Sunday, August 02, 2009

Sermon from July 26

Lessons From A Tool Bag

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).
a. It can be the physical resources – buildings, vans, property, family life center, and auditorium. Even smaller tools count: computers, software, carpet and pews.
b. 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).
c. 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.
d. 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 Cor. 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.
a. 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.

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