“The Importance of the Foundation”

As we have reviewed the skeletal system and its design and connectedness this month, we have seen that the structure of the body matters. Without having bones of the right size in the right place, we would look very odd. And without having those bones connected, we could not function properly. Likewise, as the body of Christ, we need the right people in the right places and we need to be connected together to function properly.

As the body of Christ, we must remind ourselves that it is Jesus who is the head (Colossians 1.18). We might be portions of the head like an ear or an eyelash or a nostril, all of which are important, but it is Jesus who is the head – and as the head, it is He who must lead the church. Ephesians tells us that Jesus is the cornerstone, the prophets and apostles are the foundation, and we are what is built upon that foundation (Ephesians 2.19-22).

Please understand that I am not questioning the Bible. However, the Bible clearly talks about the need for leadership within the church and without the prophets and the apostles here with us now, that leadership falls primarily to the elders of the church. In other words, the elders are the level above the foundation. Because of this, the Bible is clear about the qualifications of an elder. Why? Because if the foundation is weak, the structure cannot be supported.

Consider the foot. The foot is our foundation. If our legs ended in a peg, we would have a difficult time keeping balance. It would be like walking around on stilts. So, the human foot is important. For most humans it is not overly functional, it merely serves as the balancing point of our bodies and allows us to move without falling over. Yet, some people are masterful with their feet at different levels. For instance, soccer players use their feet in ways most of us cannot fathom. And some teach themselves to have great dexterity in the toes. Again, for most of us toes are important, but only to help us to be balanced. Without the toes extending from the body, we might be better off than if we just had pegs, but we would lean forward and still likely fall over. But some people can paint or even play guitar with their feet and toes.

So, the feet and toes are important. In fact, nearly 13% of your bones in your body are found in your feet (26 of 206). They serve as a foundation for the body. And God, as the designer planned it that way. And God, as the designer, planned what He expected from those who lead His church. As we have seen the past two weeks, the design is important, and the connection is important, and today we will see that the foundation of these leaders – that is, their qualifications – are important as well.

Body

Paul lists thirteen items in 1 Timothy 3 (as well as similar items in Titus 1). Let me cover each of them briefly. A leader of a church should be:

Above Reproach  (1)

This does not mean that the person is perfect. No leader, or person for that matter, has been perfect apart from Jesus. This is about a general reputation. The person needs to be honest, and needs to practice what is preached.

The Husband of One Wife

I prefer the translation a one-woman man. Why? Because a man could be married to one woman and have many mistresses. Of course, God does not allow for that exception, so a one-woman man is what is meant. I could teach on this for another 15 minutes to full clarify the context, but suffice it to say that a person does not need to be married to lead others (Jesus would be excluded), but if he is married, the commitment is to one, and only one, woman.

Sober-Minded

That is, he must have a clear focus about life. Having a biblical viewpoint of history and knowing God is sovereign is a part of this, but so is living life. That is, we are to live by faith, but we must also live using the practical wisdom God has given us. Having this balanced approach is what Paul means here by being sober-minded.

Self-Controlled

Some translations say prudent. The word here means sound in mind. Therefore, the idea not only means remaining in control of ourselves in a physical, and emotional, and spiritual way, but also mentally, which certainly includes the idea of not thinking too much of yourself. Many pastors and church leaders can develop what is called the Messiah complex meaning the church, the ministry, whatever it is, cannot exist without me. The temptation is great, but it is also a lie. For instance, I am just one of dozens of elders this church has had. I am just one of the many professors that has taught at the seminary. I am just one of many who have taught pastors in other countries. So, that is easy to remember. But when I begin to think of all that I do in those areas, it become easy to lose that focus. I must continually remind myself that the only Messiah is not me, it is Jesus, and I need Him as much as anyone!

Respectable

The idea here is not one of general respect, but one that does not compromise the gospel. Rather it should make people desire the gospel. The Greek word here is one from which we get the English word cosmetics. Like people put on cosmetics to make themselves more attractive, a leader’s actions should attract people towards the gospel.

Hospitable

Hospitality is our actions and attitudes towards what we possess. Are we gracious with our possessions or stingy and clingy? As with all of these ideas, how can the church learn the characteristics if the leader does not practice them? Thus, as the leadership shows hospitality, others will hopefully follow.

Able to Teach

The idea of teaching here is more than verbally communicating the truth. It is living the truth so that others can follow. It also means to be teachable. As any good teacher knows, those who teach often learn the most. But that only happens when we keep an open mind to learning ourselves. Particularly as one who has been called to teach, it is why my number one mantra in life, as I have share before, is “When you stop learning, you start dying.”

Not a Drunkard

In other translations, this phrase specifically relates to not being addicted to wine. In my mind, the idea is addiction, not drinking itself. Now, I choose not to drink for a few reasons. First, I don’t like it. Second, I do not see what good can come from it, particularly in my case. I also do not want to cause a brother to stumble. Thus, I do not partake, but again, I believe the idea here is truly being addicted or over-indulgence. And the same could be said for food or any other vice of which, I have certainly been guilty in the past. Now my wife sometimes worries that I do not eat enough!

Not Violent, but Gentle

This phrase deals with anger. We must understand that being angry is not a sin. It is a primary emotion. Jesus was angry when He cleared the temple (Matthew 21.12-13), yet the Bible says He was without sin (Hebrews 4.15). Likewise, Paul wrote, “Be angry and do not sin,” giving warning that if the sun sets (i.e. too much time passes) and we remain angry, we are more likely to sin (cf Ephesians 4.26). So, we should avoid being quick-tempered and instead by gentle (or reasonable) in our response.

Not Quarrelsome

It is one thing to engage in an argument, it is another to be argumentative. The English language is fun and absurd. For instance, we say it is good to be content, but bad to be contentious. The suffix, “ious,” means to be full of something. So, being full of grace is to be gracious. So being full of content should be contentious, yet that means to be argumentative. Anyway, a time and place does exist to argue. For instance, we must stand for truth. But even then, we can follow the example of Jesus to slip quietly through the crowd at times. But being quarrelsome is quite the opposite.

Before I share the last few, lets take a quick look at how these items relate. For instance, many drunkards lack self-control, are not hospitable, are quarrelsome, and often become violent, which causes a lack of respect from others meaning people will not follow their lead because they are not above reproach. The point is that the Bible is not some overly spiritual set of high-minded guidelines. It is extremely practical for understanding life and living. Now, to continue…

Not a Lover of Money

This statement does not mean that someone cannot have money – even a lot of money. Rather, the focus is on what the person loves. As Jesus said in the greatest sermon ever preached, it is impossible for us to serve (love) both God and money (Matthew 6.24). Every one of us has materialistic tendencies and that is evidenced by the fact that the average Christian in America gives two percent (2%) of their income. If leaders do not set the example, then who will?

Manage His Household Well

The leadership of a family represents how a leader will lead the church. Now this does not mean that every person in the family will be perfect, just as the church will have those who go astray. And that is where the other characteristics in this list come into play. How does the father handle the family? With extreme anger and hostility? With a sound mind or in a drunken stupor? The issue of leadership here is not whether the family members sin, but in their overall lifestyle and attitude towards sin.

Not Be a Recent Convert

As I have said many times, not all leaders are Christians, but all Christians are leaders. That is, if we are called to make disciples, then we are to lead others at some level. But the overseer of a church must lead many and thus, should be thought to be a mature (and maturing) believer. Otherwise, pride is the result. Pride is the downfall of many leaders and it often sneaks up on them (us?) The next leadership book I am planning to read is Didn’t See it Coming (by Carey Nieuwhof) which, I believe, will help me to be better prepared for certain challenges that leaders face. Additionally, I constantly quote 1 Corinthians 10.12 to myself to remind me not to fall.

Well Thought of By Outsiders

This last item encompasses so many others. It is helpful to know that Paul was writing this letter to Timothy who lived and pastored within the pagan culture of Ephesus. Moreover, Paul was likely stating these characteristics for Timothy (as he also did for Titus) because Timothy would need to find new leaders who would replace him once he left to be with Paul. (That fact is more apparent in the 2 Timothy.) So, Paul’s words here, representing the characteristics of whom God desires as a leader, describes a leader who would be able to lead the church because of these characteristics, but also be able to lead others to Christ because of the different type of lifestyle being lived.

CONCLUSION

Last week, we talked about the community of Jerusalem and how the people responded to Nehemiah – their leader in his day. We do not know a great deal about Nehemiah, but it is safe to say that the characteristics described in the New Testament would have been similar, if not the same, as what God would have expected in the Old Testament. As I mentioned before, no leader in the Bible, or otherwise, is perfect except for Jesus. But God has given us a list to consider as He continues to build a foundation that began with the prophets, continued through the apostles, and should now be present in the elders of churches today.

It is this foundation of leadership which provides us with the opportunity to stand strong as a church just as the foundation of the bones in our feet allow us to stand strong as humans. But if we cast aside the ideals of God, the foundation will begin to crack and eventually the structure will no longer be able to stand.

And that is why our…

 JOURNEY letter for today is:  OOBSERVE.

Jesus told His disciples to teach others to observe all that He had commanded Him. These first disciples, are the apostles which are part of that foundation which Paul mentioned at the end of Ephesians 2. As an apostle, Paul then taught others, like Timothy, to observe and to pass the information along to others that they might follow God’s decrees as well (see 2 Timothy 2.2). Likewise, we are now a link in that chain. And those commands are not just for leaders, they are about leaders. That means that it is the people who follow who should also be on their guard to ensure that the leaders are measuring up to the standards God has set. Because, once again, if the leader does not set the example, who will.

PRINCIPLE:  God has established a foundation for His church and He has provided explicit instructions on who qualifies to be added to that foundation.

QUESTION:   What is usually most important for churches in selecting a leader?

OPPORTUNITY:  Attend the study on the last Wednesday of each month to learn more about God’s design for the leadership of His church.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN:   Take time to learn what else the Bible says about church leadership.

LIVE:  Adapt these principles of 1 Timothy 3.1-7 and Titus 1.6-9 into your life because we are all.  leaders at some level.

LOVE:  Pray for the leaders of the church because if the enemy can affect the leaders the church will often be hurt as well.

LEAD:  Guide others into understanding that church leadership is more about character than how well someone can speak or communicate.

 

(1)  Although this list is from Scripture (particular wording from the ESV), some of the explanations have certainly been influenced by the book, The Measure of a Healthy Church, by Dr. Gene Getz.

“The Importance of Connection (Dem Bones)”

Sticks and stones may break bones, but these types of breaks normally heal. However, severe falls or other serious accidents can cause a bone to break in a way that leaves them damaged to the point where they are unable to heal themselves. Certain bone diseases and cancer can cause similar issues. When this happens, one option is a bone graft.

A bone graft is a procedure when a bone from one part of the body (e.g. part of the hip bone) is used to repair a bone elsewhere. The idea is that the cells from the healthy bone will fuse that bone (or bone fragment) into the damaged bone. This idea is more than 100 years old but has recently been updated with a new twist.

Within the last few years, an idea has surfaced regarding using bones from cadavers to help patients who need a screw or plate. Traditionally, screws and plates are metal and can be rejected by the body. But using bones made into screws, for instance, is being used to see if the rejection rate will decrease and give surgeons a new method for treating these types of injuries.

The truth is our bones are connected. As the song, Dem Bones says, “The foot bone’s connected to the ankle bone. The ankle bone’s connected to the leg bone. The leg bone’s connected to the hip bone. The hip bone’s connected to the back bone. (And) the back bone’s connected to the neck bone.” Usually we think bones being connected by ligaments and tendons. Yet, using one bone to heal another is a different kind of connection, but one that makes sense if it works.

Likewise, those who follow Christ – that is, the body of Christ – are connected. In last week’s message, we were reminded that it is Jesus who builds the church. In that message, we connected the ideas of people (and truth) being the right pieces, placed perfectly, and given true Power by the only Person who could do it. And that connection between members of the body is based upon truth. After all, the connection is through Jesus, and Jesus’ statement about Himself included, “I am the truth” (John 14.6).

So, today we are going to look at three ways we, as the people of God, should be connected. We will do so by reviewing the book of Nehemiah and particularly three sections of it.

Nehemiah Overview

The book of Nehemiah tells the story of a people whose home has been destroyed. The home is not one particular home; rather, it is the city of Jerusalem. The destruction began when Babylon took Israel captive in about 587 BC. Nearly 150 years later, many of those who were in exile had returned, but the town was in constant jeopardy because the wall had been destroyed. Nehemiah is a servant to the king in Persia and upon hearing the news of the wall asks to return to Jerusalem to repair a wall, heal a people, and effectively lead a nation into its future.

That is the basic story of Nehemiah in a paragraph. But within that story, several subplots exists. And within those subplots we have many principles from which we can learn (e.g. the importance of prayer and principles of leadership). Today that lesson centers on connection.

God’s People are Connected in Focus (Purpose)

Read Nehemiah 2.11-12a, 19-20

In response to Nehemiah’s statement, the people rose up to begin to rebuild the wall. These people were a community connected by what mattered for the community. We see this connection within a focus when communities rally behind a team or some kind of event. And we see a focus in communities when crises hit (or near crises). Certainly, Fairfax saw this happen in the summer of 2016 when we had the wind storm come through. Friends and neighbors, even from other towns, came to help the clean up process. So, a common focus is well understood in that sense of the community.

The stone wall is in the old section of Jerusalem. It is a part of the wall built in the time of Nehemiah.

But the body of Christ is a unique type of community. We are bound together because of Christ and are in community with others because we are in commune with Christ. As such, we are connected in ways we otherwise might not be. Therefore, we should have a focus that runs truer and deeper than simply being part of a neighborhood or residents of a certain city/town. We see an example of this in Nehemiah where chapter 3 reveals name after name of individuals who came together not just because of their proximity to one another, but because the people of God had a need to protect themselves from the enemy.

If you look closely at the text in Nehemiah 3, a common word (or concept) occurs repeatedly. The word is “next” or “after.” In building the wall, having gaps would defeat the purpose. The people worked side by side, not just because they were neighbors, but as people of God. Many may have been doing the same or similar jobs, but they were serving side by side to accomplish the task at hand. While working, they were ridiculed to the point of having to repair with one hand while holding a sword in the other. But, because of focus they built the wall in 52 days (Nehemiah 6.15). And notice the reaction of the enemies. Read Nehemiah 6.16.

What can we learn from this? When God’s people work together under His leadership, great work is done. It was true during the time of Nehemiah by the people of God, and it can be true in our time as the Body of Christ. The key is to see one another as more than merely citizens of NW Missouri, or Atchison County, or even Fairfax. That connection is important, but it is external. For followers of Christ, we have an internal connection, and that community must be paramount.

God’s People are Connected for Fulfillment (Plan)

A key element in this story is mentioned in Nehemiah 7.4. The city was wide and large, but few lived there because the houses had not been rebuilt. For 52 days, the people of Israel were connected by a focus that was beyond themselves. Despite many (most, nearly all?) of them not having a place to live, their focus was on helping one another. Of course, we are able to view this story from its completion and, thus, we see what unfolded afterward. But for them, they could only do so in faith. But Nehemiah had a plan because God had a plan, and if the people remained connected, the plan would be fulfilled and thus, they would be fulfilled!

Notice what Nehemiah did next. He essentially took a census. Again, God directed this (Nehemiah 7.5), but the list of names in Nehemiah 7 is a genealogical record of the people who had returned from captivity over the past century. To us, this may seem like just another list of pointless names in the Bible, but to the Israelites/now Jews, this information was critical. These names represented who owned what land and where. And for us, these names are a part of the record of what was to come in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. The personal fulfillment begins near the end of Nehemiah 7 as the text tells us the people now had a place to live (v. 73).

The connection of these individuals is not just to one another in what was their present tense, it was a reminder of the faithfulness of God from the time of their ancestors. God had fulfilled His promise to bring His people into the Promised Land. God had fulfilled His promise to remove His people if they were not faithful to Him. And God had subsequently promised to return them to the Promised Land after 70 years passed. Thus, the fulfillment here is not just the people feeling fulfilled, but the Lord fulfilling His promise to His people.

How did the people respond? They gathered to hear the Word of the Lord proclaimed – from early morning until midday (8.3). And the people stood when they heard it (8.5), they celebrated what the Lord had done (8.9-18), and they repented of their sins (Nehemiah 9).

What can we learn from this? When God’s people respond to the purposes of God, they will be fulfilled. That fulfillment is ultimately a fulfilling of what God has promised, but the community of God (now, the body of Christ) will find our fulfillment in Him. Again, the people sacrificed their personal desires for the good of the community, and later celebrated as a community in response to what God had done. And finally, that fulfillment was complete when they confessed all that they, and their ancestors had done to turn their hearts from God. (Notice the prayer goes all the way back to the golden calf – 9.16). Likewise, we need to allow ourselves to be fulfilled by God, to celebrate what He has done in our midst, and confess our sins (collectively) to God.

So, God’s people are connected in their focus, for fulfillment, but also for the future.

God’s People are Connected for a Future (People)

In Chapter 10, we once again have a list of names. More names are listed in Chapter 11, and even more in Chapter 12. Again, why all the names? Because we have moved from the past to what is now being built for the future. Chapter 10 contains the names of those who have made and now confirm (seal) a covenant with God. (Read Nehemiah 9.38; 10.28-29). Chapter 11 contains the names of the leaders in Jerusalem – those largely responsible for ensuring the covenant will be kept. Then Chapter 12 mentions the heritage from which the current leaders must honor – that is, those who returned to Israel after the exile, as much as a century earlier. Like the faithfulness shown by Jeshua, Zerubabbel, and others since the return to Israel, the new generation must be faithful to pass on a true faith in God so that the generations going forward did not make the same mistakes that their forefathers had made.

In other words, the covenant was one to protect the community from cursed by God again for breaking His laws (see 10.29). The future of Israel had been disrupted in the past by their lack of faithfulness, and now these leaders were committing themselves to do their part to make sure Israel’s future was secure going forward.

What can we learn from this? The success of a person is not as great as the success of a people. Some people will consider themselves successful based upon certain characteristics of their life. But as the people of God knew in Nehemiah’s day, God is interested in His people as much as He is the person. Do not misunderstand me, Jesus died for individual people. But the gospel is not meant for one person, it is meant for the future of a people. As Paul wrote in Romans 1.16, “The gospel is the power for salvation – first for the Jew and then the Gentile.” By Jew and Gentile, Paul meant as a race, not as individuals.

CONCLUSION

I began this post by talking about broken bones. As individuals, one of the greatest ways we can be broken is to not be connected – that is, to be alone. As God said before creating the woman, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2.18). We are created for community. We are created to be connected. But connection with one another is not sufficient. We must be connected with God.

And that is why Jesus came. We are the bone that is broken beyond repair. So, God took a part of His bone and did a type of bone graft – allowing Jesus – as the “healthy bone” – to be grafted into our life to heal us. We cannot be healed on our own…we must have the healing of Jesus. Until you have that healing, nothing I said here today will make sense. If you already have the healing Jesus offers, then you likely already realize where He needs you to be healed further. Why? Because if we are truly connected, then when others hurt, we hurt too. And perhaps some of that healing we have experienced can be passed on to others. That is what it means to be connected. That is what it means to consider others as yourself (Philippians 2.3) and to love others as yourself (Leviticus 19.18).

What happens when we don’t? Well, as of right now, that will be the focus of next week’s message.

And that is why our…

 JOURNEY letter for today is:  UUNITE.

The common theme today has been to be connected. Whether that connection is in our focus, our fulfillment, or for the future, we must be united with one another. And that unity is possible only because of Jesus. We are first united to Him, and then with one another. But if we are united to Him, we must be united with one another. Otherwise, as John wrote, how can we know if we truly love God (1 John 4.19-20)?

A part of today’s message related to being fulfilled. To do so must include confessing sin. If you have any unconfessed sin, but particularly in light of this week’s message, if you need to forgive someone or seek forgiveness from someone, I encourage you to seek God now to ask for His forgiveness, and/or courage to take the next step. Then take whatever that next step is.

PRINCIPLE:  Like the bones of a body, God’s people are to be connected.

QUESTION:  What, if anything, is keeping you from being connected with others in this local body of Christ?

OPPORTUNITY:  Connect more deeply with God and with others – in purpose, for fulfillment, and for the future of all involved.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN:   If you know what keeps you from connecting with God or with others, write it down. If you do not know what the issue is, take time to reflect and pray to determine what it might be.

LIVE:  What you discover in LEARN, make prominent for you. Place the note where you will see it regularly and be encouraged to respond to it positively.

LOVE:  As you process the LIVE step, you will naturally begin to love God and others more. New challenges may arise, but that is part of the maturing process – so keep focused.

LEAD:  As you begin to experience a deeper connection with God and others, share your experiences as an encouragement to others.

“The Importance of the Design”

In March, we begin to explore a new system of the human body. In January, we discussed how making disciples is like the reproductive system. In February, we reviewed the necessity of the respiratory system to sustain life and saw how it is the breath of God breathes life into that which is dead (the bones from Ezekiel 37) and His Word, which builds a strong a connection between the teaching ministry of the church and us living life.

This month our focus will be on the skeletal system. It is the skeletal system that supports the body. We use terms like “big-boned” or “small frame” to indicate the size of the skeletal system of a person, but whether the person is large or small, tall or short, etc. it is their bones that provide the structure to the body. Thus, we will be comparing the body’s structure to the structure of the church.

In the coming weeks, I may mention some specific bones and their functions. For today, let me simply generalize by giving a few facts about our skeletal system. First, human adults have 206 bones. You might be surprised to know that the number of bones in an adult is much less than the number of a small child. In fact, at birth, humans have nearly 300 bones (some say as many as 295). As we grow, some of the bones fuse together which accounts for the decrease. Yet, we also “grow” new bones as we age. The patella (or kneecap as we call it) does not fully form until later as the cartilage begins to change into bone (ossify) about age 3. This very fact is a statement for a Creator and against evolution. Let me briefly explain because the idea does relate to today’s message.

The idea of evolution requires continual progression to something that is better and stronger (survival of the fittest). While subtleties exist, it is too subtle to think that mere chance could keep a bone from forming until a certain age. Evolutionists should consider that a bone which is necessary would form and strengthen at an increasingly earlier age to provide the maximum benefit for the species. This is similar to how the reproductive system has developed in theory. It used to be thought that women could get pregnant in their mid-teens. Many give birth in their early teens now, and in some parts of the world it is not uncommon for 12-year-olds to have babies. (Incidentally, the youngest confirmed pregnancy in the world occurred in Peru in 1933 when a 5-year-old got pregnant and had a baby at 6 years, 5 months.) Again, the idea of evolution would support this.

But why would a kneecap wait until age 3 to develop? Have you watched babies walk, err, I mean, fall? And toddlers? They climb, then fall, on what would be their knees. But because it is still cartilage, the “knee” does not break. Of course, cartilage can be damaged, but imagine how many times a patella might be broken if babies had a bone there. Thus, the building of the body required thoughtful design. And the design of that body changes over time with knees, fused bones, new teeth, etc. But the basic structure remains the same.

The same is true with the Church that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ promised to build. He designed it, and, is building it. Just like doctors and scientists are still trying to understand how to make the human body, created by God, function best, we, as humans, are still attempting to understand the best way for the Church, designed by God, can function best.

For today, let us turn to a familiar passage – one we have reviewed periodically over the past 8 years – to review Jesus words, and their context (from Matthew 16), of the Church He has promised to build. But before something can be built, it must be designed.

If you are designing something – a body, a church, or even a dinner – you have to know who you are (that is, what you are capable of doing) and have an idea of what you want to build. For instance, some people (like me) can cook a few items. Others can cook a meal and still others are gourmet chefs. I will not attempt to provide a fancy full-course meal, but I can grill a burger and hot dogs. But even then, I need a plan. I need to buy the meat, I need to make the patties, put the right seasoning in the mix, have a grill, etc. Many different parts are necessary for even a simple meal. And thus, we must consider the plan, or the design, of the plan. Today, I want to identify four parts, each of which begins with a P that relate to the design process.

The Design Must Have:

The Right Pieces (Matthew 16.16)

Peter makes the Great Confession – that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus was asking His people what they believed. He needed the truth to be known and a people to know it. In other words, for Jesus to build His Church, the design needed both a truth and a people who would proclaim that truth.

Using the metaphor of a building, the people are the Church, so we are like the bricks. The truth is like the mortar which holds us all together. However, to put this into the imagery of the Body of Christ, the people are like the bones, and the truth is like the ligaments (The word ligament comes from the Latin ligare which means to “bind.”)

Thus, those who follow Jesus (whom the Bible calls Disciples) are the skeletal structure of the Church. Like the human body, without disciples, the church would fall flat. Sure, the building might still be there, but that is similar to the skeletal system of a mouse being the support structure for the skin of an elephant.

So, the right pieces are needed – truth and people. That was true when Jesus walked on the earth and it is true as the Spirit lives within us now.

Are you born again? If so, then you are a part of the design for the Church Jesus is building. And it is His truth that will bind us together.

But it is not enough to just have the right pieces, we need to have:

The Right Placement (Matthew 16.17)

Jesus says that Peter’s words have been revealed to him by the Father. So, Peter stated a truth, but it was not his own thought. The thought was placed into Peter by the Father. That is, it is not enough to know a truth, it is important know, and believe, the truth.

Related to the human body, this is the equivalent (in my mind) of having the right bones in the right place. It is one thing to know that the human adult has 206 bones, it is another to know where each bone goes. How functional would we be if one of the bones in your ankle served as your shoulder blade? Or what if your rib cage was around your brain? That would make for a huge head! So, we must not only know some facts, or even some core truths, we must know how to apply them. And the One who is building His Church knows just the right way to place just the right pieces.

Are you born again? Then God has a place for you!

But beyond having the right pieces, and then having the right placement, we must have:

The Right Power (Matthew 16.18)

As I have taught before, the location where this scene takes place is extraordinarily pagan. The city was known as Caesarea Philippi and most rabbis taught that no good Jew would go to such a place. Of course, Jesus knew this, but He chose this place to announce the establishment of His Church. Furthermore, Jesus stated that nothing would prevail against the Church – not even the Gates of Hades. (Again, this passage has been covered in great detail before and I explained then precisely what Jesus meant by this statement.)

In other words, the design Jesus was using would allow it to persevere. That does not mean that the Church will not have to weather any storms, but it does prove it will overcome those storms as long as she remains connected to the source of Power – Jesus.

Likewise, the human body must weather a great deal of trials. But our anatomy is built with a strong interior – the skeletal system that withstands far more than we might image. Consider all of the stress our feet and knees undergo. For some of you that means constant pain in your feet. For others it has meant knee replacement. But you are still “standing” so to speak. That is because the structure is strong – just like the Church’s structure is strong when reliant on Jesus.

So, again, I ask, are you born again? Then God has given you power! And that means that God has given us power collectively – to stand as the Body of Christ.

So, we have the right pieces in the right places with the right power. And that is all because the true builder is…

The Right Person (Matthew 16.13-15)

We go back a few verses to pick up the beginning of this pericope. Peter’s response was not unprompted. Jesus knew who He was. He knew what His intention was in this place at this time. But He needed His followers to consider the fullness of the truth. He needed them to know who He really was before unveiling His plan. To highlight this further, let me share that three other groups are present in this story and how each group fits into God’s plan to build His Church.

      1. The Disciples (v. 13). Jesus is with this group and they are the ones being questioned. But Jesus, as the Builder, chose this group to be His laborers (sub-contractors if you will) – the ones who would serve with Jesus to build the Church. The same is true today – His disciples today are not only the present church, but we are a part of building the Church of the future.
      2. The Prophets (v. 14). This group is mentioned by the disciples as part of how other people view who Jesus is. But Jesus was the Builder, the prophets were the people who prepared the land and even laid a foundation of sorts. There role was important, but they were not meant to build; they were to prepare for the building to come.
      3. The Pharisees/Sadducees (v. 1). This chapter begins with the religious leaders looking for a sign. As I have mentioned before Matthew 14 and 15 are filled with signs, but they ignore them because what Jesus is doing does not fit their scheme. These people were not chosen by God (like the prophets) or Jesus (like the disciples) – they had chosen themselves. They were not interested in building something new, but preserving what had been.

Of these three groups, two were chosen by God to be a part of the process of what Jesus would/is building. But neither of these two groups – as important as the are – were the right person for the job. Only Jesus was right. Only Jesus is right. And only Jesus will continue to be right.

So, again, I ask: Are you born again?

If so, you must consider what He is calling you to do. (More on that below.)

If not, it is Jesus whom you must seek. He is the right Person to lead you where you truly want to go – even if you don’t know it yet. And I don’t mean go to heaven, I mean go through life.

CONCLUSION (tie to system)

As we close, you might wonder about today’s reading (if you are reading this post, the Scripture reading in our service was from Numbers 26). If you were here in Jan 2013, you might remember me placing signs around the wall with the different tribes. See the number of Israelites are not just numbers – they represent how many were in each area. – that is how many on each side. What God did in laying out the camp absolutely fascinates me. If each of these tribes is laid out and viewed from overhead, this is what the camp would have looked like.

When God looked down on the people of Israel as they camped in the wilderness, the formation He saw was the cross. In other words, structure is important. God designed the church in the NT (right pieces in the right places with the right power), but only after God structured His people in the OT. And that structure occurred after God provided structure for leading His people (Exodus 18) and in creating His people (our skeletal system).

And that is why our…

JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

Jesus is the grand designer. He has given us a structure to support our bodies. He has given a structure to support His Church (truth and people). And He has organized all of it in such a way as to make it work effectively. When it does not work effectively, it is due to either sin or our carelessness. But Jesus had a plan. Jesus has a plan. And we need to find and honor that plan knowing we will prevail if we keep our focus upon Him.

PRINCIPLE:  God has designed His body with the right pieces in the right places with the right power because of the right person – Jesus.

QUESTION:  If you are born again, you are a piece! Have you found your place? And are you living according to His power given to you because He is the right person.

OPPORTUNITY:  Seek to find your place not just by thinking, but by serving – perhaps in many areas until you know where you fit best.

NEXT STEP(S):

LEARN:   How has God designed you? Take time to identify who God has made you to be. Review/Reflect on each point – your skills, abilities/aptitudes, talents, desires/goals/dreams, your giftedness in His body (spiritual gifts) and any of life’s challenges that have led you to be who you are today.

LIVE:    Take time to write down the ideas from the LEARN step above. Writing down will help bring focus to these ideas and thus will then help you to LIVE out the principles later.

LOVE:  Thank God for the list you have developed. God made you uniquely qualified to serve as a piece in His body. And by identifying the items (in LEARN) and writing them down (in LIVE), you are better equipped to not only know you are a piece, but the place where you best fit.

LEAD:  Share the benefits of this process with others. Jesus knew who He was, but asked others so they could know too. As they considered who Jesus was, at a later point (particularly during the time between His death and resurrection) they likely wondered who they were. But once Jesus revealed Himself again, they were ready to serve, because they knew Who had designed them and What they were to do. So, help others to examine their lives so they can be better prepared to serve God as well.

A Change of Plans

A couple of weeks ago I had an idea that we (the church) practiced yesterday.  Because of the weather, 2019 has made for a rough start regarding the ability for many (most) to be a part of Sunday School and/or worship. So, rather than have our normal time of worship, I called an audible and we had a time of singing (with requests), a devotion about the Body of Christ (Rom 12 and Eph 4) and a couple of opportunities for individual and corporate prayer.

A part of the time of prayer was related to specific request mentioned (as we usually do), but a second time of prayer followed to pray for those who were not present for whatever reason – whether they have been most weeks or whether the weather or some other issue has prevented them from coming so far in 2019. We mentioned each name/family and asked that a call be made to say we have not forgotten about them because, after all, they are a part of this local body of Christ known as Fairfax Baptist Church. Those who offered to call certain individuals then prayed for that person and we concluded that time with a corporate prayer and finally a couple of songs relating God’s authority and majesty.
It was a different day, but a very good day.
So, the normal post will return next week. In the meantime, if you have been able to be in consistent fellowship with your local church (whatever/wherever that church may be), thank God for that opportunity. If you haven’t, please know that someone in your church is missing you even if you think otherwise. And, whatever the weather situation where you live, or whatever other challenges you may be facing in life, remember, our joy comes from knowing Jesus has already done and our hope is firm because of God’s promises. So, remain steadfast because God is (still) in control.