"Treasure In Clay Jars" series


The treasure of the Gospel in Clay Jars. Patterns of Missional Faithfulness: Following God’s Calling, Being Shaped by Scripture, Taking Risks for the Sake of the Gospel, Living Out God’s Intent for the World.

The Story of EPCOT
entrance to EPCOT The name Epcot derives from the acronym EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow), a utopian city of the future planned by Walt Disney. Walt Disney's original vision of EPCOT was for a model community, home to twenty thousand residents, which would be a test bed for city planning and organization. The community was to have been built in the shape of a circle, with businesses and commercial areas at its center, community buildings and schools and recreational complexes around it, and residential neighborhoods along the perimeter. Transportation would have been provided by monorails and conveyor belts. Automobile traffic would be kept underground, leaving pedestrians safe above-ground. Walt Disney said, "It will be a planned, controlled community, a showcase for American industry and research, schools, cultural and educational opportunities. In EPCOT there will be no slum areas because we won't let them develop. There will be no landowners and therefore no voting control. People will rent houses instead of buying them, and at modest rentals. There will be no retirees; everyone must be employed."
This vision was not realized. Walt Disney wasn't able to obtain funding and permission to start work on his Florida property until he agreed to build the Magic Kingdom first, and he passed away before its opening day. The Walt Disney Company later decided that it didn't want to be in the business of running a town.

God’s City of Tomorrow, Today – God’s Intent for the World
Walt Disney wasn’t the first to have a hopeful vision of a prototype city. His vision isn’t the only vision to inspire us to think about the way it could be. Since God called Abraham, God has always intended for his people to be a prototype city of tomorrow. He intended for Israel to live out and demonstrate the shalom peace that he intended for all the nations. Jesus spoke of a city – a city on a hill that would serve as a shining example of righteous community. Matthew 5:14-16 – A city set on a hill. A light to the world. When Luke writes about the early church he describes it as the continuation of God’s Israel-dream. Acts 4:32-35. They were living out God’s intent for the world.
The church is a sign, foretaste, and glimpse of God’s kingdom rule. We are the prototype community. A people living now as if the complete and total reign of God has broken into this world. God has a vision for the world as it should be. God’s mission is for the world to he create and his intent for the world to be realized. So, living out God’s intent for the world is how we participate in God’s mission.

Living Out God’s Intent for the World
A prototype is more than an idea, it is a tangible example. It is not enough to know what God intends for the world. We have to live it out. God calls his church to practice habits and ways of living that embody his ideas. We see these most often in Scripture when we read texts that speak of the way we should treat one another.

Listening to One Another: The beginning of “one another” community is paying attention to one another. Sometimes church business is just “busy-ness.” I don’t think that’s how God intended us to live. How can we really help each other or love one another if we are not paying attention to one another? Listening is the beginning of unity ... 15"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over."
God intends for us to speak honestly and truthfully with one another. This is how we overcome anxiety and worry – by truly listening to one another.

Helping One Another: Acts 4:32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.
The people of God live in hospitality. Hospitality was a very important virtue in the ancient world. A traveler depended on hospitality not just for comfort, but for survival. We think of hospitality as something exceptional or special. We think of it as playing host or hostess at the Martha Stewart level, but consider how basic it is. My friend Jeff Christian told the story of an elder and his wife who invited others to their house for PBJ sandwiches and popsicles. This couple wanted to show everyone that hospitality was about love and fellowship rather than scoring social style points. 12:13 - Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bearing with one another – This involves not only bearing sorrows, but also (to put it quite bluntly) putting up with one another! Ephesians 4:2 - Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. One of the ways we practice God’s intent for the kingdom is by enduring all the little things that could so easily cause us to divide. Romans 14:13-19 - Let us stop passing judgment on one another. . . 19Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

Loving one another – Some of us remember sermons that list the “identifying marks of the church.” The identifying marks are one of thinking about the practices that demonstrate God’s intent for the world. Jesus had one identifying mark that he considered to be the clearest in terms of identifying his people ... John 13:34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples."

Welcoming the other – We cannot limit love in the kingdom of God. We are not concerned about the boundaries or demographics this world uses to divide us (age, race, gender, etc.) We respect those differences, but they are not barriers to love in fellowship if all are in Christ (Galatians 3:28)

The world is watching ... Dale Ziemer and Lois Barret (Treasure in Clay Jars, Eerdmans, 2004) tell the story of the Holy Ghost Full Gospel Church in Detroit. This church moved into a neighborhood that was run down and dominated by the problems of drug abuse and the attending evils of a drug addicted, hopeless class of people. One of the residents of this neighborhood was Luther. Luther described himself as a “big time drunk” and church members noticed that Luther was a sort of ringleader among those who sought solace with alcohol. All of the church’s programs and techniques to reach someone like Luther failed. But Luther was watching. We took notice of the people who gathered in the church’s building. In time, Luther took such an interest in this people that he started directing traffic in the evening. After all, they were in his neighborhood. Luther also began escorting the elderly women to their cars after the evening services, after all they were in his neighborhood and Luther would tell them that it wasn’t safe. Luther took notice of these very different people and in time he came and stood in the foyer during worship. Then he started to come in a bit closer and stand in the door to the auditorium. Then he stopped drinking so much. And eventually he was baptized.
At every stage of Luther’s journey, the people welcomed him. He was never told to go away, nor was he feared, neither was he ignored. He was welcomed. And the one who was once “the other” became one of the “one anothers.”

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 19 March 2006

Treasure in Clay Jars
Lesson Five: Pattern 4 – March 19, 2006
“Living Out God’s Intent for the World”

What is this lesson all about?

  1. To understand that the character of the church’s life together is what God intends for the life of the whole world.
  2. To understand how the habits and characteristics of the church community and not simply responsibilities of staff or the focus of programs.
  3. To explore “one another” practices that witness to the gospel, such as listening to/spending time with one another, actively helping one another, bearing with one another, hospitality, and unity.
Getting Started:
  1. When is a time that you feel lonely?
  2. When have you felt like a minority?
  3. Name someone who does a good job inviting others to feel like they belong?
  4. Where are some places in our society that people think they will feel accepted?
Searching the Word:
  1. Read James 2:1-17 aloud. This text addresses two problems that were going on in this church. What problem is described in 1-4?
    1. How could such a situation develop in a church?
    2. Who might face obstacles when they desire to worship with us?
  2. What problem is addressed in 14-17? (Faith that hesitates to act for the good of another.) Why are Christians sometimes drawn to an intellectual faith?
    1. When have you been tempted to discuss scripture without actually following it?
    2. What helps you to put your beliefs into actions that help others?
  3. When the world sees a church that discriminates against certain groups, what do they think about Jesus? [See John 13:35 – see below].
    1. What could we do to let the world see that we are not acting like the James 2 church?
  4. When have you seen a church do a great job of loving one another? How did that affect their impact on their community?
  5. Special Discussion of John 13: You may choose to examine John 13 as Jesus’ demonstration of and teaching about practices that demonstrate God’s intent for the world.
    1. John 13:1-17 is the narrative of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples. Consider Jesus’ question to the disciples: “Do you understand what I have done for you?” How do we understand what Jesus has done? What does Jesus mean when he says, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
    2. John 13:31-38 is Jesus’ new command. How is the practice of love for one another a demonstration of God’s mission within the world? Notice that the behavior of a loving fellowship is a witness to the watching world. (“Everyone will know you are my disciples if you love one another.”)
Making It Real: Exploration and Response
  1. Review the “one another” texts that demonstrate practices of unity and love:
    1. Romans 12:9-13 (hospitality and bearing with one another);
    2. Romans 14:13 (resolving conflict, unity);
    3. 1 Corinthians 1:10 (overcoming divisions);
    4. Ephesians 5:19 (singing as a sign of unity);
    5. Hebrews 10:25 (spending time with one another/encouragement);
    6. 1 Peter 4:9 (hospitality).
    7. Note: You may consider other “one another” texts or encourage the group to search for others. Ask the group to indicate the real practice that demonstrates “one another unity” in each text.
  2. As a group, explore specific examples of practices that demonstrate the work of God among the congregation to cultivate unity and love.
    1. Exploration Strategy: Encourage the class to share examples or stories about the church being recognized for practices that demonstrate the loving character of God. If you are aware of some of these stories invite people to your group who can best tell that story. This is the practice of testimony. Perhaps there is someone in the congregation who became a member because of real practices they witnessed in your congregation.
    2. Suggestion: If group members cite “church programs” within the church, press them to get more detailed and personal about their reason for naming that program. What is the character of those who work in that program? Is that program successful because of their technique or because of the attitude and heart? The intent here is to emphasize that it is in the quality of our life together before the world that we demonstrate God’s intent for the world and not simply in the application of formulaic methods.
  3. Focus on the following four practices of the church’s life together that demonstrate Christ-like love as a contrast to cultural norms. These are: a) listening to one another/spending time with one another; b) helping one another; c) bearing with one another; d) overcoming cultural barriers.
    1. Listening to One Another/Spending Time with One Another: Have each group member write a number between 1 and 10 on an index card indicating how busy they feel their current schedule is. (10 = extremely busy/overwhelmed). Now have the group line up according to their numbers. Ask the 10’s (or highest number) to relate why they feel busy. Ask the middle number(s) to relate why they feel as busy as they do. Now ask the lowest numbers to repeat what the 10’s said. The purpose of this exercise is to demonstrate: 1) That “busy-ness” makes it difficult for us to listen and spend time with one another, and 2) that listening to one another is essential to practicing the sort of “one another” relationships necessary for the sake of mission. (Transition: How can we help one another if we do not listen to one another?)
    2. Helping One Another: Ask the group to discuss the phrase “God helps those who help themselves.” Is this phrase biblical? (Some might even assume this is a Scripture). Ask the group to give biblical or personal examples of those God helps. How do these examples demonstrate the reign of God? Ask the group to discuss which is more consistent with the reign of God: actively helping one another or rugged individualism. Thought question: If we cannot be “one” by helping one another lovingly, can we really be “one” with God?
    3. Bearing with One Another/Reconciling Differences: Read Matthew 18:15-20. What is the common goal of every level of the attempt to reconcile with the sinner? (Forgiveness and Reconciliation.) How does the practice of reconciliation and bearing with one another’s weaknesses demonstrate God’s presence to the world (cf. Matthew 18:19-20)
    4. Overcoming Cultural Barriers: Read Galatians 3:26-28 & Colossians 3:11. Invite group members to write down on index cards occasions when they became very aware of cultural barriers (discrimination, ostracism, class distinctions, or other barriers). It may be a personal experience or one they observed in a certain context. Tell the group members that they should not identify themselves on the card. Now collect the cards, shuffle them, and redistribute them. Call upon class members to read what is written on the card they have. (Do as many as time permits). Ask the reader to relate how he/she feels about this experience of a barrier. Ask the class to recommend practical ways that unity in Christ overcomes these barriers. What can the church do to overcome these barriers and demonstrate God’s intent for the world?
Wrapping It Up
  1. Prayer time: Pray for God to give us listening hearts. Pray for those who might be lonely. Pray for the courage to reconcile longstanding grudges. Ask God to guide you into relationships with godly friends. Pray for the unity of the church.
  2. Close by singing “We Are One in the Spirit”
    1. Before the group sings this song emphasize the chorus: “And they'll know we are Christians by our love.”
Kid-friendly Activity
  1. Ask an adult in the group to point out some constellations. If it's a cloudy night, meet indoors and turn off the lights. Hide some items around the darkened room, including some flashlights or something that glows in the dark. Talk about why you can see stars or lights so well at night. What makes them stand out?
  2. Read Philippians 2:14-15 aloud.
  3. What causes Jesus' followers to stand out? Why is it hard to do things without complaining or arguing? What helps you to complain less and argue less?

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 19 March 2006

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