. No, Peter did not shift the responsibility responding to anyone else. He helped. Love and ministry can be shared, but they are not outsourced to the extent that we become exempt from the responsibility to offer and to use what God has given to us.
Notice also that Peter and John were going into the temple to pray. It was church time, and they were going to worship. By ministering to this man as they entered into worship, they demonstrated that prayer and worship are not simply about affirming right beliefs or simply showing up or asking God to do something or asking God to find someone to do something. No, prayer and worship lead usto action. Peter and John demonstrated there is a connection between what takes place in worship and outside of worship as they were moved to action. One validates the other. What happens outside of worship relates to and validates what happens in worship. If nothing is happening outside of prayer and worship, nothing is really happening inprayer and worship. Peter’s willingness to act on behalf of the man validated the reality and the integrity of his faith. Peter and John did not simply attend worship; their lives were an act of worship. The question becomes then, what will we offer? What will I, as an individual, offer in service to God?
3. What You Offer Makes A Difference.
Even when we are not aware of it, what we do makes a difference to others. I have told you, on other occasions, about people who have made a difference to me, and whose lives made a big impression on me. One of those people was someone I met when I was in college. One of my best friends, Kim Frazier (who also introduced me to Tanya) introduced me to a guy name Rich. Rich was a great singer, songwriter, and musician. He led a band named Zion, and we would attend their concerts in churches around the Tri-Cities (Johnson City, Kingsport, and Bristol) area of northeast Tennessee. In the summer of 1978 Rich was the Youth Minister at First Christian Church in Kingsport. Several of us drove to Kingsport one afternoon to visit with him and when we walked into the church office looking for Rich, we were told to wait in the sanctuary and they’d send him out if they could find him. At that time, First Christian was a very formal church, both in worship and the way in which people dressed, and I remember Rich walking into the sanctuary, barefoot, wearing tattered jeans, an old T-shirt, and with long hair. I remember thinking, I wonder how this goes over at this church? He was carrying his acoustic guitar and sat on the edge of the platform and played and sang a bunch of songs. It was a great afternoon. Rich’s talent was eventually discovered by people in Christian music, most notably with Amy Grant, who recorded his song Sing Your Praise to the Lord, and then others. Rich began recording his own albums, finding great success in Christian music and writing many classic songs, several of which we sing regularly here at our church – Awesome Godand Step By Stepby Rich Mullins. But what is most interesting about Rich’s life was that he was not interested in what his success brought to him, at least not in terms of the money he generated and the renown that came his way as well. Rich set up a foundation and directed all of the money he earned to go to that foundation. From that foundation he was paid $25,000 a year, which he believed to be the typical annual earnings of many Americans. The remainder of the money – which I’m sure was very substantial – was given to charity. He once gave a tour’s worth of income to a church planter in Columbia, South America, to begin a ministry in the slums of Bogota. He asked that he not be told how much money he earned, because he knew how addictive money could be. Rich died, sadly, in 1997 in a car accident in Indiana. By the end of his life, Rich had stepped away from the spotlight, which was a place where he was never comfortable. He was receiving, by that time, only $1,000 a month and was living in a small trailer on a Native American reservation, teaching music to children. I imagine that a lot of people thought he had given up too much. Imagine, some people certainly said, what you could do if you continue using with the platform that brings so many people to your music. Imagine what you can do to help others with the amount of money at your disposal. That is how I felt, honestly. Rich had given up what I so strongly desire, and I couldn’t imagine giving up what was, in my opinion, something of so much value and importance. But for Rich, he wanted to see close up the difference he could make, and he knew it did not take a lot of money or public renown to make that difference. He wanted to see the difference that could be made when you plant your life somewhere, when invest your life somewhere, and when give your life somewhere. His example caused me to do a great deal of re-evaluating the manner in which I was living.
The other person who made a difference to me is Judy Norris, who was the wife of Bill Norris, the minister at my home church from my 6thgrade year of school into my college years. I have spoken before of Reverend Norris, who was the primary role model for me as a minister, but his wife, Judy, was important to me as well. Mrs. Norris led our children’s music and directed the plays at Christmas and the other productions we presented. My friends and I often made her life, I’m sure, very difficult. We were not the best-behaved kids, most of the time, and I imagine she would have been happy to recommend that we go down the street to the Methodist or Presbyterian churches. But she was patient with us, even, I’m sure, when she felt anything but patience. Mrs. Norris was also a writer, publishing several devotional books. One of those she presented to me when I graduated from high school, which I still have. About five or six years ago I wrote some letters to people who influenced my life in important ways, and one of those letters went to Mrs. Norris. I thanked her for all she had done for me and told her I still had the book she had given me, and I shared the inscription she had written inside the front cover. Mrs. Norris passed away not many months after I wrote her that letter, so I was glad I had taken the time to write to her. She sent me a very kind letter in reply, which I have kept.
I could go on and on with individuals who have made a difference to me, but I will instead add a group of people, and that group of people is you, the members of this congregation. As a minister, I live in an odd world. I live in somewhat of a bubble, separated, often, from what we refer to as “the real world.” It is a world that is 24/7, and I am out most evenings and on weekends as well. It is a world in which I am sometimes called out in the middle of the night, or away from a family activity. It is a world in which I don’t often see the results of what I do, and I am often left to wonder if what I do has any bearing on anyone or on the world in any way. That is one of the reasons why you all mean so much to me and have had such an influence upon me. You are kind, encouraging, and very important to me.
During the time of communion in the early service, David played the hymn Now I Belong to Jesus. I love that hymn. When I was a teenager, and attending church camp, we sang that hymn each time someone was baptized, so hearing the song today brought back many fond memories to me. It also brought a great truth to mind, and that is this – I belong to Jesus, to a great extent, because of people like you, people like Bill and Judy Norris, and so many others. There are many people who have helped to shape and to mold my faith, many people who have been examples and mentors to me, and many people who have nurtured and guided my faith. I am grateful beyond words for each of those individuals.
What do you have to offer? I will answer that question for you. You have so much to offer, and you have already offered much. Continue to offer what God has given to you and know that as you do, you are making a very great difference.