A New Start: A Place Where I Can Grow!
“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.” 1 Cor. 12:12-14
There is a line from the Psalms that has stuck with me through the years that occasionally pops back into my head and kind of keeps me grounded and remembering where the blessings of life really come from.
It’s the simple words of “... and forget not all his benefits” (Ps. 103:2). How often have I whispered these to myself through the years!
It’s very good for me to be reminded that all the blessings of life I enjoy are benefits given to me by God.
Which is why the Psalm begins with: “Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.” Vs. 1
The Psalm, of course, goes on to list the many benefits and blessings that belong to a child of God:
“Who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Verses 3-5
The important thing to realize is that these benefits are only available to those who are in a relationship with God, as was the case with the children of Israel in the Old Testament.
While all can and should be in a relationship with God, only those who are experience the benefit of sins forgiven, diseases healed, lives redeemed, desires satisfied and youth renewed.
My point is that most benefits in life are limited to those who sign up to participate. Life is full of such opportunities.
Think about it for a moment. There are benefits limited to marriage and family life. There are benefits limited to those committed to an honest day’s work, and so on.
How many reward programs are out there that provide benefits to those who sign up in exchange for loyalty?
Among such benefits are even those associated with belonging to a church family such as ours.
The Benefits of the Local Church
You see, there are benefits that are realized only when you are committed to a local fellowship like ours.
One such benefit is this incredible sense of belonging and of being part of a local community; a place where everybody knows your name and where you can enjoy friendship, social interaction and spiritual fellowship. What a tremendous benefit we enjoy?
Another benefit – which we talked about last Sunday – is enjoying the presence of God in the gathering of the two or three in the name of Jesus of which Jesus has said: “There I am in the midst of them.” (Mtt. 18:20).
While you don’t need buildings to do this you will need intentionality; meaning, randomly bumping into a Christian won’t trigger the presence of God as it would when we gather intentionally in the name of the Lord to worship, pray and receive the Word.
Whether you do that in a building or under a tree doesn’t matter as long as it is the intentional gathering in the name of the Lord Jesus.
The inspiration for this idea of benefits associated with the gathering of Christians comes to us from the Early Church in Acts 2.
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:42-47
So you see the benefit of community life and enjoying the presence of God.
The Benefits of Unity Despite Diversity
You also see a third benefit, namely: “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” Vs. 44
So what is this benefit? This is not about putting their money into a common fund but about their incredible ability to get along despite great differences.
How is that a benefit? Imagine how being on the same page would benefit in them learning how to get along with each other.
The Jerusalem Church was one of the most diversified and interracial congregations in the New Testament.
They were an incredibly diverse group of people who never should have stayed together had it not been for the glue that made this all possible, namely the work of the Holy Spirit in their midst.
This was an incredibly eclectic group. Just take a listen to who was all there:
“Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs.” Acts 2:9-11
While many of these were no doubt travellers who flew in for the festivities at the Day of Pentecost, by the time the outpouring of the Holy Spirit happened, I bet many lingered on and on and ended up becoming part of this diverse multinational congregation which had exploded from 120 to 3120 people.
Imagine what life must have been like in that pressure cooker that resembled the United Nations?
None of them obviously lost their cultural identity or gave up their mother tongue when they became followers of Jesus. None of them became Jewish Christians or Messianic Jews.
You know what they became? Egyptian Christians, Median Christians, Cappadocian Christians and on and on and on.
Imagine what church life must have been like. How incredibly rich and beautiful yet also challenging and filled with tension. A foretaste of heaven with real challenges on earth.
Instead of splitting into cultural churches (the Arabs here, the Cretans there), they came together in this incredibly diverse melting pot.
The Struggles of Diversity
Not that they were without their challenges and difficulties. Life was anything but naturally cohesive. In their diversity there were many issues and struggles that they had to overcome.
“Who’s not to say that we are being overlooked while you are being catered to? Who’s not to say that decisions are made by your people alone that benefit only your people? How come you are giving them what we never had?” And so on and so forth.
If you think that I am only speaking rhetoric, this actually took place early on the life of this church.
“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word. This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. So the Word of God spread.” Acts 6:1-7
Wisely, they chose representatives from the groups who took on the responsibility to make sure none were overlooked.
The point is that they had friction points and I am sure they rubbed each other the wrong way more than one on occasion.
If you look at other early church congregations such as the Ephesian Church or Corinthian Church you would find similar struggles with issues ranging from various beliefs, lifestyle, personalities and style.
As Iron Sharpens Iron
Working out these differences over time, it began to mold and shape their character.
As it says in Prov. 17:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another”, meaning, that daily interaction in close proximity influences personality and shapes character.
It’s like the smooth stones on a beach. What do you think made them so smooth and silky? I assure you they weren’t made that way, but became that way after millennia of friction with other stones as forces of nature exerted pressure and influence, smoothing out the rough edges.
You and I both know that sometimes it isn’t easy living with people. We also know that opposites attract which, while initially appealing, can easily later on become a source of grating and aggravation.
It’s crazy how God has programmed us with this incredible need to belong which ends up being the very source of some of our greatest struggles and frustration.
So on the one hand God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Gen. 2:18), and yet on the other hand, the potential is there for having overbearing bully-husbands or quarrelsome naggy wives, neither of which is good.
One a bully and the other a dripping tap. Not good.
If that is true in our primary relationships, it is also true in all our secondary relationships many of which are inside the church.
So we want to belong, we yearn for fellowship and we love close proximity with our spiritual friends and yet sometimes they just rub us the wrong way and it drive us nuts.
Now before you go blaming the devil or before you go running away from trouble, have you considered that friction and sparks may just be God’s refining process in your life?
By the way, if you do run away, where are you going to go? You think there is a perfect church somewhere out there with perfect people or that Television Church will give you what you need? Don’t think so.
As Smooth As Stones
This is God’s process of molding and shaping you while taking off the rough edges and making you as smooth as stone.
Living stones, Peter calls them, that then fit snugly and nice into the wall of God’s temple that has your name on it.
“As you come to him, the living Stone, you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house.” I Peter 2:4
To become snug, smooth and nice stones that fit into your destiny requires all those sharp edges, grating qualities and prickly things that can so easily scratch up and hurt others to be sanded away.
None of us come out of the waters of rebirth as smooth stones but instead with jagged edges, rough patches and ill-fitting qualities that need to be sanded down.
Where do you think that happens except in close proximity to others?
God has intentionally designed the church to be diverse with many different types thrown together, not to drive us crazy, but to help us take off the rough edges.
The Corinthian Church
“The body is a unit though it is made up of many parts.” (1 Cor. 12:12) Paul said this to the Corinthian congregation where personality cults, charismatic manifestations and lifestyle issues tore away at the fabric.
He reminds them that this diversity was actually God’s idea, where His intention is to have a diverse community live in harmony so as to not only shape character but provide a credible witness to the community.
So it says: “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (1 Cor. 12:18), and that diversity is actually what it means to be one body.
Can you imagine a body with only feet, hands or ears? It wouldn’t be a body.
“If they were all one part, where would the body be?” 1 Cor. 12:19
A body with only feet would be like a church with only seniors or a church with only Mandarin speaking people or a church with only professionals.
When I pastored Church in the Village at Shepherd Village in Toronto we saw this reality. It was a church in a Christian nursing home that was made up of only old people.
While these folks needed to gather for fellowship and could no longer attend their home churches and thus needed Church in the Village, the common complaint was that it felt like a church full of feet.
They were missing the arms, the ears and the eyes of children running, youth in their exuberance and young families bouncing their babies.
Paul says, “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?” 1 Cor. 12:17
That is what was happening at Church in the Village and happens at any other church where everyone is the same.
The Corinthian Church, the Ephesian Church and the Jerusalem Church all teach us that there are many parts but one body.
“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” 1 Cor. 12:21-25
That is what I call a highly functional church and a slice of heaven!
The Oil That Keeps The Motor Going!
To get there means living the way Paul told the Colossians to live:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Col. 3:12-15
Isn’t that great advice? That’s the oil that keeps the motor going!
Having compassion, humility and showing kindness, gentleness and patience, as well as being quick to forgive and slow to anger is not only the stuff that keeps the congregation humming. It is also the raw material of smooth, non-jarring stones!
That’s the benefit of belonging to a church like ours.
Of course you can be a Christian on your own, flit from church to church without ever making one your home; you can have all the Television Church you want; you can easily become anonymous in a mega church.
But where would the personal growth and character development happen if not among a group of people who rub shoulders week after week, who learn to get along among differences, and who show support even when it’s not in their best interest?
We want to be people who have learned to be compassionate, humble, kind, gentle and patient.
Where do you learn that except in the pressure cooker of a diverse local church?
Our Doors are Open!
If you are looking for a place that will help you become smooth as stones, then Scott St. is your place!
Not all are going to think the same, not all are going to express themselves in similar ways; we are going to have different personalities and certainly come from diverse backgrounds.
But we are going to come together, learn to get along with God’s grace, and show the world not only a basket full of smooth stones but also a foretaste of life in the Kingdom to come.
Our doors are open for you to benefit from a dynamic and diverse community that will help take the edges off.
Anybody here this morning saying, “Yes, I want to be part of that?”
Here you can find several messages. Feel free to write your thoughts or questions in the comment section.