Piece Of The Puzzle

“God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as He chose”- 1 Corinthians 12:22 (ESV)

Everybody’s different. There is no one else in this world who is just like you. You are unique.

Do these messages sound familiar? In a highly individualistic culture such as ours, we hear them all the time. Truth be told, sometimes we’re convinced, while at other times, we aren’t.

But what if I told you that there is at least one wayin which every single one of us who are “in Christ” is exactly the same? Because according to God in 1 Corinthians 12, there is. This passage teaches us clearly that if you know Jesus personally, and are thus a member of His church, you have- without exception- been gifted by God for others’ good.

This gifting from God is gracious– there is nothing we can do to earn or deserve it. It is also generous– God has given us everything we need to do everything He has called us to do. And as the verse that heads this post makes clear, it is entirely purposeful– God made each of us who He made us, and how He made us, entirely on purpose. And what is that purpose? To bring glory to Him, and to bless and build others up to become who He has created them to be.

You see, each local church- Fellowship Church included- is much like a puzzle. Just as every puzzle has a designer, the church has been sovereignly and purposefully “designed” by God. This means that God has not only gifted each individual in His church uniquely, but He has also brought us together with a healthy diversity of unique giftings to form a unified, effective whole.

Also, just as every piece of every puzzle has a place and a purpose, every member of every church, including you, has a place and a purpose in God’s ongoing work. That means that you are needed, wanted, and valued. This is true no matter what you or anyone else has told you in the past. Make no mistake- God does love you, God has gifted you, and God does intend to use you powerfully to impact others in a big way, no matter how much you doubt that reality.

As one of the primary aspects of our Beyond Initiative, we want to challenge you to serve beyond yourself– that is, to utilize the unique and purposeful gifting of God in your life to glorify Him and benefit others here at Fellowship Church and beyond. Our church will only function fully to its potential as each member embraces and enacts the unique equipping of God in his or her life. To put it more simply, everyone must find their God given “fit” so that the whole may be complete.

How, then, do you do this, especially if you’ve never served at Fellowship Church- or perhaps at any church- before? Try this simple but significant process…

1- Begin in your heart. Serving beyond yourself obviously involves your hands, but the process must first begin in your heart, as you make yourself available to God to be used by Him in His work. Understand this- The first and foremost prerequisite for contributing in a powerful way to God’s church is a humble, willing heart. If you’ve got that, God can and will give you the grace to take the next step.

2- Start somewhere. As the old cliché goes, “It’s hard to steer a ship that isn’t moving.” The same principle holds true in serving. The best way to know what God has for you uniquely is to take the opportunities before you- even if they don’t seem ideal- and ask Him to direct you as you move in obedience. Also be sure to gather the feedback of trusted others who can recognize and call out your potential. Often others see in us what we have a tough time seeing in ourselves.

3- Don’t give up. Even when you feel like you’ve found your perfect “fit” in serving beyond, there will be challenging days. Serving in God’s church involves people- you included- and wherever people are, problems can arise. Don’t let this difficulty sway you from doing everything that God has called you to do. After all, Jesus’ “perfect fit” in serving was a bloody Cross, where He bore your sin and mine so we could have real life in Him. This was no doubt a difficult assignment, but He followed it through obediently to completion. Let’s make His example our model and motivation.

I pray you have been encouraged and challenged this week to consider how God wants to use you in the lives of others at Fellowship Church. If you are not yet serving, but would like to take a first step, please contact us at (225) 673-4735 or by emailing sstone@fellowshipchurch.cc. We would be privileged to help you take that step.

Do you?

Jesus asked lots of questions.  Jesus asked straightforward questions.  Jesus asked the questions that matter in life.

“Do you believe this?”  Jesus asked this of Martha right after saying to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”  Mark 11::25

Do you believe this?  This is not Jesus asking Martha.  I am asking you.  The question that matters in your life is “do you believe this?”

There are three truths I want you to learn from the death and resurrection of Lazarus.

1.  Apart from Jesus there is death.
Martha and Mary both tell Jesus that if he had been there their brother would not have died.  They knew that without Christ there was death.  Yet Jesus spoke life into that tomb.  Jesus speaks life not because he can bring resurrection but because he IS the resurrection.  He is the one who conquered sin, death, and the grave.  We must go beyond seeking what he gives and seek who he is.

2.  In Jesus there is life.
Jesus said, “I am the life.”  Jesus did not die and was not resurrected so you could have a better life.  Jesus came that you might have “life, and that life to the full.”  He is the giver of life because He Himself is life.  Life is not something we desire from him, it is what we find in him.

3.  I must die to my life to live the Jesus’ life.
There is a death that must take place.  It is my own.  “I no longer live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”  Knowing the power of the resurrection of Christ and the life found in him begins when I allow myself to die to my own ways.  There must be an end to me before there is a beginning for me in Christ.

Jesus told Lazarus to come out and then commanded those around him to unbind him and let him loose.  Jesus died and came to life so that we could die and come to life.  This life is intended to be lived and enjoyed and celebrated.  Let loose for the glory of the Lord in all the joy and peace he gives in life.

As I write these words my heart is heavy for some friends who lost their father this morning.  As I preached this truth yesterday I shared this truth.  The truth of Jesus is an eternal, yet urgent matter.  Often we put off the long-term decisions for short-term reasons.  I told Fellowship yesterday, that you you do not know you are promised today or tomorrow, but if you believe you know you are promised forever.  I praise the Lord with them that their father believed and though he died, he lives.  

He believed this.  His sons believe this.  I believe this.  But that is not the question you need to know the answer to.

Do you believe this?

 

Asks That Lead To Answers

Yesterday, one of our members asked the world- or at least his little slice of it- via Facebook, “What are some good ‘one liners’ that can lead to conversations about Jesus?” This simple question, borne out of a genuine desire to share beyond as we were challenged last Sunday, led to some helpful dialogue, both online and face to face.

Chances are, this person isn’t the only person out there asking this or a similar question. Many of you genuinely desire to engage others in authentic conversation about faith, but aren’t sure where or how to begin. We have found that one of the most effective methods of cultivating such dialogue is the wise and strategic use of questions. Making “asks” rather than simply spouting “answers” makes for a more genuine back-and-forth and can help you to discern well where others stand in relation to Jesus.

Share Jesus Without Fear(William Fay) is one of the classic resources available to folks who want to begin sharing beyond themselves. Embedded within this presentation are five key questions that can help “get people talking” about their faith, in so doing laying a foundation for a Gospel approach. These five questions are as follows…

1- Do you have any kind of spiritual belief?
2- To you, who is Jesus Christ?
3- Do you think there is a heaven or hell (or perhaps, “anything beyond this life”)?
4- If you died, where do you think you would go? If heaven, why?
5- If what you believe is not true, would you want to know?

It should be noted that these questions are not a “script” for an “interview” of another. They are simply conversation tools that, if utilized in conjunction with a genuine willingness to listen, can open doors of opportunity for the Gospel of God’s grace in Jesus.

One other that I have used recently, and would add to the mix, is this- Do you have any kind of church or faith background? If so, how is that faith impacting your life today? I have found that this question aids us in cutting through some of the clutter of a “religious” culture to get a clearer picture of where someone actually stands spiritually.

It is our hope and prayer that you find these questions, and others like them, a helpful tool in jump starting your sharing beyond. We’re praying that God gives you grace, wisdom, and courage to engage others with the too-good-to-be-true news that real life is available in His Son, Jesus. Happy Easter!

Don’t Get Caught Napping

But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.  (Mark 14:71-72)

 This part of Simon’s Peter story and life is well chronicled and often communicated.  Peter is seen as a great example of failure and restoration.  There are some key thoughts about what happened this night that we should consider, but often do not.  First, how threatening were the circumstances even if the people asking were not? Secondly, Peter is immediately broken over his denial of Christ.  I believe the fact that Peter had gone this far with Jesus while no one else had and the fact that he wept bitterly over his denial of Christ, speaks volumes about the spirit of Peter.  He wanted to honor Jesus that night.  Yet, he failed.  Can you relate?

Yesterday, at our local Association Passion Week noon services, I had the privilege of hearing a great message on this chapter.  John Carrigan, from Oak Grove Baptist, made a correlation between two events that ill, yet wonderfully, fated night that I had never heard before.  Some hours before this event, Jesus had a very different interaction with Peter.  I am not speaking of when he told Peter he would deny him.  We all know that connection.  It was after that, but before this moment of denial.

And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”  And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled.  And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.  And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”(Mark 14:32-38)

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 The emphasis in this passage is mine.  The truth is Christ’s.  Peter’s problem was not that he did not have the spirit nor the desire or passion to stand for Christ.  There he was standing alone on behalf of his Savior, yet in the face of a slave girl he crumpled.

I wonder what would have happened around that fire if Peter had not slept while Jesus prayed.  Jesus was dealing with the flesh in the garden.  He was putting the request for another way before the Father, yet was willing to do the will of the Father.  He prayed.  He prepared.  And he finished.

Peter failed to prepare.  And he fell into temptation.  A willing spirit means little when our weak flesh wins.

At Fellowship we have challenged you to pray for those who do not know Christ and to share that hope with them personally this Easter season.  We have encouraged you to invite them to worship with us this Sunday.  I encourage you to not just say you will do this, but do it.

Start with prayer though.  Get ready.  Be prepared.  A willing spirit means allowing God to prepare your flesh for his purposes.  Set yourself aside in prayer.  If you have not been able to be a part of a corporate prayer time at Fellowship this week there is one more today from 6-9 AM or from 5:30-6:30 PM.  These are come and go prayer times.  If you have 10 minutes to come pray then show up, grab a prayer guide, and pray.

Don’t get caught napping.

Best…News…Ever

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“For we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard”- Acts 4:20 (ESV)

May 26, 2009 is a day that will forever be etched into my memory. My wife Kerri and I had been married for two and a half years, and had been trying for one and a half of those years- up to that point, in vain- to grow our family with the addition of our first child. Month after month, though, it wasn’t happening.

We visited doctors. We had tests run. We spent money. We prayed fervently. And nothing happened.

We visited more doctors. We had more tests run. We spent more money. We prayed more fervently, even desperately. And still, nothing happened.

On and on this process went, until at some point we were told that this just may not happen for us. There were issues that simply may not be able to be resolved apart from significant- and extremely expensive- medical intervention. In sadness and frustration- and at that point, out of money to spend on more doctors and more tests- we determined to take a month “off” from trying, to step back and ask God what he had in store for our family.

But on the morning of May 26, Kerri had a hunch. It was admittedly a small one, an unlikely one, but it was a hunch nonetheless, that something may (emphasis on a very unlikely may)be going on. With a primary motivation to put that notion to rest, she bought a pregnancy test. The church was actually between the pharmacy and our home, and for whatever reason, we decided to stop there so Kerri would take the test. She went in to do so, as I milled around the Connection Center area.

To be completely honest, neither of us walked into that building that afternoon with a shred of real expectation. The test taking was much less an act born of hope and much more an attempt to squelch any pesky hope that might taunt us for yet another month.

But then, I heard the gasp, and in that moment, I knew something was up. Seconds later, Kerri whipped around the corner, pregnancy test in hand, and with joy (and shock!) on her face, unable to even speak, mouthed to me the words, “I’m pregnant!”

She ran to me. We embraced. We cried. We rejoiced. We danced around that Connection Center like children, unhindered and undignified. And then, we told anyone and everyone we could find.

Pastor Kirk was the only other person at the church office that afternoon, so he was the first to know. When we told him, he (not surprisingly) cried and rejoiced with us too. From there, we told our parents, our siblings, our friends, and more. The next day, we actually drove around town, from house to house, making the announcement to friends in all manner of fun and creative ways. Our hearts were filled with joy, and we just couldn’t keep it to ourselves. The thing we had hoped for, longed for, and prayed for had now come true. God had graced us with an incredible gift, and it was more than worth sharing.

This is precisely the heart from which- and with which- God has called and commanded us as His people to share His Gospel with others. In Jesus, God has given each of us- desperate sinners, hopeless and helpless apart from Him- the too-good-to-be-true gift of a restored relationship with Him, eternal life now and forever. Through the Gospel of grace, our once-empty, once-despairing hearts are filled with unspeakable joy, and as that joy overflows, the natural and expected outcome is that we will share it with others who need to experience it just as desperately as we do.

Too often, sharing beyond is seen as a burden or a chore, as though we are making some awkward “sales pitch” to our unbelieving friends and neighbors. Full disclosure here- I know I’ve been guilty of viewing it that way. But this was never God’s intention in giving us this commission. He has given us a gift worth sharing with the world, and given us the great privilege of partnering with Him to do so. That doesn’t mean it is always easy or comfortable to do so- if it was, I wouldn’t be writing this article- but it also means that this may look far different than we have assumed.

This week, I encourage and challenge you to shift your perspective and practice from “selling” Jesus to truly “sharing” Him with those who don’t know Him. Do it naturally. Do it freely. Do it authentically. Let others see that Jesus has filled your heart through His Gospel, and that it just can’t help but overflow into everyday conversation and interaction. At some point, the more and more we do this, it won’t be all that surprising- to us, or to others- that we would do this; it simply becomes who we are.

Will you take a step toward this today? Will you reflect on the life changing reality of Jesus in you? Will you, in joy, share that with at least one person who needs to experience that reality too? I pray God gives you the vision, wisdom, and courage to take that step as we share from the overflow of hearts captured by grace.

Beyond a Dollar

Living Beyond yourself is not just a desire, it must be the direction of your life. This life is not found in what is sentimental but in what is practical. The most elusive reality about a life lived beyond is going from desire and sentiment to direction and practice.

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Beyond begins with God.

Living beyond ourselves is our right response towards God who has gone beyond for us. “We love God because he first loved us.” “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.” God is the beginning of beyond. He loves beyond. He is gracious beyond. He can do beyond what we “ask or imagine.”

2 Corinthians 9:6-15 speaks to one of the most difficult issues of the heart that prevents us from living beyond ourselves: Money.

The passage begins with the truth that he who sows little also reaps little and he who sows much also reaps much. The decision to give is often difficult because there are so many emotions wrapped up in it. There are feelings about who or what you are giving to, who or what you are giving up, and who will know about your gift. These emotions are often how the enemy sneaks in and robs us of the joy of being a giver.

Giving is a living decision.

How you plan to give will determine how you live. The common lie we believe is that I will give after I have enough to live. But there will never be enough. Never. We have an insatiable appetite for more. The decision to give determines how we live. In this way, it is the decision that makes the other decisions.

These decisions include financial responsibility. Living on a budget can be a love/hate experience but is a necessity to be able to consistently give. Decisions that are based on budgets instead of bank accounts are typically better for the long view of financial stewardship.

A cheerful heart is not the result of a cheerful gift.
A cheerful gift is the result of a cheerful heart.

God loves a cheerful giver. This description of happiness and joy is not the description of the gift, it is the description of the person that gives. The gift we give cheerfully is the result of the life we live cheerfully.

I encourage you in your giving to avoid a life cycle of self-bribery. This occurs when we try to buy ourselves out of the guilt of selfishness by giving. We give so that we feel better about how we live. Instead, you should change how you live. Sacrifice some selfish desires to give beyond.

The cheerful heart speaks of what one loves. It is never difficult for people to invest in what and who they love. If you love fishing, you spend the money on it. Shoes a passion? You spend money on them. If you love it, you give of your self for it.

How much do you love Jesus and his glorious gospel?
How much do you love your church?

How much do you love your neighbor going through a hard time?

Do you love them enough to live in such a way that you can give? Decide in your heart what you will give, be cheerful…and do it!

A Parable about Mario Kart

Just last week, Jessica and I were fortunate enough to head to Austin for a conference on discipleship. A true blessing from the Lord is when you have small kids & some family that is willing to keep them for a few days (and nights). All of God’s people said??

We had a great time learning and worshiping (and eating). But as you would guess, after a few days, we missed our 3 crazy little boys. On Saturday, we headed home. As we got closer, I began to imagine my first interaction with the boys. I dreamed of them being off in a distance, and I, like the father in the Prodigal Story, would see them and run to them. And they to me. And we would embrace. And it would be a beautiful reuniting between parents and children.

Didn’t happen.

We saw them. They ran around in circles. To get away. Finally, I convinced them to come. Caleb was the first to speak.
What I expected? “Oh father, I missed you and I love you. I missed your masculine influence on my life!”

Nope. Instead? “Dad, on Mario Kart I opened a new level and a new character and yadda yadda yadda!!!” I can’t even describe the excitement on his face. Ear to ear smile.

At first I was offended (on the inside). I am already not that excited about his obsession with this video game…and that was the first thing he had to say? But then God struck me down in my spirit with 2 things.

Caleb does love you Jonathan. Your son loves you so much he wanted you to know about everything that he loves.
His desire to tell me everything is a sign of his love for me. I know how to turn my wife on (this is clean, I promise). I take her for coffee and we talk openly. We share feelings. We share hurts. It is a deep showing of affection.

This is exactly how God wants us to relate to him. To share with him honestly about our passions, our dreams and even our hurts and our fears. God desires authenticity in prayer because it shows affection.

The second thing He dropped into my spirit was this…we don’t have to be trained to talk about the things we love. Caleb doesn’t need training to talk about Mario Kart. I don’t need a seminar to open my mouth about the Eagles. Jessica? Fingernail polish & shoes. Isaac? Underwear (don’t ask…he’s at that age). Abram? His mom (and he talks LOUDLY about that beautiful woman).

Don’t get me wrong, training to share your faith is valuable. I want you to have it. But you don’t need it to talk about Him. Jesus is better than everything. If you believe that and know HIM…then you LOVE Him. If you love Him, you will talk about Him.
On the spot, God spoke to me. “You love me? Let it be known.”

I love kids. God uses them to teach me so much about living BEYOND myself.

Side note: I like to play Mario Kart too. There, honesty. A sign of my affection to you.

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