SERIES: HEALTHY CHURCH!
“THE AGGRAVATION FACTOR”
Some time ago, I heard an interesting adaptation of the biblical account of Adam and Eve. God was talking with Adam. He said, “You really need a helper, don’t you?” And Adam answered, “Yeah, I really do.”
So God said, “What if I make a woman? She’ll be perfect for you. She’ll be beautiful. She’ll rub your back at night, and your feet in the morning. She’ll plop grapes into your mouth. She’ll prepare all your favorite meals without fail. She’ll clean up the kitchen and take care of the kids. You’ll never have to do a thing, just sit around and be the king of your household.”
Adam said, “Boy, that sounds great, but how much is this going to cost?” God said, “Well, it’s pretty expensive. It will cost you an arm and a leg.” Adam thought for a moment and then asked, “What can I get for a rib?” And the rest is history, as they say.
Anything worthwhile has a cost attached – the more worthwhile, the more valuable, the more the cost. Jesus addressed the problem of cheap discipleship. Jesus wanted His followers to know that there was a cost to being a true follower.
Lk. 14:25-35 – “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, This fellow began to build and was not able to finish. Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
Martin Luther put it this way, “A religion that does nothing, that saves nothing, that gives nothing, that costs nothing, that suffers nothing, is worth nothing.” To paraphrase Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we don't want discipleship that costs us this much. We want a “cheaper discipleship;” a discipleship that costs no more than we can comfortably afford, and that requires minimal sacrifice and involves minimal pain.
Cheap discipleship is wearing the name “Christian” but having no desire or discipline to come to know Christ by reading and study of the Bible, which is all about Jesus. It's 'church attendance' that never allows the Word of God to actually convict me of my sin and therefore never knows the power of the words of absolution that direct the complete and total forgiveness of almighty God right at me. Cheap discipleship says, “I have been baptized,” but ignores the fact that in that water, the Holy Spirit has made my body His temple. It's participation in the Lord's Supper with no real intention to amend my sinful life and no willingness to accept that the Word of God tells me that in the eating and drinking of the bread and wine, Christ is giving me His body and His blood for just that reason. It's a cheap discipleship that leaves worship on Sunday morning and re-enters daily life as though nothing just happened and nothing has changed.
In our series on church health, I want us to look at the aggravation factor. When someone tells me there’s a cost to what I want to do, I get a bit aggravated because it’s usually more than I want to pay. Let’s examine what it costs to be a healthy church. Each one of us have to pay the cost. How much aggravation will we put up with?
Ps. 90:12 – “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Benjamin Franklin said, “Do not squander time, for it is the stuff life is made of.”
We all have the same amount in our time account – 86,400 seconds. That’s 1,440 minutes or better recognized as 24 hours. You can either spend that bank account or invest it. How much time do you spend investing in the kingdom of God? Do you need to readjust your calendar? Do you need to revaluate your schedule? Someone wrote this little piece called “Lord use My Time”:
Lord I have time
I have plenty of time
All the time that you give me
The years of my life
The days of my years
The hours of my days
They are all mine
Mine to fill, quietly, calmly,
But to fill completely, up to the brim,
To offer them to you, that of their insipid water
You may make a rich wine such as you made at Cana in Galilee.
What is God asking you to do with your time? Eph. 5:15-17 – “Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity [some translations have “redeeming the time”], because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”
Every one of us has some kind of talent. God has given us both natural and supernatural talents. Natural talents develop along the line of our unique personalities and interests. Our supernatural gifts come from the Holy Spirit. When we give our lives to Christ, we get at least one.
Rom. 12:4-8 – “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
S. D. Gordon said, “We have nothing to do with how much ability we’ve got, or how little, but with what we do with what we have. The man with great talent is apt to be puffed up, and the man with little (talent) to belittle the little. Poor fools! God gives it, much or little. Our part is to be faithful, doing the level best with every bit and scrap.”
I read some time back the story of Myrtle Howell. Her declining health forced her to move into an old, high rise nursing home. A few weeks later, her youngest son died. And that’s when she fell into a depression. She said, "Lord, what more can I do for you? I’ve lost everything that ever meant something to me. And now I’m stuck in this dark, dreary room. I have nothing left to live for! I want to die! I’ve had enough of this prison. Take me home."
But then God spoke to her as clear as possible. He said, "I’m not through with you yet, Myrtie. Write to prisoners."
So she wrote a letter and sent it to the Atlanta Penitentiary. And this is what the letter said: “Dear inmate. I am a grandmother who loves and cares for you. I am willing to be a friend. If you’d like to hear from me, write me. I will answer every letter you write. A Christian friend, Grandma Howell."
The letter was given to the prison chaplain. And he gave her the names of eight prisoners she could write to. Prison Fellowship gave her some more names. Soon, she was corresponding with up to 40 inmates a day. She became a one woman ministry reaching into prisons all over America.
What is God asking you to do with your talent? 1 Pet. 4:10 – “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. Henry Van Dyke: “Use what talents you possess: The woods would be very silent if no birds sang there except those that sang best.”
Luke 6:38 – “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured in your d lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measure to you.”
Acts 1:8 – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Several years ago the city of Pittsburgh constructed a large, new post office at the cost of several million dollars. On the day of its opening, the Governor made a speech, the bands played and the people cheered. It was quite a celebration.
But when the first man entered to mail a letter, to the embarrassment of the engineers, it was discovered that in the rush to meet the deadline, they had omitted the usual letter drop. Here was a costly new post office, but no place to mail a letter! It was a slight omission, but it negated the very reason for its existence.
Eph. 4:2-5 – “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Lobsters can be interesting yet tasty creatures. From time to time, lobsters have to leave their shells in order to grow. They need the shell to protect them from being torn apart, yet when they grow, the old shell must be abandoned If they did not abandon it, the old shell would soon become their prison--and finally their casket.
The tricky part for the lobster is the brief period of time between when the old shell is discarded and the new one is formed. During that terribly vulnerable period, the transition must be scary to the lobster. Currents gleefully cartwheel them from coral to kelp. Hungry schools of fish are ready to make them a part of their food chain. For a while at least, that old shell must look pretty good.
We are not so different from lobsters. To change and grow, we must sometimes shed our shells--a structure, a framework--we’ve depended on. Discipleship means being so committed to Christ that when he bids us to follow, we will change, risk, grow, and leave our "shells" behind.
1 Cor. 9:21-23 – “To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
A true story is told from the time of Oliver Cromwell in England. A young soldier had been tried in military court and sentenced to death. He was to be shot at the "ringing of the curfew bell." His fiancée climbed up into the bell tower. several hours before curfew time and tied herself to bell’s huge clapper. At curfew time, when only muted sounds came out of the bell tower, Cromwell demanded to know why the bell was not ringing. His soldiers went o investigate and found the young woman cut and bleeding from being knocked back and forth against the great bell. They brought her down, and, the story goes, Cromwell so impressed with her willingness to suffer in this way on the behalf of someone she loved that he dismissed the soldier saying, "Curfew shall not ring tonight."