Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Sunday's Sermon – Spiritual Growth for Short People: Making an Impact

Below is a copy of the sermon I preached on Sunday, February 5, in Cove Presbyterian Church, Weirton, West Virginia. You can find a podcast of this sermon on the Cove Podbean page. You might also want to visit the congregational website (covepresbyterian.org) for more church information.

If you find this sermon meaningful, please consider supporting this ministry by sending an offering to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.


Now, I hope most of y’all know that over the last three weeks, we’ve been focused on spiritual growth, in other words, how we might grow in our understanding of and our relationship with God. And during this time, we’ve looked at three steps that I think will enable to us grow.

For example, during the first sermon, we considered how, when we recognize our limits, we’re more realistic in what we expect and more focused in how we approach God and more patient in our faith. And then, during the second sermon, we looked at how trusting the Lord helps us grow, because faith is really trust, and it begins with a decision on our part, and it frees us to explore different ways we might approach growth. And then, last week, we talked about loving one another, something that forces us to turn from the values of the world and that moves us behind Jesus Christ and that leads us to change our attitudes and our actions. Now this is what we covered during the last three weeks.

And this morning, we’ll be moving past the midway point in this series. And our focus today is on the relationship between our desire to make an impact in the lives of others and our ability to grow spiritually. Put another way, we’re going to consider how,  when we work to make a difference in the world around us, we make a real difference in our own lives. Of course, this business about Christians making an impact, it goes back to some of the stuff Jesus taught his disciples. For example, just listen to what Jesus said, right there, in his Sermon on the Mount: “You are the salt of the earth;  but if salt has lost its taste,  how can its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything,  but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Of course every time I read a passage like this, I feel this weird combination of fear and guilt. You see, I find this stuff kind of scary. I mean, I don’t know that I want to be the light of the world or a city on a hill or a lamp on a stand. And there are plenty of times I’d be plenty happy just curled up under a basket, completely unconcerned about whether I’ve lost my saltiness, something I wish my daughter could but being salty means something different now from what it meant back then. I’ll tell you, I’d be nervous all the time, if I really believed that everything I did or said or thought would be seen, heard and known by others. And my life is actually pretty boring. It’s like I heard this former NFL player and coach say on the radio last week: “You don’t want to hang your underwear on the clothesline if they’re full of holes.” I can tell you right here and now, there are more holes in mine than I’d like my neighbors to see, and so I find this kind of complete exposure pretty scary.

And I’ll tell you something else, I also find it pretty intimidating, and for me, that leads directly to guilt, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. I mean, give me a break, it sounds as though the future of Christianity rests on my shoulders.Talk about pressure. And I’ll tell you, I swear being a minister makes it even worst. Yesterday, I ran across an article by a pastor who’d done a little survey with his twelve-person board. He listed several congregational responsibilities and asked them to share the minimum amount of time he should average in each area each week. And this was the result, and remember, this represents the absolute, minimum amount of time: prayer at the church: 14 hours, sermon preparation: 18 hours, outreach and evangelism: 10 hours, counseling: 10 hours, hospital and home visits: 15 hours, administrative functions: 18 hours, community involvement: 5 hours, denominational involvement: 5 hours, church meetings: 5 hours, worship services/preaching: 4 hours, and other: 10 hours. Now that leads to a grand total of 114 hours/week. And for some reason, teaching and leading studies and being available for phone calls and drop-in visits didn’t make the list. Now, don’t get me wrong; I’ve got a great job. But it’s not guilt-free, not when dealing with competing expectations and priorities. But I’ll tell you, neither is the life of any Christian who takes seriously what it means to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Let’s just say, being expected to make an impact can be both fear-inducing and guilt-provoking.

But having said that, I still think it’s important if we want to grow spiritually. But in order to do it without paralyzing fear and debilitating guilt, before we talk about why, I believe we really need to consider how, you know, how we can make an impact and make it as effectively as we can.

For example, when we think about how we might make a difference, I believe our definition of where, you know, where we’re able to do it, man, that’s really important. And let’s face it, the where is really wide open. My gosh, it can involve making a difference on the other side of the world or in a village in Africa or through all the opportunities now available on social media, you know, like Facebook. Those are all wheres. But so are communities and neighborhoods and families. You see, where we make a difference isn’t one size fits all, but I’ll tell you, they do have one thing in common. They all represent places where we, and I’m talking about me and I’m talking about you, they’re all places we’re able to reach, and my places may be different from yours. You see, we need to think about where, where we can best make an impact.

Just like we need to consider who, your know, with whom might we have an impact. For example, will it be folks who are hungry for a better understanding of the Bible or for a decent meal for once? Will it be for people who may suddenly have a lot of time on their hands or who may suddenly find themselves with no place to live? And will it be for Christian brothers and sisters who are facing hard times or for non-Christian friends and strangers who are also facing hard times? You see, the who is just as varied as the where. And even though those folks all have very definite needs, I think we need to spend some time asking ourselves exactly whom we’re able to help.

And right after answering that, we’d better decide what we’re able to do that make have an impact on their lives. Of course, I think the answer to the what is going to be based on two really important factors: one, what do they need, and two, what are we able to give. And I’ll tell you, I think the reason for this is obvious. I mean, if they’re homeless, giving them a lot of canned goods probably isn’t going to help much. And if I haven’t really studied the Bible since Sunday school when I was twelve, I probably shouldn’t be trying to teach the theology of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. You see, as we think about how we might make an impact, I believe it’s important for us to consider where, where can and should we do it, and who, who actually needs our help, and what, you know, what they really need and what we’re able to provide. And I think this is important to consider, because it sets us up to start doing more than thinking. It actually moves us to begin acting.

And I’ll tell you, when that happens, when we take seriously that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, a city on a hill and a lamp on a stand, in other words, when we begin to look for opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others, I believe as sure as I’m standing here, we’re going to grow. We’re going to grow spiritually. Man, we’re going to grow in our understand of and our relationship with God. And for me, there are three reasons why that’s so.

You see, first, when we decide that we’re going to make an impact, that decision is going to force us to listen to others. I mean, if we’re serious about this, it won’t be good enough for us just to assume that we already know the where and the who and the what. To do it right, man, we’re going to need to know exactly where we can work and exactly who needs our help and exactly what it is they need. We’re going want some answers before we move out on our own. And as we seek those answers, we’re going to grow. We’re going to growing in our understanding of the world that exists on the other side of our skin as well as the other side of the stained glass, the world that we have, not necessarily the world we want. And we’re going to grow in our sensitivity to human need and human pain. And we’re going to grow in our ability to identify those places where we can make a difference and those people who need what God has given us the ability to offer. Now that’s one.

And second, this decision also forces us to look within ourselves. Again, we’re not going to be satisfied assuming that all Christians can offer all things to all people. You see, because we recognize that we’re individuals, called by the same God but equipped to serve him in different ways, it’s crucially important for us to know what we can do well by-ourselves and what we can do effectively together. It’s sort of like Paul told the Corinthians, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Now that’s what Paul wrote, and to figure out how this applies to us, I think we need to take a long, hard look at ourselves and to look at the stuff we do well, you know, things for which we’ve been trained and about which we may have a genuine passion and to separate these gifts, these talents from the stuff we don’t do well and for which we haven’t been trained and about which we really don’t care. For example, I think I can lead a pretty bad and sick Bible Study, and I use those words like my daughter and Dakota and Abbey would use them, which means the study would be pretty good. But we better have flood insurance if you give me a wrench and tell me to go fix a toilet. Man, the only way I’m going to know my strengths and weaknesses is for me to take a look on the inside. And that’s two.

And third, when we decide that we are here to make some kind of impact in the world around us, I’m telling you, that’s going to force us to move closer to God. I mean, let’s get real for a minute here. If we buy this business about being the salt of the earth, it’s not because we’re salty by nature. And if we accept that we’re the light of the world, there’s not a person here this morning who can produce any light on his or her own. And if we recognize that we really are a city on a hill or a lamp on a stand, you can take it to the bank, we didn’t get up there on our own. Whatever qualities we have were given to us by God. And at best, we’re reflectors of his light. And we are where we are and who we are and what we are, because it’s exactly where and who and what God wanted us to be. In other words, whatever power we have was given to us by God. Therefore, the only way we’re going to be able to do much of anything is to move as close to him as possible. And trust me, the closer we are to him, the more we’re going to grow. And that’s three.

Now, I recognize that, at least for me, the idea that God has made me salt and light and that he’s put me on a hill and a stand, I’m telling you, I’m probably always going to feel a little scared, because I think it’s more than I can handle, and a little guilt, because I worry about whether I should be doing more and doing it better. And yet, regardless of how I feel or you feel, that’s what God has done with both of us, because we’ve been called to make an impact on the world around us. And you know, this is something we can do when we begin to consider where we’re able to act and whom we’re able to help and what we’re able to give. And I’ll tell you, when we figure it out and when we decide that this is part of our call, to make a difference, we’re going to start listening to others and looking inside ourselves and moving closer to God, which, when taken together will result in some genuine spiritual growth.

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