Lessons From a Toolbag

Posted by on July 26, 2009 under Sermons

Thank you for your prayers and encouragement that made it possible for me to join the group that went to Mexico to work on a church building for the congregation in Santa Monica, just outside Monterrey.

  • These lessons grow out of my mission trip in Mexico – (I packed my yellow tool bag and got busy with the work, not quite knowing exactly what we would be doing, but knowing that there was a mission).
  • However, the application of these lessons is larger than just Mexico Missions or an particular missions.
  • It is about THE mission and the church at West-Ark which is part of that mission.

  1. Tools are not the mission. They serve the mission.
    • I took the tools I thought might be useful for the sort of work I anticipated. But then I packed some other items. At first I wasn’t sure why, but most all of them served the mission.
    • Some became immediately useful – wire cutters and pliers
    • Some became useful in unexpected ways – Wonder Bar (why would it be useful when we had all those crowbars and hammers? It is the best tool for prying a board when more is needed than brute strength.); the combination pliers. Without a socket wrench and a socket, we had no other way to remove the spark plug from a faulty compacter.
    • Some were not useful at all expect for one moment: Why did I bring my headlamp? It was sunny all day. Why would I ever need this? At the very end of the trip, when we got home and it was 1:30 in the morning. I had searched for my keys. I then took out the headlamp and could see where they were hidden in my suitcase!
    • Our mission was not determined by the type of tools in this bag, rather the tools in this bag were made to serve the mission.

  2. The tool bag is defined by its contents – not the other way around!
    • This dirty old tool bag was slung around all week. It got filthy and beat up. It got wet. It wasn’t that attractive to begin with — a rather sickly day-glow yellow and it has my initials scrawled on it. But this dirty tool bag performed its task well, it contained something that was needed to accomplish the mission.
    • It is a vessel. If it carried medical supplies, it would not have been a tool bag. I had another black bag for those useful items. It was defined by its contents.
    • We are containers; what we contain makes us worthy.

  3. Sometimes you have to hit the board to pull the nail.
    • Our nail pulling crew learned this lesson. There were moments that they would work on a particularly tight, twisted nail. Even though their hammer had a tight grip on it and even though two of them would be pulling on the hammer it just wouldn’t come loose. But then, they would take another hammer and hit the board. Pop! It came right out.
    • Working together; learning from one another. Seeking wisdom from those who were working ahead of us.
    • Don’t worry about what isn’t in the tool bag; just focus on what is in the tool bag. I was fortunate to have just what was needed – sometimes it took creativity – but we had what we needed. (But I did think on occasion that I would give my back teeth for a good reciprocating saw).
    • The mission always requires us to be creative and wise.


  1. Tools are not the mission. They serve the mission.
    • We turn our tools into the mission. I could have sat in a shady corner all day cleaning the tools, oiling them, refusing to use them because I didn’t want them to get worn. Fussing with everyone over the proper way to use the tools (instead of the creative uses we often had to employ). I could have been very selective about who used them and maybe even checked them out and hovered over the folks who used them. I could have brought back a shiny bag with clean tools. How would that have served the mission? Would that have served the mission? Of course not.
    • Too often we make tools the mission. We focus and worry so much on buildings, programs, and resources. Now hear me correctly – I am not against these resources. They are all useful and all worthy of the time and expense as they serve the mission of God. But when our purpose is to keep and maintain these things, we cease to serve the mission (not the tools, but we cease to serve the mission).
      1. It can be the physical resources – buildings, vans, property, family life center, and auditorium. Even smaller tools count: computers, software, carpet and pews.
      2. It can also be more subtle things: bank accounts, committee structures, the type of printed or unprinted music we use in worship, the type of bread and juice we use in communion, the format of the bulletin. Even things like curriculum, the format of worship, the sermon and how it is preached (I struggle with this).
      3. Yes, it is appropriate to think about these things as we pack our tool bag for the mission. It is good and worthwhile to think about their best use, but tools must never become the mission.
      4. When Christ returns he isn’t going to be impressed with how clean our vans are, rather how we used that van in the mission. When Christ returns he isn’t going to be impressed with our musical arrangements of songs and whether we all hit the right note in the proper key, but he is pleased with the heart, passion, and gratitude that swells up in our praise of his glory. When Christ returns he isn’t going to be impressed with my preaching eloquence – or lack thereof – but he will be concerned with the truth and good news of the message shared.

    • Our mission is not determined by our tools; rather all of our tools must serve the mission.

  2. The tool bag is defined by its contents – not the other way around!
    • We are containers; what we contain makes us worthy.
    • Think of how much attention we give to our outward appearance and our outward well-being. Are we truly as balanced as we need to be?
    • 2 Corinthians 4:1-15 … We can spend so much time trying to make ourselves and our congregation attractive, when we are simply the clay jars. Our weaknesses and imperfections do not become a discouragement or something to cover up; rather we plainly show that the power to save is from God – not us.
    • The container is defined by its contents – not the other way around!

  3. Sometimes we should hit the board, not the nail.

    • The mission always requires us to be creative and wise.
    • Creativity and Wisdom – Luke 16. Jesus nudges the church for not being as creative as the people of the world. After all, if the people of this world are so intent on achieving their goals, shouldn’t God’s church be all the more intent on fulfilling his mission.
    • Why aren’t we as creative and wise as we can be? Usually because we are afraid. Specifically we submit to the “Fear of Criticism.”
    • We reveal it in our comments such as “Somebody’s going to say something.”
    • Let’s take “Somebody’s going say something” out of our language. Notice how non-specific the statement is. What is the something that somebody is going to say? Maybe something good? Maybe something praiseworthy? Maybe something that helps? And who is somebody? Usually Somebody is Nobody.
      1. Let’s be creative and wise and remove from our thinking the attitude of “Can’t Do That.”
    • The spirit (or leaven) of the Pharisees is too often still among us waiting to spread and grow. We have to watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees. It is that tendency in us to focus on our resources to hoard them. To be satisfied in our rules, our policies, our abilities, our knowledge, and stop trusting in God. The leaven of the Pharisees kills the passion and creativity that God’s mission requires.

Loving Others and Selfishness

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

This Jesus-statement was made about God’s greatest command. The Jewish people were big into counting God’s commands and listing them in order of importance. The question probably was an attempt to drive a wedge between Jesus and his popularity with many.

Jesus said God’s greatest command was to love Him with all one’s being, and the second-similar to that-was to love others as you love yourself. Both of those are extremely challenging!

Love others as you love yourself? Is this an urging to selfishness? Is it an attempt to use selfishness as a measurement of love?

This statement is first found in Leviticus 19:18. It is repeated by Paul in Romans 13:9, 10 and Galatians 5:14, and by James in James 2:8. There seemed to be concern by some Jewish Christians that Christianity failed to keep God’s commands. They were used to structure-temple, rituals, lists of dos and don’ts, centuries-old traditions, the ancient stances of their elders declared in oral laws, the customs of forefathers, and Jewish ways. Christianity did not have a temple, rituals, lists of dos and don’ts, stances of the elders expressed in oral laws, customs of forefathers, or a Christian way of doing things. After all, early Christians met in homes, not in a temple; they did good as did Jesus; they loved God and people. Gentile and Jewish Christians often differed. Christianity seemed much too encompassing and tolerant to be anything like Jewish former interpretation of religion or view of God. Surely, if they were just Christian, they would miss something basic.

Paul said not so if they understood Jesus Christ. If Christians loved God with all their being, and demonstrated their love for God in their kindness to people, nothing God wants of us will be ignored. We will become the people God always wanted.

Read Leviticus 19:9-18. It was about the way they would show kindness to people. The person who belonged to Jesus Christ showed kindness to people. That began by being kind to Christians. Selfishness indulges self at others’ expense. Christianity serves others. Serve! Godliness is shown in godly service to others!

I Will Answer For Me

Posted by on July 19, 2009 under Bulletin Articles

This is the concluding statement in an unusual New Testament paragraph. Jewish Christians and gentile Christians had a huge first-century disagreement. The dispute involved different cultures, different ways of doing religious things, different ways of honoring deity, and different religious preferences. Too see the clash, read Acts 15:1-21.

The evident clash is in the paragraph above the statement. Some Christians ate anything. Some Christians, for spiritual reasons, were conscientious vegetarians. Some felt no day had spiritual significance, and some observed special holy days. Practices at the opposite ends of the spiritual spectrum occurred in Rome’s congregations.

If you think this is foolish, be assured it was not foolish then! Consider the matter from the Jewish perspective. In Leviticus 11:1-47, the Jewish people from their origin as a nation (rather than an expanded family) understood there were things they could and could not eat. The Lord gave the instruction, and this was national practice for centuries. It was so ingrained in Jewish thinking that the apostle Peter was confused by his vision of the net (Acts 10:10-17, 29). The concept of animal sacrifice: the sacrifice’s giver ate part of the sacrifice to show oneness with the God honored (1 Samuel 1:1-5). If a Christian ate from a sacrifice given to an idolatrous god, what would be the meaning?

Paul said: (1) do not judge each other’s motive; (2) they both-even with opposite practices-were the Lord’s servants, and the Lord would make both stand; (3) these Christians did opposite things for the same motive; and (4) judging and contempt have no place among Christians.

Paul said, “In your decision of what you should do, you will answer for yourself when God questions you.” It will not be a matter of “Do you know what they said?” or “That person hurt my feelings!” or “That was the most unreasonable act I ever saw or heard.” It will not be a “Them-it is their fault!” issue. Before the God who knows exactly what we all thought, it will be a “What was in your heart?” issue. You will not be saved because you went to West-Ark, but because you served Jesus Christ. The Lord saves-people don’t. Aren’t you glad your salvation is not dependent on human judgment?

The Big Hurdle

Posted by on July 12, 2009 under Bulletin Articles

A collection of people are hard to lead. Why? All collections are composed of numerous groups. Even groups who are similar think and behave differently. In fact, it seems similar groups magnify their differences. Preferences become matters of correctness. The deeper the preferences, the more correct the preferences become. Thus, the more divergent the groups become. The end result: even similar people become unleadable.

Want a mess? Be a leader! A president, governor, corporate head, mayor, alderman, chairman, director-it matters not. There are always groups, and each group is certain it is correct. The joys of leading (they exist!) are not found in people’s preferences!

And we as a church think it is complex today? Early Christians did not agree on how many gods existed or how gods were honored. Ironically, the central issue was not the number of gods or how gods were honored. The beginning, the center, and the end of spirituality was this: Is your confidence placed in the resurrected Jesus Christ? Do you let who you are, what you do, and how you respect people be determined by Jesus Christ?

Christians could be wrong about the number of gods or how deity was honored, but they could not be wrong about Jesus’ identity. God may shake His head at our preferences. God never shakes His head at the person who shapes life and the use of life by Jesus Christ. Nether should we-whether we are young or old, conservative or progressive, educated or uneducated, rich or poor, experienced or inexperienced. The cotter pin that holds us together in our diversity is faith in the risen Jesus Christ. Lives given to Jesus Christ are worthy of respect-personal preferences aside! Do not shun Christians because of preferences! Our human preferences do not determine God’s focus!


Posted by on July 5, 2009 under Sermons

Americans are passionate about the concept of freedom. Freedom and independence define our experience. Many of know that freedom comes with a price – freedom is not free. That’s why we cringe at the thought of squandering freedom. Giving up precious freedom simply to avoid struggle or to gain something as simple as comfort strikes us as a losing bargain. Statements like “give me liberty or give me death” are written deeply into our history. We aren’t always sure that our nation will live up to that spirit, but it is still there.

If we can be so passionate about political freedom and if we can understand the spirit of freedom that is a part of the legends and history of our nation, then we ought to be even more passionate about freedom in Christ. We really need to understand how the Spirit of God is the foundation of this freedom. Read Galatians 5 …

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law …

  • Paul is greatly discouraged that the Galatian Christians have given up their freedom and submitted themselves to systems of rules and beliefs.
  • Instead of trusting in the grace of God, they have decided to make themselves right with God based on what they can do.
  • Some of it probably seems harmless: observing special rituals, following certain rules and customs, nothing too extreme … but Paul’s warning is that grace plus anything else really isn’t grace.
  • What concerns me is our fascination with lists – five acts of worship, five steps/six steps of salvation, threefold patterns of interpretation: Yes, these can be helpful, but when observance or adherence to these lists become a test of fellowship and/or become the sign of faithfulness, then we are getting bound up into a type slavery.
  • There is a dangerous temptation to view our salvation in terms of a knowledge that we must have and a work that we must do that secures that salvation. We are not dependent on our own efforts. Our faith is not measured by our accomplishments.
  • Our faith, our life isn’t the sum total of keeping a list of requirements and commands.
  • We are free from religious law.

v 13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters.

  • What does it mean to be called to live in freedom? Do we grasp the importance of this statement?
  • We are free in Christ which means …
  • We are free to love. We do not love God and love others because we are coerced. Not because there is some legal obligation. We are free to serve.
    • I can understand why Paul would find it disappointing that the Christians in Galatia were giving up on faith and freedom and substituting it with commands and obligations.
    • We have not fully matured if our only motivation for following God’s ways is “because he commanded it.”
    • When we live in freedom we are free to serve God and serve others – or not.

So if we are free not to serve God and others, why would we?

It’s sort of a shame that Americans – who understand that freedom isn’t free – have to ask this. Freedom demands certain responsibilities. Those who seek freedom are filled with a certain spirit of responsibility and maturity.
Much more so, in Christ, we are filled with God’s Holy Spirit when we live in freedom.

But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.
v 16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.

  • Those who live in Christ’s freedom do not act in ways that are determined by others.
  • We are free from the reaction and response of others.
  • We are also free to act in a way that reflects the spirit rather than act in a way that is defensive or reactive to others.
  • Think about it, such defensive and reactive behavior is childish. “I acted this way, because she did this or that.”
  • Paul is pushing the Galatians to be guided by the Holy Spirit because they are being guided by other spirits. How often are we guided by other spirits, other attitudes, other expectations.
  • We are often so worried about what others think and what others do, and we become less interested in what God thinks, what he is able to do and we are less interested in what we are thinking and especially what we are doing.
  • Because we are free …
    • We are free from manipulation by others
    • We are free from the temptation to control others
    • We are free from the need to feel like we must know better than others.
    • We are free to do good – always (Galatians 6:10)

Hang In There!

Posted by on under Bulletin Articles

The above is the last verse of 1 Corinthians 15. It concludes Paul’s long discussion of the importance of Jesus’ resurrection. In specific, Paul declared Jesus’ resurrection is important because His resurrection affirms our resurrection. The indication is this: Paul answered their question about the importance of accepting resurrection as a fact.

Paul affirmed belief in resurrection is at the core of placing faith in Jesus. He said if there is no resurrection, Christianity is a sham without integrity. If resurrection is not real, Christianity is based on a lie knowingly promoted by lying men.

The reason for Paul’s challenge in 1 Corinthians 15:58 to be steadfast is the reality of resurrection. Little is more devastating than reaching the end of life, realizing that you have wasted life, and realizing your life cannot be rescued.

Please note that hardship produced by placing faith in Jesus’ resurrection is NOT a modern problem! It is as old as Christianity! Anti-spiritual people always have said, “Dead is dead! Death is the total end of life! Anticipating resurrection is nothing more than foolishly hoping against reality!”

Working for the Lord is just that-work. It is demanding, often challenging work. It can be rightfully defined as toil-just plain hard work.

Note also that though it may be hard work, it is not vain work. It is never wasted effort. Why? Resurrection is real! We work for more than the church’s success, for more than defense of a position, or for more than a name, a mission, or a principle. What is more than all those? The resurrection is more than those!

It is resurrection (a) that gives a never ending reason to be steadfast and immovable when our world declares we are foolishness, and (b) that gives us reason to abound in the work our world calls wasted energy. Does your faith in Jesus’ resurrection make your work for the Lord worth the effort? Do you live in the confidence of your resurrection?