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Who Are We as a Church? “Treasuring a Gift”
5th Sunday in Lent, 03/13/2016
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Heavenly Father, on this 5th Sunday in the season leading up to Resurrection Sunday – the day we celebrate Christ’s victory over death – we confess our own self-centered agendas. As we move through this season of special attention to our own wanderings from Your Word, our own wayward walk-aways from Your path, our own seemingly perpetual propensity for sin and self-centered decisions – help us, as Your Church, Your people, to move closer to what You want for us. Draw us closer to our Lord and Savior, in His name we pray, Amen.
During the French Revolution, there were three Christians who were sentenced to die by the guillotine. One Christian had the gift of faith, another had the gift of prophecy, the other had the gift of helps.
The Christian with the gift of faith was to be executed first. He was asked if he wanted to wear a hood over his head. He declined and said he was not afraid to die. “I have faith that God will deliver me!” he shouted bravely. His head was positioned under the guillotine, with his neck on the chopping block. He looked up at the sharp blade, said a short prayer and waited confidently. The rope was pulled, but nothing happened. His executioners were amazed and, believing that this must have been an act of God, they freed the man.
The Christian with the gift of prophecy was next. His head was positioned under the guillotine blade and he too was asked if he wanted the hood.
“No,” he said, “I am not afraid to die. However, I predict that God will deliver me from this guillotine!” At that, the rope was pulled and again, nothing happened. Once, again the puzzled executioners assumed this must be a miracle of God, and they freed the man.
The third Christian, with the gift of helps, was next. He was brought to the guillotine and likewise asked if he wanted to wear a hood.
“No,” he said, “I’m just as brave as those other two guys.” The executioners then positioned him face up under the guillotine and were about to pull the rope when the man stopped them. “Hey wait a minute,” he said. “I think I just found the problem with your guillotine.”
Some gifts are more easily “treasured” than other gifts.
These 6 or 7 weeks leading us up to Resurrection Sunday we have talked about how we in the church are to honor our differences – I Corinthians 12 illustrates this with the “Body of Christ” image; about what the Bible says about the Church being in unity – John 17 gives us Jesus’ prayer for His Church being in unity; about how we are called into humble service together – Philippians 2:5-11 tells us to be of the same mind of Christ who humbly gave up His place in heaven to die on the cross for us; about why we need to be a people of prayer for our church leaders – I Timothy 3 lists the required character traits, and boy is prayer ever needed! ; and about how to be a healthy church family – Ephesians 5 & 6 tell us how to be family together.
That’s the question we are dealing with over this Season of Lent. Who Are We as the Church? Today we discover something about the true value of being in a Christ-centered, Spirit-filled Church together.
Let’s listen to the Word of God written from the Apostle Paul to the persecuted Turkish church in Ephesus, from Ephesians 2:1-10 …. —-
“ 1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
I was raised in a church-going family – we went to worship every Sunday, and the kids went to Sunday School as far back as I can remember. There was never a time when I didn’t have an understanding that God is real and that He loved me and that He is Almighty.
But it was my 7th Grade Group leader, a 55-year old man named Bud Cook, who opened that childhood belief into something alive and vital. Bud showed me a couple of verses in Romans, many of you know these verses, and maybe you also became a Christian after discovering their truth. Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, and Romans 6:23 says that “the wages of sin is death”. When Bud showed me those verses I realized how true they were for me! I was/am a sinner, and therefore deserving of death.
Thankfully Romans 6:23 isn’t done yet. Here’s how it finishes: “But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!” I/we deserve death, but God offers a completely free gift – Life, eternal, through His Son Jesus! Today we are two weeks away from Resurrection Sunday, but that is the free gift we celebrate every Sunday – every day!
Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesian Church, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God!”
When we repent of our sin and place our faith in Jesus Christ, we receive the gift of salvation! Verse after verse, story after story, line after line, the Bible speaks of this gift! And it is a gift! Not something we can earn. We cannot be good enough to deserve this reward! Free gift! Say that with me: “Free Gift”!
And when we receive the free gift of salvation we become a part of the body of Christ! In I Corinthians 12, immediately before Paul names some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit he says, “Now you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it. And God has placed these in the Church!” (I Cor 12:27-28)
Did you catch it?
When you first believed in Jesus, that He is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead, you received some amazing free gifts – gifts that carry more value than anything else here on earth. Gifts to be treasured and guarded and nurtured and developed. When you first believed, you received the gift of:
- Eternal SALVATION (Ephesians 2:5 says that very clearly)
- FORGIVENESS of sins (Romans 5:8, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!)
- ADOPTION by God (Galatians 4:4-7 tells us that “God sent his Son,born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his children, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”
- HOLY SPIRIT indwelling (Acts 2:38 tells us that Peter addressed every new believer and said, “Repent and be baptized,every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
- and, when we believe in Jesus we receive the gift of Church MEMBERSHIP (listen again to I Corinthians12:27-28: “Now you are the body of Christ, and individually members of it. And God has placed these in the Church!”
Church membership is truly a gift to be treasured!
Yeah – but which church? As a believer I am a member of the universal Church, and that is a gift to be treasured.
That is absolutely true! But I would add that belonging with a specific group of believers, a particular gathering of the Family of God, a particular branch of that Family Tree is a gift that helps us grow into the believer God intends us to be. What a privilege to be a part of a local church, a specific congregation, where you can thrive!
The vast majority of Paul’s Epistles were written to particular Churches; the book of Acts speaks of particular Church Families; in Revelation, Jesus writes to seven unique congregations.
What’s the point? The point has to do with the nature of treasured gifts.
When we receive a gift that we really do love, from a simple hand drawn hand-turkey from our preschooler to a glamorous diamond encrusted jewelry, from a homemade card from a friend to something that the giver sacrificed to give us – when we receive a gift that we truly treasure and appreciate, we respond to the giver!
That’s the point. Who gives us Church membership? Who gives us the Holy Spirit? Who gives us a real relationship with God as Father? Who offers forgives of our sin? From whom did we receive eternal salvation when we least deserved it?
How do we respond to this Giver of the most treasured Gifts of all time?
Service to God?
Service to others in our Church Family?
Service to those who might still be adopted into our Family one day?
These are the responses of people who recognize the gift of Church membership.
Each week during this Lenten Season our Sermon Notes Page has included a pledge for us to read, sign, and tear out, and use to remind us of the gift of being members of a church that wants to live like we believe what we say we believe.
Our sixth Church Member Pledge – this is not just for those who are actually on the roles of this particular church, but this is for any who claim to be followers of Jesus and saved by grace through faith – our sixth Church Member Pledge that we invite you to read, sign and tear from your bulletins so you can use it as a Bible bookmark, tape it to your TV screen, or fold it over your diary cover, reads as follows:
Church membership is a gift. When I received the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, I became a part of the body of Christ. I soon thereafter identified with a particular church and was baptized (or had my baptism confirmed). And now I am humbled and honored to serve and to love others in our church. I pray that I will never take my membership for granted, but see it as a gift and an opportunity to serve others and to be a part of something so much greater than any one person or member. I treasure my relationship with Jesus beyond what words can say, and I treasure this church family.
Read – sign – tear from your bulletins.
Let’s be the Church of Jesus Christ – treasuring the gift – well – to the glory of God. Amen.
Nyquist, J. Paul & Carson Nyquist; The Post-Church Christian; Moody; Chicago, IL; 2013.
Rainer, Thom S.; I Am a Church Member; B&H Pub. Grp.; Nashville, TN; 2013; Pp. 66-75.