As any architect worth his drafting table knows—buildings are designed according to a specific purpose. I mean, the minute you look in our ROC you can see it was designed for recreation especially basketball. One look at the building we are in now shows it was intended to be a place where a large group of people gather to worship God.
Well, this week I came across a list of some other buildings that have very interesting purposes.
- This first one has been designed to capture burglars.
It’s like the bait car concept only this is a house—specifically, “a capture house” and they are increasingly used by police in the UK to entrap thieves. These false homes can be moved from place to place and are rigged with hidden cameras and chemical sprays that mark intruders. Be forewarned—if you break into a capture house like this—you will be captured!
- This next home was designed to protect occupants from a zombie apocalypse.
Well—not really—it’s intended to be like a safe room—but the entire house is safe and if there ever is a zombie apocalypse, no worries, because the structure could certainly withstand one. This home is located just outside Warsaw, Poland. It’s made of concrete with walls a foot and a half thick. It also has a seven-foot-high retractable perimeter fence. It has lots of windows—but with the push of a button impenetrable barriers come down to cover them so that when secured, it looks like this. Plus, there’s only one entrance and it’s located on the second floor and accessible only by a drawbridge.
- This next building may look like a picturesque colonial home but it’s not.
If you look close you can see there is no driveway or front door and that’s because it’s not a house at all. It’s actually a house-like shell erected by the City of Raleigh, North Carolina to hide this unsightly pumping station. It’s even built with sound dampening materials to hush the noisy goings-on inside.
- This next building is not a tower calling Muslims to prayer. No—it has been designed to drop things from.
It’s aptly named “The Drop Tower” and is in Bremen, Germany. It’s actually a 475-foot hollow tube built so scientists could study the effects of weightlessness on living things—by dropping small test animals from its peak. If you think that sounds cruel—don’t worry, the animals are only dropped once.
- This next deal is an illustration of a home designed to survive tornadoes.
It’s meant to withstand the destructive power of these storms in places where geology makes it impossible to have homes with basements or cellars.
- This last one looks to me as if it were built to show people what it would be like to be Spiderman.
Both the exterior and interior of this recreational facility is made entirely of climbing walls. Believe it or not it’s in Polur, Iran — an area that is quickly becoming a mecca for rock climbing enthusiasts.
Well—just like buildings—you and I, as Christians are designed—built with special purposes in mind. So far in our study of Rick Warren’s book we’ve looked at three of them.
- We’ve learned that we are created to Love God—hard-wired—to WORSHIP.
- We are built to Belong to His family—the Church—that’s FELLOWSHIP.
- We are designed to Become more and more like Jesus—DISCIPLESHIP
- And today we come to our fourth purpose—we are called—built—wired—to BLESS others—which is MINISTRY.
Our text for this morning reminds us of this fourth purpose. Read it with me:
Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
This verse and others like it tell us that, as Christians, we were not saved just to consume.
No—we were saved to contribute. God intends for us—His children—to make a difference in this world—to be salt and light. Let me put it this way: He has given each of us wonderful blessings and we are called to give back by doing GOOD WORKS—blessing others in His name.
So, as Warren puts it, “What matters is not HOW LONG you live, but HOW you live. What matters is not the DURATION of your life, but the DONATION of your life. The Bible says we’re CREATED to serve, we’re SAVED to serve, we’re GIFTED to serve, we’re SHAPED to serve. We’re commanded to serve God back.”
Long ago, Job wrote, “God—Your hands SHAPED me and made me.” (Job 10:8) Job realized that each of us is UNIQUELY gifted and talented—SHAPED—“hand-made” by God. As you’ll see in the reading this week, Warren has taken the word “SHAPE” and made it into an acronym to remind us of five ways God makes each of us unique—five factors that go into our individual design.
H.eart or passion
I like how Warren puts it. He says: “God designed each of us so that there would be no duplication in the world. No one has the exact mix of factors that make you unique. This means no one on earth will ever be able to play the role that God planned for you.” As the children’s song puts it, “Look all the world over there’s no one like me!” Isn’t that cool!? You are one of a kind!
Now—what is it that motivates us to use our uniqueness to bless?
Well, one thing that prompts us to do this is the fact that it brings us JOY.
As we help people we discover that joy is not found in serving self—it’s found in serving others.
As Jesus put it in Luke 17:33, “Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.” We experience the abundant life we all long for—when we lose our lives—give of our time and talents to bless others. God wired us so that the more unselfish we are the more joy flows into our lives. The Bible says this in Philippians 4 “Always be full of joy in the Lord; I say it again, rejoice! Let everyone see that you are unselfish and considerate in all you do.” (TLB) Notice how Paul pairs joy with being unselfish and considerate. He does this because that’s where real joy comes from—giving to help others.
Here’s a second motivation. Serving others also improves our relationships.
Listen: The root of most relational problems in our lives is self-centeredness. When we put our needs first—it always causes conflict. Proverbs 13:10 says, “By pride cometh contention.” In other words, when you have an ego you’re going to have conflict. But the more you learn to serve unselfishly the more your relationships will improve. The more we take on the attitude of Jesus—the more we serve others—the more loved and respected we will be. So—when we use our uniqueness to bless we experience joy—it improves our relationships—
But main motivation to help others is: our experience of the grace of Christ.
Once we experience God’s grace—once we understand what God has done and is doing for us—our focus in life changes. E. Stanley Jones puts it this way: “Grace binds you with far stronger cords than the cords of duty or obligation can bind you. Grace is free, but when you take it, you are bound forever to the Giver and bound to catch the spirit of the Giver. Like produces like. Grace makes you gracious. The Giver makes you give.” We put this principle in our purpose statement. The “C” in our grace acronym stands for “Care in the nature of Christ.” Once we experience the gracious care of our Lord—we want others to as well. In fact—when we BLESS others as we have been BLESSED—when we GRACE others as we have been GRACED—it validates our faith. It proves that we know Jesus personally.
Warren goes so far as to say, “A non-serving Christian is a contradiction in terms.” That is so true. When we are so self-centered that we ignore the needs of others—we prove that we either don’t KNOW Jesus—or we aren’t walking close to Him.
Richard Stearns writes, “Being a Christian requires much more than just having a personal and transforming relationship with God. It also entails a public and transforming relationship with the world. If your personal faith in Christ has no outward expression then your faith has a hole in it. Jesus didn’t just say, ‘Follow Me and I’ll take you to Heaven.’ He said, ‘Follow Me and I’ll send you out into the world.’ The gospel isn’t just about Jesus and me. It’s about Jesus and MISSION. It’s about Jesus and others. It’s about following Jesus for the sake of others.”
More than anything else, blessing others in tangible opens doors for us to share the gospel. Todd Hunter writes, “People today aren’t asking if Christianity is TRUE; they’re asking if it is GOOD. People are tired of hearing us TALK about good news. They want us to BE good news in our communities and the world.”
Okay—with all this in mind—let’s look at some principles of BLESSING others—things we need to remember in order to fulfill this, our fourth purpose.
(1) First: Don’t overlook SMALL opportunities to bless or serve others.
This is a very important principle to remember because when we consider issues like world hunger and poverty, many of us are overcome with a sense of helplessness and despair. And we just shut down and become self-focused. We think, “After all, I am just one person. What can one person do? I can’t fix it for everyone.” And that’s right. We can’t help EVERYONE. But we can help someone.
- I would venture to say that everyone here knows someone who could use a little help financially.
- Everyone here knows someone who is lonely and needs a visit. In fact, we have a list of shut-ins here at Redland who I KNOW would love for someone to stop by and talk.
- Everyone here knows someone who is sick and would appreciate a word of cheer. I bet we all have neighbors who are facing serious illnesses.
- Statistics say we probably all know someone in prison who would benefit greatly from our kindness and unconditional love.
Listen. The Bible doesn’t say you have to underwrite the operating budget of Compassion International or World Vision—but you can sponsor a child. It doesn’t say you have to fix the prison system—but you can write a note to someone who needs encouragement. It doesn’t say you can help EVERY lonely U.S. soldier on a foreign battlefield. But you can write one. You can send one care package his or her way. The point is—do good when you can do good. Whenever the opportunity presents itself do something—even if it’s small. DON’T overlook little opportunities to show love. After all, little things can be big things in God’s kingdom. 1st Corinthians 15:58 says, “Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for Him is a waste of time or effort.” This text and others like it teach that even the seemingly insignificant things that we do to serve others in Jesus’ name do indeed matter. In Mark 9:41 Jesus said, “Even if you give a cup of cold water in My name to a child, that counts.”
One thing we need to remember is that there is a difference between SIGNIFICANCE and PROMINENCE. For example: my ears are quite prominent. I’ve always been kind of self-conscious about them. But I could lose both my ears and still live the rest of my life, because while they are prominent they’re not all that significant. On the other hand, if I lost my liver or my heart, neither of which is very prominent because you can’t see them, well if I lost either of these parts, I’d leave this world and head for Heaven. This is an important principle for us to grasp because many of us think that if something is given a lot of visibility, it’s the most important but that’s not true in God’s kingdom. In fact, in the Lord’s eyes many times the stuff behind the scenes is actually VERY important. This is hard for us to understand because with our limited perspective we can’t see how our small acts have big consequences, but they do! I am so very thankful for all the “silent—invisible servants” at Redland—the people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure ministry happens. I’m thinking of:
- The people who help with baptism. They take the robes home and launder them and return them. No one ever sees this—but it is very significant.
- The people who prepare for communion. I bet you don’t even know who they are but without them we couldn’t obey the Lord’s command to remember His sacrificial death through this ordinance.
- The people who decorate for Christmas or Easter—and then clean it all up afterwards. We never see them working but we benefit from it.
- The people who write cards to our shut-ins. You never see what they do—but the people who receive those cards do.
I could go on. The point is—even a SMALL thing can be a BIG thing when it comes to blessing others. So — never overlook a small opportunity to help. Speaking of small, this week I read about 5-year old Mackenzie Brown who at a routine traffic stop sacrificially gave up her own stuffed moose toy to a Pennsylvania police officer. The officer said, “She was holding a stuffed moose out of the window and tried giving him to me. I tried to politely say no thank you—but was told she wanted me to have him so he could keep me safe. Clearly there was no way to say ‘no’ to that!” Well, the officer held onto “Mr. Moosey” for a short time, but then decided to pass along the stuffed animal to different first responder units. And that started an amazing cycle of blessing. Recently, reporters followed up on the story and discovered that the moose has since made visits to Chicago, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire—“serving” alongside Air Marshalls, the National Guard, fire departments, and even the NYPD Intel-Terrorism Office. The Facebook page “Mr. Moosey’s World Tour” is updated regularly with stories of what impact the presence of the moose has had on different parts of the country.
Isn’t that cool? Even a little girls seemingly little blessing has been incredibly significant. Our small blessings can be as well.
That leads me to mention a second principle to remember as we fulfill our fourth purpose:
(2) Don’t worry about your LIMITATIONS.
Many of us don’t serve—we don’t minister to others—because we don’t think we are capable or we think we are just too flawed for our efforts to matter to God. The fact is—it’s not about us—it’s about Him Who is in us. It’s about our allowing God to use us—limitations and all. Paul referred to this principle in 2nd Corinthians 4:7 where he writes, “We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” In other words, we may be just clay jars but God can and will use us by filling us with His power.
Brian Wilkerson talks about a sterling silver tea set in his home that a family member gave them as a gift years ago. The tea set is very old and beautifully—made and they display it in their dining room but they can never use it. You see, it’s coated with a special chemical so it won’t tarnish. Filling it with hot water to make tea would ruin the finish. Referring to Christians like you and me Wilkerson writes, “God’s not looking for sterling silver tea sets. He’s looking for rough-and-tumble clay pots—the kind that can be used every day. He’s looking for the kind of pots that don’t need to be tucked away in a china closet, but can be sent out into a crash-bang world, carrying within them the life of Christ. The church was never meant to be a china cabinet, where precious pieces could be safely stowed out of harm’s way. The church was meant to be a working kitchen, where well-worn pots are filled again and again to dispense their life-giving contents to a thirsty world.”
Don’t worry about your limitations. All that God requires is a willing heart. It’s not your ability but rather your availability that matters to Him. In fact, Warren says that our weaknesses and limitations are not an accident. He writes: “God deliberately allowed them in your life for the purpose of demonstrating His power through you.”
Here’s a third principle of ministry.
(3) Don’t worry about getting a RECEIPT.
Now—I’m speaking metaphorically here. Of course, if you make a tax-deductible donation, it’s okay to get a receipt. I love how our tax system takes advantage of people’s desire to pay the government less—to motivate us to give to help others MORE. So—I’m not saying don’t do that. What I’m saying is, forget about how your act of service is going to benefit you. Don’t do good to be seen. Don’t do good to be applauded.
Do you remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 25 when He talked about dividing the sheep from the goats? He said, that at the final judgment the sheep asked, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? When did we see You a stranger and invite You in, or needing clothes and clothe You? When did we see You sick or in prison and go to visit You?” (Matthew 25:37-39) In other words, the sheep in this story didn’t know they were scoring points in Heaven by helping the down and out. That wasn’t their motive. Their motive was simply to respond with compassion to human need. That became their way of going through life—being seen—“asking for a receipt”—didn’t even enter their minds. They didn’t think of documenting their good deeds so that God would later be impressed. They just helped out when they could—even if they got no recognition for doing so. If our purpose in doing good is to be rewarded then we’ve missed the point. When we do good, we must forget about how good it’s going to make us look. We must just do good because we know that’s what Jesus would do. Unfortunately, too often when we have the chance to help people we become like Don Corleone.
Remember The Godfather? In the beginning the guy comes to him and asks him for a favor. Don Corleone agrees to do it, then says, “Someday, and that day may never come, someday I will call upon you to do me a service in return. Until that day, consider this justice a gift.” In other words, “Yes, I will help you out. But you will owe me. I’m saving the receipt. I will hold this over you until I get payback.”
Well, caring in the nature of Christ is not like that. It’s not about scoring points, it’s not about quid pro quo, and it’s not about getting leverage over others. It’s about responding to human need in the same way Jesus would. It’s helping people who hurt, regardless of how it may or may not benefit us. I remember, many years ago—our first adult mission trip was to Mexico. We went to Matamoros to build homes for the VERY needy people there. Later that year at our ecumenical Thanksgiving Service, one of our team members shared a powerful testimony about that trip and the people we were able to bless. The next week a woman who was a member of one of the churches here in Derwood came into the office. She handed an envelope to one of our secretaries and said it was for the people of Matamoros. Inside were ten one hundred-dollar bills. She didn’t write a check—she didn’t leave her name. She didn’t care about recognition. All she wanted to do was bless others. Well, that’s got to be our mindset as well.
Here’s a fourth principle.
(4) When it comes to blessing others, don’t exclude ANYONE, ANYWHERE.
Go back with me to Matthew 25 where Jesus talked about the judgment. Do you remember the response the “goats” gave? In Matthew 25:44 Jesus says, “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help You?’” I get the impression that if they had known that their help would have been credited to their spiritual account—if they had known that Jesus was the One behind the needs of those they ignored—well, then they would have responded differently. In His response Jesus said, “I tell you the truth. Whatever you did not do for one of THE LEAST OF THESE, you did not do for Me.” Who were “the least of these?” They were the ones these “goats” excluded.
Well, let me ask, do you have a group you exclude from your compassion? Are there people you ignore—people you refuse to help? Here’s some possible examples:
- People who you know might never be able to pay you back?
- People whose repeated sinful choices have put them in a difficult situation?
- People of a different race?
- People in the OTHER political party?
- People on the other side of the hot political issues of the day?
- People whose faith doesn’t acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God?
- People who are just EXHAUSTING to help because they are always in need?
Well, let me ask, does Jesus exclude these people from His love? You know the answer to this question—so you have to agree with me when I say I don’t believe that we have permission from our Master to exclude anyone from our acts of compassion. We are to love EVERYONE—even those in our own private “LEAST OF THESE” categories. In fact, if you have a “least of these” list, throw it away! You know, my daughter Sarah is a wedding photographer and as she drives home from her weddings she often calls us to share the latest “bridezilla” story. I could share some doozies. I mean, it’s amazing how self-centered some of these gals can be. Sarah is always WORN OUT after a day of trying to meet all their requests.
Well, this week I read about a wedding back in November 2010 that I’m sure my daughter would have loved to photograph. It took place in Glenelg, Australia. After the wedding ceremony the bridal party was posing for pictures on a scenic ledge overlooking the ocean—and a woman nearby—unrelated to the wedding—fell into the water and started drowning. Dressed in his tuxedo, the best man jumped in and brought the woman back toward shore. Then the bride, a trained nurse, still wearing her wedding dress waded into the water and started administering CPR. By the time the paramedics had arrived, the woman had regained consciousness. According to one official, “[The victim] was very lucky that the bridal party was there and they acted quickly and got her to the shallows.” Once the professionals took over, the drenched but heroic best man and the bride happily rejoined the wedding reception and continued with the festivities. Most people would think a wedding gives them an automatic “out” when it comes to helping others—not these guys. Can you imagine the pictures from THAT wedding!? Listen: for the growing Christian—the believer who is working to fulfill their God-given purposes—there are no “outs.” We don’t exclude anyone anywhere. We are always on duty!
Here’s one last principle to remember.
(5) Don’t forget—when we bless OTHERS—it is the same as blessing JESUS.
Referring to the passage in Matthew 25 once more—Jesus said when we visit the sick and clothe the naked and feed the hungry and visit in the prisons—our Lord said that it is as if we were ministering to Him. Here are Jesus’ exact words: “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” (Verse 40)
Now—what did Jesus mean by that? He meant that since God loves every human being on this world of ours—since He loves them as a Father would love His own children—when we serve someone—anyone—God Himself is blessed. And if you’re a parent then you understand this don’t you!? Sure, you do!
Last week Becca was walking down the street in DC on her way to work when a guy on a bike rode by and punched her in the face. Her co-workers at The District Church took care of her—and I am so thankful they did. When I heard this I wanted to do two things. I wanted to find the PUNCH-ER and give him some of his medicine. And I wanted to find Becca’s co-workers and hug them. Do you know what I mean moms and dads? When someone helps your child, doesn’t it feel as if they are helping us? Well, magnify that human reaction an infinite number of times and you begin to see how our Heavenly Father feels when any human being on this planet hurts.
He is so concerned that He notices every hungry child—every homeless family—every cancer patient writhing in pain—every prisoner alone and cold. When they hurt, God hurts. This is because God DOES love all people. So, when GRACE-DRIVEN Christians bless others. When they feed the hungry and minister to the poor and the sick—and spend time with the LONELY—we DO minister to our Lord. We make GOD Himself feel better! Is that amazing or what?! Surely you would agree then that Christians should leap at any chance to do that. We should run to give back to our God Who has given us so much.