September, 14, 2014

All Hands on Deck

As soon as James Watson and Francis Crick figured out the structure of DNA in 1953 scientists set to work learning everything about it that they could.  They soon learned that the DNA molecule acts as a kind of code storing digital information in our cells.  As scientists began to figure out just how much information was contained in the DNA molecule relative to the percentage of DNA that they knew actually did something, they began to realize that as much as 80% of our DNA didn’t perform any identifiable function.  It was just there.  Lots and lots of information for no apparent purpose.  Well, what do you call a bunch of extra stuff that doesn’t serve any purpose?  Junk.  As a result, by the 1970s some biologists started wondering aloud why there was so much junk in our DNA.  Eventually the huge region of DNA that didn’t serve any apparent function earned the title “junk DNA.”   The principle was: If you can’t see a function, there probably isn’t one.

But, there was another, much smaller group of scientists, who began to argue on the basis of the available evidence that when you look closely, nature seems to exhibit all the characteristics of design.  In the 1980s some of these intelligent design theorists predicted that in light of all the other evidence pointing toward the likelihood of a designing intelligence behind what we see in the world, all of the so-called “junk DNA” really wasn’t.  It may not have had any readily apparent function, but as the analytical tools available to geneticists continued to get more sophisticated scientists would begin to discover that it was in fact functional and an integral part of the overall working of this magical molecule.  The principle here was: just because you can’t see the contributions of a particular part of the molecule doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Fast forward to just a couple of years ago.  In 2012 The Human Genome Research Institute completed a decade-long analysis of the DNA molecule using the most sophisticated tools available.  What they discovered is that as much as 80% of the DNA previously thought to be nonfunctional in fact played a vital role in a number of different cellular functions.  Furthermore, the direction of the research suggested that the remaining 20% would likely yet be discovered to be functional in the not-so-distant future.

So what’s the point of all of this beyond giving the Kitchen Table crowd from this summer a nervous tic by talking about DNA again?  The point is this: we are tempted to associate value with apparent function.  The more visibly we can see the function of one thing or another, the more likely we are to attribute value to it.  On the other hand, if we can’t see an obvious function we very easily forget about it and are even tempted to consider it to be less important than the things that have a more obvious function.  In this case, because scientists couldn’t see any function of this huge section of the DNA molecule, many assumed that it didn’t do anything, or at least anything important.

Or perhaps let’s change the illustration.  The CEO of a company is often the face that everybody sees and knows.  People easily consider her value to the company to be essential because her function in the company is obvious.  But what about the crew that comes in at night and cleans the office bathrooms?  Nobody sees the work they do.  They certainly don’t make the same amount of money as the CEO.  I doubt anybody knows their names.  Most folks would be tempted to think they aren’t as valuable to the company as the CEO.

Or maybe we’ll change the illustration one more time.  In every church there are a handful of people who are out front and visible on a regular basis.  It doesn’t matter how big or how small the church is.  Some people are the center of attention more than others.  Some people have gifts and talents that lend themselves to taking very visible roles in the ministries of the church.  Usually these are the folks who can sing and the folks who can handle public speaking.  The temptation on the part of the majority of the church whose gifts do not lie in one of these very much visible areas is to think things like this: He matters to the church.  The church can’t get along with her contribution.  If he stopped doing what he was doing we wouldn’t make it.  The church doesn’t really need me, though.  What am I doing that really matters to the mission?  Yet just as scientists discovered about the so-called “junk DNA,” apparent functionality has no bearing on value.

This morning we are in the second and final part of our annual look at the mission and vision of the church.  Last week I reminded you of the story of our mission and cast some vision for where we are going next with it.  Our mission came out of a long and thoughtful look at who God has clearly designed us to be.  This identity should sound familiar, I repeat it every week.  Central is a place where people matter and are empowered to engage their world for Christ.  We’ve made a lot of progress toward becoming more fully this church since then, but there’s still more to go.  Specifically, the next place we are headed is to create more fully a come and see culture.  We are angling in the direction of seeing Central Baptist Church become a place that when folks walk out those doors they not only can’t wait to come back, but are eager to tell somebody else to come and see for themselves what God’s doing here.

Now, at the end of the sermon last week, I told you that if you came back this week I’d tell you more about what it’s going to take to make this happen.  And so I shall.  Let me give it to you in a nutshell and then we’ll take a look at it in a bit more detail.  If we are going to create this come and see culture what it is going to take every member of the body fully filling the role God designed them for in the body.

Indeed, for the church to work like it should, every part is absolutely necessary.  Paul proclaimed as much rather directly in a couple of my favorite passages from his letters.  If you have a copy of the Scriptures nearby, find your way with me to 1 Corinthians 12.  Starting here and running for the next couple of chapters, Paul talks about the role of the Holy Spirit in the church.  He opens here by talking about the gifts the Spirit gives to Jesus followers in order to see the work of the church get accomplished.  You see, it takes a number of different gifts and skills to make a church happen.  There has to be teachers and preachers, sure, but there also has to be folks who can handle administrative details, who are gifted for serving others, who have a heart of mercy for the broken, who are full of wisdom and understanding of the Scriptures to keep the ship going in the right direction, who are faithful beyond what makes sense in order to lead the church to trust in the great things of God, and so on and so forth.  These and other gifts are given by the Spirit to various members of the body for a purpose, but if they don’t work together well, the whole thing will fall apart.

Starting at v. 12 of chapter 12, Paul begins to describe how this working together needs to happen.  Follow along with me if you’d like.  I’ll be reading from The Message because I like Peterson’s translation here a lot.  Look at this with me: “You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body.”  So what Paul is doing here is to compare the church, the body of Christ, to the human body.  Keep reading with me: “Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body.  It’s exactly the same with Christ.  By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives.  We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything.”

Do you see what he’s saying here?  When you become fully a part of a body of Christ—and different churches understand how that happens differently—you become a part of something larger than yourself.  You are no longer singly responsible for yourself.  You aren’t living independently of everyone around you anymore.  Now you are part of a group.  Our way lies together.  One can’t succeed without the rest of us celebrating.  One can’t fail without all of us weeping and helping to pick up the pieces.  But, far from making us all less important in the face of the encompassing importance of the whole body as some might be wont to object, this radically increases our importance.  Our worth to the world around us goes up when we connect with the body because all of a sudden there is a whole group of people who are depending on us.

Paul actually spells this out in more detail in the next section.  Start reading with me again at v. 14: “I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less.  A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge.  It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together…As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.”

Think about this now.  Think about that last thing Paul said in light of the rest.  Each part of the body of Christ—that would be each person who has connected with this church whether through the receiving of baptism as a result of the commitment of your life to Christ or rededication of a life to Christ or a transfer of membership from a fellow body—is integral just like all the parts of a human body are integral to its function.  Each contributes something without which the whole body would suffer.  If you are here and connected with Central Baptist Church, we need you.  You contribute something because of the gifts the Holy Spirit has given you without which we can’t accomplish the mission God has set before us as well as we can with you fully invested in the process.

But again, that last thing Paul says takes this even a step further.  Listen to it again: “As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.”   If you are here and connected with this body it’s not simply that we need you in order to accomplish our mission, in order to create a come and see culture (which we do), it’s that God actively put you here.  Friends, God doesn’t act randomly.  You’re not here by accident.  You’re here because the eternal Creator of the heavens and the earth has been moving in the circumstances of your life since day one such that you are in this room now and hearing this message.  If you don’t bring your whole gift to the table for use in the goal of creating a place where people matter and are empowered to engage their world for Christ not only do the rest of us lose for it, but so do you!  If you aren’t fully invested here you can’t be who God designed you to be.  Now, none of this is to say that Central Baptist Church is necessarily integral to your becoming who God designed you to be, but rather that if you are here and connected with this particular part of Christ’s body it’s because God put you here and if you’re not following through with that then you’re missing something you’re not going to find anywhere else.

We can’t work right without you, but neither can you work right without us.  Look again at what Paul wrote: “The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t.  If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and the healing.  If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.”

The end of all of this is twofold: the glorification of Christ and the building up of the body in love; or perhaps to put that another way, the building up of the body with the intention of seeing it become fully who God designed it to be.  Writing about this gift giving in his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul described the point of it this way.  Jesus through the Spirit gave all these various gifts “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

Got all that?  We are to grow by the application of these various gifts given to specific individuals in light of the role God designed them to play in the body to be as a group more like Jesus; the same Jesus who is the one who makes the growth happen.  But, and this is important, when does the growth happen?  When each part (person) with which the body has been equipped—in other words all the people God has led to connect with the body—is working properly.  If each part of the body is not working properly guess how well it grows?  When parts of your body stop working properly what do you do?  You go to the doctor and do everything it takes to get them working properly again.  So why is it then that when parts of the church stop working properly we tend to shrug our shoulders and try to get along the best we can without them?  Put like that it doesn’t make a lot of sense does it?

When parts of the body of Christ aren’t working properly for one reason or another, the last thing we can afford to do is shrug our shoulders.  Rather, we do everything possible to get those parts restored to health.  And why?  So that they can join us in becoming fully the church God designed us to be to His glory and our joy.  Or perhaps to put that another way: Our body can’t be fully what it was designed to be unless every part is fully playing the role they were designed to play.  Let me put that for you in a way even easier to remember: For the body to be a body, no part can be apart.  For the body to be a body, no part can be apart.

If we are going to create a come and see culture, if we are going to create a place where people leave with a sense of “wow” that doesn’t go away until they bring somebody back to experience it with them, it is going to take a body that is functioning properly.  For the body to be a body, no part can be apart.  Friends, this is all exactly what our mission is pointing at.  We are a place where people matter.  We love people…all of them.  We need people…all of the ones God intends to connect here.  We can’t get by well with any number fewer than that.  For the body to be a body, no part can be apart.  If you are connected here in any way, it’s because God put you here.  There is something He wants to accomplish through us and you have a role to play in that.  Wait, that’s not strong enough.  You have a pivotal role to play in that.  We can’t do it as effectively without you as we can with you.  For the body to be a body, no part can be apart.  With that in mind, we are going to do everything we can to empower you to make the kind of engagement with your world in the name of Christ you were designed to make.  At Central people matter and are empowered to engage their world for Christ.  That’s who we are, that’s where we’re going, and we need you to do it.

Before I send you out of here, though, let me get really specific on all of this.  We have some incredibly dedicated people working exceptionally hard to see all this happen.  We have people like David Bradford here who have worked tirelessly, giving of his time, talents, and treasure to make sure our buildings and grounds send the message that people matter.  Think about it: if you walk into a place that looks like a dump are you more likely to conclude that the people there care about you or that they don’t?  We are better able to achieve our mission because David Bradford is faithfully using the gifts God has given him.  We also have people like Barbara Hale here who has worked many hours to make sure we have a technologically savvy operation.  In a day in which you can’t succeed without a wise embrace of technology, Barbara has shown outstanding leadership in bringing a number of areas of the church up to speed including that fancy projector back there on the wall that will receive its maiden voyage this afternoon.  We have people like Ann Clay who has served this church for most of her life, most recently by taking the spirit of our mission out into our community.  She and a team of folks she has organized have been crisscrossing the community making sure that folks who can’t be here as often as they’d like know they not forgotten and are still loved.  To be a part of a community but not be able to actively take part in it is an incredibly hard place to be.  She is helping to make it a little less hard than it is otherwise.

There are people like this all over the church working hard to see our mission accomplished.  But, there are still some places where we have active needs; places in our ministry where willing servants are needed in order for us to have the kind of impact we want.  One of those is helping to teach the grade school kids on Wednesday nights.  Right now Meredith Henshaw is doing a fabulous job with them.  I get excited weekly reports from Noah on all the fun they have.  But, Meredith is by herself.  She’s bearing the whole load and doing awesome, but two people would allow the workload to be cut in half.  More than that would make the fraction even smaller.  What more, I know there is someone in the body, maybe even in the room this morning, who could help her, but who either didn’t know about the need or was waiting to be asked to help.  If that’s you, consider yourself asked.  We need you.  In order for the body to be a body, no part can be apart.

Another area of need is with our youth trips.  We’ve got a stock of great volunteers to pour into the minds and hearts of our youth in Bible study on Sunday mornings and at the Kitchen Table, but given the number of other places these folks are already serving, they can’t often go on trips with them as well in spite of how much they love them.  But, there are some other folks who can afford to take a day or two off work to once or twice a year to enable them to have experiences that will have an impact that will stick with them for years.  I can tell you that without the camp experiences I had in my own youth group I wouldn’t be here doing this.  You have the opportunity to do the same for our youth.  For the body to be a body, no part can be apart.

Let me give you a few more just for fun.  We have an awesome crew of folks working with our littlest kids during Table Talk on Wednesdays, but honestly we have so many kids that they are always in need of folks to join the fun so no one gets overworked.  One of our cherished annual traditions around Christmas is the kids’ play.  We don’t have anyone to lead that right now and it won’t happen this year unless we do.  Every Sunday morning I send the kids off to Children’s Church just before the sermon.  We have amazing folks who lead them each week, but did you know they all choose their own stuff?  Researching and choosing curriculum is a big job, but there is someone here who has the time and energy to not only do that, but to equip the willing volunteers to do the best job possible.  We need you.  Are you starting to pick up a theme so far?  Creating a place where people matter often means that families starting connecting.  Families mean kids.  Kids mean a lot of work.  But you know what?  There isn’t much more important work in the world than ministering the Gospel to the hearts of kids—Jesus said as much Himself.  The very fact that we’re crawling with kids, though, is a huge indicator that our mission is working.  But, just so you don’t think that everything is about kids, how about the Kitchen Table?  Who enjoys eating a great meal each week?  Do you know how much work it is to do that?  Did you also know that while there are seven teams, two different people lead four of them?  I know a couple of very willing but overworked chefs who would love someone to lead another Kitchen Table team that doesn’t involve them.  For the body to be a body, no part can be apart, and these are some great ways to do that.

Last thing and then we’re gone.  If you are serving in this body, we are so thankful.  You are literally changing the world for the kingdom of God.  You are playing an integral role in seeing our mission accomplished.  For a body to be a body, no part can be apart.  You are essential.  Never think otherwise.  If you miss a day, we miss you.  But, if you have connected here and haven’t yet found a place to serve, a place to put to use the gifts God has given you to use to His glory and your joy, it’s time to find it.  I’d love to have a conversation with you about where and how to do that.  For the body to be a body, no part can be apart.  But, when all the parts are working like they should, that’s when the magic happens.  That’s when lives are changed.  That’s when God receives the glory and we get to celebrate as He does His work.  For the body to be a body, no part can be apart.  So make yourself a part and we’ll together enjoy seeing our mission fulfilled.