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The Power of Community Responsibility
Scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-22
Track 8 of 8 in the Transforming Story: As We Live It series
Running time: 32 minutes, 48 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

"Community Responsibility"

If you just wait long enough it'll be back in style (let's pray that's not true for mullets and leisure suits). Seems to be the case with attitudes. In the 1960's, the Jesus People (Christian hippies) wanted nothing to do with the church, but they wanted the blessing of knowing Jesus. Seems that attitude has returned (if Sarah Cunningham [author of Dear Church], among others, is correct; and it appears she is).

Real disciples of Jesus realize you can't have Christ without His church. The church is the "body of Christ," so being part of it comes with being a disciple. In addition to the logic of it all, real disciples are learning their Bibles. In it they read that Christ loves the church (Eph. 5:22-33); therefore they long to love the church.

If you're following so far, loving the Church (Christ's universal body, including all Christian everywhere) means loving the church (the local, congregational expression of that body). In other words, being disciple means loving Madison Park Christian Church (among other congregations you may hold in fond affection).

When you love someone, you care for them. You nurture them; you encourage them; you build them up; you correct them; you tend to them. The same is true for a local congregation. Merely attending on Sunday morning is not loving the body. Loving the body means caring enough to contribute your gifts to the body, sacrificing your time for the body, investing your energies in the body, confronting your frustrations about the body, preparing to serve in the body; and the list could go on.

God is blessing Madison Park. People are becoming disciples of Jesus here. Disciples of Jesus are growing more and more into His likeness. We can rest assured that Satan will try to stop that from happening. Sadly he'll do so through some of us (Acts 20:28-31). On behalf of Christ and for the sake of His body, I plead with you..."Guard your hearts." Don't let Satan use you to hinder God's work. Instead, place your trust in God and follow His teaching.

God is and has been abundantly blessing Madison Park Christian Church. And I think one of the reasons is because those shoes are welcome here. Both sets. They sit side-by-side and they worship the same God with the same fervency and God honors that. It is remarkable from where I get to sit most of the time, to just look and see what God is up to. And sometimes I forget that you don't always get to see all of the things that go on in the background. But it is a remarkable experience to observe what God is busy doing. To see from another angle the spirit of generosity, the uh, the spirit of service that exists in this place, to be here from day to day and to walk through the building and to see how often there are volunteers milling around this place. We don't call attention to them purposely, because many of them are here, well, they're here, and they don't want you to know that they're here, they just are here and they're doing their thing for God and trying to honor Him. And that spirit, that sense of wanting God to be first in their life and first in the life of their church and first in the life of their community has made an enormous impact on the lives of other people.

You know that some really good things are occurring and good things are coming. I will make this announcement later, but we're gonna encourage you, all of you, to come by the Annex this afternoon and to share with what's happening down there as we embark on this "Students of Influence" process, whereby we hope to take all of our young people and shape them into people of real vision and moral character. And many, many, many of you are making that possible, by your life, by your generosity, by your service. Just the remarkable things that continue to occur around here are so utterly encouraging to me. We got a letter this week wanting to know if we would be willing to add another missionary to our missions support, and quite honestly, those come with some regularity, and it is such a pleasure to be able to write back and say, ya know, we hope that you find the support that you need and we'll be willing to pray for you, but we have so many people from our own congregation who are going off to the mission field, that's where we're pouring our primary efforts, and we add another one this next year with Kim. It's remarkable what God is doing in the midst of our lives and you have the opportunity to be a part of that. But I need for you to know: Satan would love nothing more than to thwart what is happening. He will do everything within his power, and that is not an insignificant thing. He will do everything in his power to keep us from being useful to God. To keep us from being the people that God can use to change the lives of people around us. And the frightening thing is that he will use us more than he will use anyone else. And often it'll be unconscious simply because we're not intentional about preventing it from happening. Mark prayed an appropriate prayer for people in the world. I have regular contact with friends in Eastern Europe and just in the last couple of weeks I've received emails us specifically to pray for various peoples who are under persecution, who are being threatened for their faith. But you need to understand that Satan using persecution against the church has never hurt the church. In fact, I'm surprised that he still does it. If there is anything that marks Satan as anything other than being all-knowing it's because of his own stupidity, that he proves that persecution is a fallacy. Now, it hurts, it's painful, but it simply advances the church, everywhere it happens. The far wiser choice is to let us become comfortable. But we'll not tell him that, lest he figure it out. So here's my question as we come to the end of First Thessalonians: how do those of us who sit in this place, who call Madison Park our home, who are participants in this particular ministry, how do we make sure that we protect this congregation, how do we keep from being used by the wrong spiritual power?

And I want to come to this marvelous text at the end of this book. It is such a rich text and so full and yet it's crammed with lots of little two, three, four, five-letter sentences, five-word sentences that it's difficult to preach. Read with me, if you will, starting in verse number twelve. "We ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love, because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Made sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong. But always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil." Let me try to see if I can capture that passage of Scripture with some very practical admonition. I think the first thing he says, in verses twelve and thirteen, may by among the most difficult things we do because of who we are as American people. But the first thing I think he calls on us to do is to take leadership seriously. Verses twelve and thirteen point us to those who are leaders in congregations, it highlights those people, both paid and unpaid who surface in a congregation as those who give guidance and leadership and admonishment in a congregation. Uh, do we have slides of those folks? Because if we do, I'd like you to see them. Oh, I was hoping you'd have the elders up first. This is the paid staff. We're the flunkies around here. This is what we, what we do. Keep ‘em coming, we'll just go ahead and get them all out of the way, there's a whole bunch, well, don't go too fast. We want you to at least recognize us as we go by. Okay. I think there's one more. If you don't know who those people are, you should get to know them. Now here are some of the elders, and there'll be a couple slides of elders. Those are folk who lead in this congregation. Who have been selected by you to provide leadership and guidance and direction, but beyond that, and far more important than that, who provide for you some kind of shepherding, and some kind of accountability within the body of Jesus. This text reminds us that we to know them, that's literally what the Words says in verse twelve, to know them. Not just by information, we, you don't…have to have their names memorized. You don't necessarily have to know everything about them. The idea behind knowing them is that you come to the place that you appreciate them because you know their heart. I wish you had the privilege of working on a daily basis with these people like I do. I wish you could watch them in the homes of people as they try to minister to people. I wish, well, I don't wish you could go to the hospital, but I wish you could see them in action in the hospital when they're there beside the beds of people who are struggling with physical ailments. I wish that you could see their generosity, as they pour out of their own financial resources to help other people in this congregation when the budget won't carry it own its own. I wish you could hear them confront one another when there are issues that need to be confronted and you can see the fact that they can talk to each other like real Christian people and confront with real force. And yet, come out of that room, hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm, knowing that they are walking together in this challenge of being leaders in the church. It is an enormous responsibility that I cannot begin to highlight enough for you. And here's what this text calls for: you are to pay attention to those leaders. One text, in Hebrews chapter thirteen verse seventeen says that you are to obey your leaders. Now, I'm not talking about simply a blind kind of allegiance. I'm talking about a genuine trust. That you have enough confidence in these people to be able to say, even when I disagree, I will trust their judgment. I'm not talking about taking it blindly. I'm talking about asking questions, I'm talking about getting in their face, I'm talking about making them stand up for what they think is right, and give you answers for it. But I'm talking about the fact that when the bottom line comes down, we because we believe in Madison Park and their leadership, we'll stand with these men and we'll follow them wherever they seem to take us because we believe they're listening to God. And I, for one, will do that.

We're about to enter into that season of the year when we begin the selection of additional leaders. And I know it's distinctly possible in the life of a church for that period of time to just kind of slide through and you kinda trust everybody's judgment that the right things will happen. In a few weeks, you're gonna begin to hear us say, we want you to highlight for us the names of people that you believe are good leaders. And then they will go through a, an extremely difficult process of being asked an awful lot of questions and given an awful lot of evaluation. And then you'll be given one more opportunity to say yea, or nay, I think I can follow this person, or I can't. I hope that you take that seriously. I hope that when that happens, you are regularly praying for the process. I hope that you are constantly looking for men that you believe can give leadership to this church. And I'll be the first to tell you that we need some additional leadership. It's not because the ones we have are not good leaders, it's because we've experienced some rather significant loss of our leadership in the last year of so. You just don't replace a Dick S. easily in this body, and when he went to be with Jesus, we lost a great leader. When Dave H. moved to another community, we lost a good leader. When Bill G. decided that he needed to step down, that, we lost strong leadership and we need men to step up to that and help us. So pray, would you please? And dream. And those of you who are younger men, I cannot encourage you enough to right now, begin making the intentional decisions that in a few years will put you in a position to be a potential leader in the body. And if you don't know what that looks like, you come and ask, because we'll be glad to tell you what we look for and what we're asking you to become. And we'll be the first to tell you, it is not an easy trail that you're about to embark on. The way you protect the body of Christ, is to make sure that you have good leadership. And that you listen to the leadership with discernment. So please, pray for our leaders. And follow them. Listen to them.

Paul goes on and he gives us a second category, and I think that's in verses fourteen and fifteen. He says, "We urge you, brothers, to warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help with weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, always try to be kind to each other and everyone else." I think he says take the body seriously. You know, there's something about these wonderful padded chairs that troubles me. It isn't that they're just comfortable, I mean, they are, I don't know what you guys in the back are thinking, I mean you got the hard chairs, the nice ones are right here. So comfy, in fact, you could probably come up here and, (sigh), take a nap. Uh, no! But they're so representative of American culture. Now, I'm not opting to go back to pews, don't misunderstand me, I like the flexibility that chairs give us. But you know what a pew did? It forced you to sit next to somebody. You didn't have a choice because if they just kept filling the row, you just kept having to scoot and pretty soon, sometimes it got a little on the uncomfortable tight size, and your shoes were bumping. Here, you get to pick a chair, in fact, if you're wise, you can pick a chair where you can leave a space. And you don't have to really deal with each other. Do you hear what Paul's trying to communicate in this text? Warn the idle. That's a, that's an interpersonal kind of thing, man, that, that's something you, you've gotta, you've gotta be able to look somebody in the eye to do that. You, you've gotta know them well enough to actually engage them in a conversation and I think what Paul is trying to tell us is that we need to take each other seriously. We have responsibilities to each other. We can't just live this peaceful coexistence where we, we say, well, yeah, I'm a member of Madison Park, and it has absolutely, makes no, absolutely no difference at all in our relationships. See, it, it ought to impact how we feel about each other. In large ways, but also in small ones.

Now, I don't know who I'm talking about, okay? I just want you to know that. I don't know who you are. But one of you has a car and you don't know how to drive. I mean, you were all over Broadway. And I was following you, and I was getting annoyed. Not that I would ever do that, because I don't let things like that bother me. But I was really getting annoyed, cuz you just could not make up your mind which lane you were gonna drive in. In fact, I think you were gonna try ‘em all! And right at the last minute, you decided to turn and you cut from the center lane all the way over to the right hand third turn lane, and I'm getting, did I mention that I was getting annoyed? And then I noticed you had a "Madison Park" bumper sticker. And I smiled. And I decided, those are really nice people. They just must've been a little confused this morning. I have to be honest with you, when I saw the bumper sticker, my whole attitude changed. I don't know why, it just struck me as really odd, I had this kind of moment of, man, that really matters to me! You still need to learn how to drive.

Do you have what it takes to really respect the various ages and stages in people's lives? Cuz we got people around here at every age spiritually. We've got brand new people who just don't know anything about what they're doing. And we've got people who know more than most. Can you live with that? Can you live with the fact that some people don't do church your way? Can, can you just live with the fact that some folks think differently and act differently than you do? Now, there are times to simply tolerate that, that's what Paul says, just tolerate it. There are other times when it has to be confronted.

There's a remarkable story, many of you probably don't know the name Gordon MacDonald, but for those of us who have been reading Christian literature for the last twenty or thirty years, Gordon MacDonald's name is very, very common. Especially in devotional literature. He preached at one of the largest churches on the east coast in the Boston area before there were large churches out there. The chapel where he preached ran about three thousand people before people ever went to church like that. He, uh, he tells this story. He said, "Twenty or so years ago I was in Japan on a speaking tour. He was a number of years older than I was, and we were walking down the street in Yokahama. He said, the name of a common friend came up and I said something unkind about that person, sarcastic, cynical, a put-down. My older friend stopped, turned, and faced me, until his face was right in front of mine. With deep, slow words, he said, "Gordon, a man who says he loves God would not say a thing like that about a friend." He could've put a knife in my ribs and the pain would not have been any less. He did what a prophet does. But do you know something? There have been ten thousand times in the last twenty years that I have been saved from making a jerk of myself, when I've been tempted to say something unkind about a brother or a sister, I hear my friend's voice, "Gordon, a man who says he loves God would not speak in such a way about a friend."

Do you have what it takes to both say that, and hear it? Because both are equally important. That's Paul's encouragement. To both have the fortitude, the strength to be able to look at a brother or a sister, and to raise the serious issues of the spiritual life with them, and at the same time, be one of those people who when that is happening to them, has the courage to say, I will listen to you because you are my brother or my sister. That's what it takes for us to become the church that God needs for us to be. If Madison Park is gonna be the spiritual, the mature, community of Christian believers, we have to be able to listen to each other. We don't always have to agree with each other, but we do have to listen to each other. So he says, we take the body seriously. You and I are brothers and sisters; we are members of the body. There are lots of analogies that the Scriptures use, but the bottom line is we are responsible for and we are responsible to each other.

The last thing he says in this text, is a whole pile of commands. Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks, I mean it's just one brief little command after the other, and I think he says, I think what he says is, take God seriously. These are all God-oriented sorts of things; I mean he's asking, he's asking tough stuff. I think this is one of the most difficult passages in all of Scripture to actually, genuinely live out. I know that some of you think that when the preacher stands up here and says one more thing about stewardship or tithing that he's talking about the most difficult thing that you face. I'm sorry, if giving is the most difficult challenge you have in the church, you've either gotten a lot further down the road on these, or you're not taking life real seriously. These are tough. Listen to what Dwight Moody does to just try to summarize this passage. He says, "Careful for nothing, prayerful for everything, thankful for anything." Now, that one alone will get me. Thankful for anything? I'm sorry, there are some things in life I have a really hard time being thankful for. To be real honest with you, there are some things in life I have a really hard time not being careful. What he means is not worrying about ‘em. This call is a call to take God seriously. You can't face life the way life comes. You cannot face it with these attitudes without God in your life, I'm sorry. It can't be done. You can fake it, you can wing it, you can try it, you can screw up your courage and you can do your best, but one day, you will face a life situation that without God, will crumble you. That's what he's trying to tell you. That if you don't have God in here, you don't have a chance. Not in the long run, because life deals out hard-ness.

I got this email this week, it's a quotation from somebody by the name of Oliver Holden, I don't know who that is, but it sounded good. "They who seek the throne of grace find that throne in every place. If we live a life of prayer, God is present everywhere." And they say you can't pray in school? Just give a test. You can't stop people from praying, you can't keep God out of a prison, you can't take God out of a hospital room, you can't keep Him away from a family that's dysfunctional, you can't keep God out of anywhere, as long as we're a praying people. Do you hear it? This is a text that helps us come to grips with the fact that God has something that He wants to do in us and through us and around us. And so, he says, listen to the prompting of the Spirit of God, pay attention to the prophetic words that you hear. Now, I, I know that listening to the Spirit is hard work. I never am quite sure that little prompting that's going on inside of me, is that really God? I don't always know, but I'm learning that if I don't pay attention to that, I miss some really significant stuff. I know that the Spirit speaks through Scripture, and I know that He speaks through brothers and sisters, but I also know that there are other ways that God comes along and speaks to me. I remember sitting in my basement, in 1973, a fairly newlywed, reading a book by the name of "For Men Only." It sounds like a husbandly thing to do. And this guy had the audacity to say, "God may want to talk to you through your wife." I no longer have that book. I threw it away. The very thought, that God might wanna speak through another person. And so Paul says, don't put out the Spirit and don't ignore the prophetic Word. Because God is wanting you to take Him seriously.

Well, how do we tell this story? That's, that's been our journey. We've been talking about how we live out the story, how, how do we put it into practice? Well, I think there's a pretty good summary of how you live the story right here in verses twenty-one and twenty-two. Test everything. Hold on to the good, and avoid the evil. That's the story, isn't it? Isn't that the difference that Christ makes in the life of a believer? The rest of the world just kind of accepts whatever comes, they never look at it too terribly closely, just watch their movie habits, or their TV habits, and you know that we can't be paying too much attention to what's going on in the world. A whole bunch of us have been saying, saying over and over again, we want clean television. We want moral values on TV. And eighty-percent of us watch Desperate Housewives. Now, tell me how that's congruous. We don't know what we really want, because we're not disciples of Jesus as a general rule out here in our world. But in the church, the difference that Christ makes is He teaches us how to discern that which is good, and that which is evil. That which is helpful and that which is not helpful. That which is actually going to benefit us versus that which may simply be an acceptable thing for a believer to do. I challenge you to take a serious look at the world in which you live. Evaluate what's going on around you and make this your choice, I will do, I will hold on to, I will grasp what is good, and I will run from what is evil. No disciple, no disciple of Jesus would ever want to see the body of Christ hurt. And no disciple, no genuine disciple of Jesus would ever want the local expression of that body, us, to ever be damaged. And so we decide that we will neither be silent, nor will we slander. We decide that we will neither be slothful, nor will we slumber. We decide that we will neither with blind allegiance follow, but nor will we with stubborn rebellion reject leadership. Disciples of Jesus take the work of God seriously and they do everything they can to see that God is able to carry on His work in our world. That's discipleship. Discipleship is just a matter of allowing the Story to take root in you and choosing to do that which is good and right and beneficial and to avoid that which will not help. Nobody's gonna sit down with you and say, these are the things that are good, and these are things that are bad, and these are the things that are helpful, and these are the things that are not. That's, that's your challenge. But it's why we want you in Discipleship Classes, it's why we want you in Bridge Communities, it's why we want you in church, it's why we want you reading your Bible, so you can come to the place that you learn to discern the good and avoid the evil. And together, we become a community of people that God can use to bless and change and shape this part of the world.

So are you willing to do it? I mean, are you really willing to live the Story? Are, are you willing to say, whatever it takes, I'm gonna buy that. I'm gonna do it. And if it's painful, I'm gonna do it anyway. And if people confront me, I'm gonna listen. And if somebody isn't doing all that they ought to be doing, I'm gonna have the courage to say something. And we're gonna do it with love, we're gonna do it with grace, and we're gonna pray that we are the people that God can continue to bless the way He's been blessing us recently. And I'm asking you to make sure that you are not the one person who is standing in the way of what God wants to do in our lives. We're gonna stand, and we're gonna sing, and I hope this song can begin to express a bit of what's going on in your heart, that you want nothing else than to be what God wants you to be, and everything else is secondary.

[Transcribed by MM15]