The Church is a Vineyard

Work.

It gets a bad rap doesn’t it?  For those of us who enjoy our work, it goes beyond a means of support and becomes a rewarding and valuable use of our time.  For many others, work is a drudgery, time wasted building the success and pocketbook of someone else.  Whether we like our work or not, it will always be a key component to how we spend our time.

But we must get beyond the simple definition of work just being how we support ourselves.  It’s much more than that.  We were created for good works (Ephesians 2:10) and God has a great purpose for the work he has us doing.  It’s not just busy work or a means to fulfill our time.  He has amazing things for us to do as we work in his kingdom.  God has designed the church for this very important function and we are to spend our Christian walk joyfully performing the tasks he has given us.

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. 10 Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. 11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. 15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”

(Matthew 20:1-16)

In this parable, Jesus compares the kingdom of Heaven with a vineyard and gives us some insight into the very important work the church must complete here on earth.  We also see how God will reward those who do his work, regardless of how many years of their life have been dedicated to his service.  From this passage we see that…

  • The church is meant to serve God.  We have many things in this life that we could consider work.  Everything from our paid employment, to mowing the lawn, to ministering to the poor could all be considered work.  What makes them all important is that they can all be done in service to the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24).  Everything we do in life can be used to glorify God and show our gratitude for his saving grace.  We have not been saved because of work, but we’ve been saved for good works (Ephesians 2:8-10).
  • The church is meant to accomplish God’s work.  We have such a great example in Jesus with regard to working for God’s purposes.  On several occasions (John 4:34, John 9:4), Jesus made it clear that there was much for him to accomplish for God’s kingdom and he derived his sustenance and strength by doing such work.  God has given us the vital task of teaching the world about him by introducing more souls to the church and to the Bible in order to grow his kingdom (Matthew 28:18-20).
  • The church is meant to bear fruit.  Jesus used the example of a vineyard when speaking his parable because it would have been easily understood by the members of an agrarian society.  The sole purpose of sowing a crop is to eventually bear fruit, and the church has the same role today.  We are to bear fruit that is worthy of the Lord (Colossians 1:10) so that the world may see and know the one we serve.  When the church is working, the fruits of the Spirit should be evident in everything we do (Galatians 5:22-23).
  • The church is meant to glorify God.  Even if all our work for God goes unnoticed, even if all our efforts go unrewarded here on earth, our primary purpose of working is to bring honor and glory to God.  We should always be a light in dark places so that the lost of our generation may have hope that God’s love is real and that it is offered to them as well (Matthew 5:16, John 3:16).  God will never forget the work you do for him (Hebrews 6:10).  Your labor is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).

God is calling all of his followers to be workers in his kingdom.  The role you play is vitally important to his overall purpose for mankind.  You don’t necessarily have to be a well-studied Bible scholar or vibrant public speaker to be used by God.  Just take the talents He’s given you and use them to the best of your ability to honor him.

-Joe Butler

The Church is a Body

Anyone who spends enough time studying the human body will probably find it extraordinarily fascinating.  It truly is amazing that the cells, tissues, organs, and systems that exist in our body all work in conjunction with one another to make up the most well-designed machine ever made.  Nevertheless, some of the body’s parts seem to be a little odd to have been included in the design.  Even so, they have very important functions that God saw fit to include and that we couldn’t live without.

Take, for instance, the uvula, that little flap of tissue hanging down at the back of your throat.  Seems a little strange to be there until you learn that it helps secrete saliva during the digestion process.  Or what about the hyoid bone?  This horseshoe-shaped bone, which is located in the throat, helps to work with your voice box (larynx) to make the broad range of sounds that we humans can produce.  It’s also the only bone in the body that is not attached to any other.

While there is an endless supply of facts and trivia regarding the human body, we can easily see that we were designed in such a way as to be able to operate at our utmost efficiency when all of the parts of the body are working together.  The same can also be said of the church, the body of believers who follow God and his Son, Jesus.  The church is a body and every single member, or part of it, plays an integral role in its health and well-being.  God knew, in his design of the church, the vital role of every member, and he used the analogy of the human body so we can better understand how we should function.

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”

(1 Corinthians 12:12-27)

In the passage above, we can see the design of the church, the body of Christ, and how it is meant to work properly.  Several things are evident when we study this passage of scripture:

  • There are many members in the body (1 Corinthians 12:14, 20).  Just as the human body is made up of many parts, the body of Christ has many important parts as well.  We may not notice all the inner workings of our own physical body, but they are there nonetheless, carrying out their functions and making the body run smoothly.  So it is with the church as well.
  • Everyone is valuable in the body (1 Corinthians 12:15-17).  It’s common knowledge that some of our body parts steal all the headlines.  The heart, brain, lungs, and other vital organs seem to be the most important parts of the body.  But lose a toenail or have a major infection of the lymphatic system and you’ll soon realize how important these hidden parts really are.  Likewise, every member of the church family is valuable.  The church cannot completely fulfill its function without every part working as it should.
  • Everyone has a purpose in the body (1 Corinthians 12:18, 24).  As the previous point has eluded to, each member of the body of Christ has been placed purposefully in order that the church may operate efficiently and effectively.  It is God who has placed us as he chose and given us the talents to perform our assigned tasks.  We shouldn’t take the liberty to attempt changing his design or assume that we can improve upon what he has so perfectly created.  Our job is to respect one another as equals and do our best to fulfill the next point in this post.
  • Everyone should care for one another in the body (1 Corinthians 12:25-26).  It doesn’t take us long to realize when something is wrong with our physical body.  When we are stricken with illness or a debilitating injury, we quickly understand the importance of all the parts of our body.  In the church, God desires that we exhibit a common purpose of serving him and his kingdom here on earth.  In order to do that, we must look out for one another, sharing in each other’s sufferings and joys so that we may be stronger and more capable of facing the difficulties that Satan throws our way.

Just like the human body, the church is a complex organism designed to work properly when we work together.  We are to always remember that Christ is our head, the lifeblood who we could never survive without.  It is he who guides us and directs us in our endeavor to pursue righteousness and in our mission to seek and save the lost through the gospel message we’ve been entrusted with.  We must all play our part in the body in order to make that happen.

-Joe

blank-tombstone.jpgYou may wonder why there is a simple hyphen for the title of this post.  There is no mistake.  I chose it for a reason and it is powerful in its simplicity.  But more importantly, that hyphen has greater meaning than that.  That little dash represents the entirety of your life.  That’s right!  All of your life, every year you’ve lived and everything you’ve ever experienced is summarized in that dash.

On the day you die and you’re laid to rest, a gravestone will be placed above you.  It may contain a brief eulogy or some passing words of wisdom and comfort for your family to remember, but it will also contain that hyphen.  Right there between your date of birth and the day you die will be a dash summarizing your life.

It’s hard to imagine the entirety of our lives.  To us, it seems like a long time, a time filled with experiences, dreams fulfilled, and trials we’ve trudged through.  We want our lives to matter, to mean something, to show our accomplishments and leave behind a legacy.  But life is a vapor (James 4:14), here today and gone tomorrow.  And in its fragile state we are daily reminded of its importance.

Life doesn’t go on forever, at least this life here on earth.  Our plans made today may not come to fruition tomorrow.  Yet there is a way to make your life count and it may not be what you think.  Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).  Crazy right?  We have to give up our lives in order to find them?  That’s exactly what Jesus instructs us to do and it’s the only way we can make that dash on our gravestone matter. 

He has great things for you to do in your lifetime and he’s blessed you with the time and talents to make them happen.  Give Jesus your life and let him help you make your hyphen mean more than just a dash carved in stone.

-Joe

 

Know Where You’re Going

arrYears ago before I was a teacher, I worked in the golf business as an Assistant Golf Professional.  Spending time in the golf shop assisting customers and giving golf lessons were my primary responsibilities.  Sometimes, customers would come up with ridiculous requests and I received one such request at the end of my shift one day.  A group of golfers had just arrived in town and needed some directions to the golf course.  I found out where they were calling from and since they were only a mile away, I gave them simple directions to get to the course.  The gentleman on the phone replied that he needed the address for his GPS because he didn’t think he could find the course.

Now, I won’t discuss how sad it is that people can’t go one mile without using their GPS.  What’s even sadder is that many are sometimes oblivious to the path they’re on.  We blindly trudge forward with no real sense of direction and wonder why we find ourselves in trouble sometimes.

Do you have a destination in mind that you’re heading towards?  Are you aware of where you’re going and how you’re going to get there or do you let outside sources dictate your path?  The most important question to ask is, What should we pursue?  Paul gave great advice to Timothy when he said, “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6:11-12).  And how do we pursue such things?  May I suggest you leave the GPS for something else and use the Bible as your instruction manual.  You’ll find everything you need within those pages.

-Joe

 

Our Identity in Christ (Part 1)

fingerprintWhile many of us struggle in life trying to determine our identity and purpose, those who are in Christ can have no doubt of who we are.  The word of God gives us several promises as to our true identity and this five part series of posts will discuss some of those.

We are a child of God and are heirs to his promised kingdom.

Just the other day I watched the new Annie movie with my daughter and was struck by how sad it would be to grow up as an orphan with no family.  I know many people around the world are in that very situation and even they can find hope that when we give our lives to Christ, we become a child of God.  In Romans 8:16-17 we are told, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

The Spirit of God living within us testifies that we belong to God.  And as dearly loved children, we have an amazing inheritance that awaits.  What a wonderful promise indeed!

-Joe

Who Are You?

I-have-been-crucified-with-Christ-and-I-no-longer-live-but-Christ-lives-in-meJust a quick question to help get your year started right.

Who are you?

What do people see down in the core of what makes you who you are?

Do they see a person struggling for an identity?  Do you project an air of superiority and arrogance?  Do you live in fear and anxiety over the coming day and its responsibilities?  Do you love yourself?  Do you love others?  Are you honest or deceitful?  Are you patient or agitated?  Faithful or corrupt?

When did you die?

Yes, you heard me right.  When did you die?  When were you crucified with Christ and gave up living for yourself?  Because if we are truly changed by the blood of Christ, it is no longer we who live, but Christ living in us.

So, I’ll ask again…. Who are you?

-Joe

A.D.D.

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I have A.D.D.  I do, really, but probably not the kind you’re thinking of. This realization came to me the other day as I was preparing for this school year. Every year I have students who suffer from A.D.D. as we know it medically. And while not making light of the real difficulties those students face in learning, I came to understand that I suffer from a different sort of A.D.D.- the spiritual kind.

You see, in this world, and especially with the affluence that we live in today, it is increasingly more difficult to stay focused on God. But that is not his will for our lives. We are told to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). We are to put our trust and faith in the God who has promised to meet all our needs. But our A.D.D. gets in the way. We lose our focus, our single-minded purpose of yielding to the will of God.

Just look at Jesus. Everything he did was in accordance to God’s plan. Was it all easy and comfortable?  No!  But Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). If we’re to be like Jesus, we must surrender as he did. We must bring our minds and our hearts into an understanding of God (Romans 12:2).

We can beat our spiritual A.D.D. through faith and obedience. Because the God we serve is worthy of our undivided attention.

-Joe