a church led by the Holy Spirit


It is a thrill to be back here at Maranatha Bible Church. Pastor Jessie invited me to speak this morning. The Lord has put 1 Corinthians 12:1-13 in my heart to share with you. These words are particularly important for churches to keep in mind, because, like the Corinthian church in Paul’s day, it is very easy for us to be led by the flesh, and not by the Holy Spirit.

1Brothers I do not want you to be misled about spiritual gifts. 2 You know that when you were pagans whenever someone led you, they were leading you off the path, and making you follow voiceless and useless idols. 3 That is why I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one is able to say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.


Paul tells the Corinthians that they were formerly led off the right path. When he brought the gospel to them, it gave the chance to get back on the right path. But he warns them that even a church who thinks it is obeying the Spirit can be operating in the flesh. The difference is the focus on Jesus.

4 Now there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit gives each kind. 5 There are different ministry gifts, but the same Lord; 6 and there are different manifestation gifts, but it is the same God who activates them all in everyone.



The unity of the church is designed to come from the top down. When we seek unity of the flesh, that is uniformity, and it does not work. It comes from the wrong source. Legalism destroys churches as well as people. Our unity must come from God. It is not rule by democracy, and it is not rule by tyranny of the most powerful or most popular.

7 In each believer the Spirit manifests for the good of everyone. 8 To one the Spirit gives something insightful to say, and to another the same Spirit gives something intelligent to say, 9 to another the same Spirit gives extraordinary faith, to another the one Spirit gives power to heal, 10 to another he enables the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another the ability to speak various kinds of languages, to another the explanation of things said in other languages. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who gives to each one individually exactly the gift he wants him to have.


One of the reasons flesh unity does not work is that the Holy Spirit works within us in different ways, so we are automatically going to be different from each other. God wants to reach the community through all of us, and our diversity is his means of doing that.

When the flesh leads, either insight or intelligence will prevail. But when the Holy Spirit leads, both insightful and intelligent words are spoken.

When the flesh leads, someone’s individual ministry becomes the measure of the church’s success. But when the Holy Spirit leads, everyone’s ministry is given its proper place, and the Lord of the church is glorified instead of one of his servants.

In 2 Corinthians we discover that a group of leaders within the Corinthian church had hijacked it, and were teaching another Christ, a different spirit, and a different gospel![1] The LORD gave us these epistles because we are susceptible to idolizing others, which can lead to apostasy as well.

12 Because 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 Because one Spirit immersed us all into one body- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free- and all of us were given a drink of that one Spirit.



Paul emphasizes the fact that the Corinthian church is made up of a diverse lot of people. Some of those people were Jews, and some of them were Greeks. Some of them were slaves and some of them were free – in fact some of them employed slaves who were also Christians.

But from the standpoint of the who they were in Christ, they were one body. In a body, every member has the same status as every other member. The Corinthians were all equal, not because it was a democracy, but because it was a church.

The Corinthians had taken this truth and distorted it, because they were being led by the flesh. So they began to build authority pyramids, to determine who the top dogs were. Paul wrote them to explain that in the church, there are no top dogs. The Corinthian fellowships were dysfunctional because they were seeking to establish a hierarchy.

Hierarchies destroy churches because churches were designed to function like bodies. In a body, each member is equal in worth, because the body can only function properly when each member does its work.

Our challenge today is to stop being led by the flesh. It will mean that we have to humbly accept that God is going to do some things without getting permission from our church leadership. It will mean that we are going to have to trust each other to be what God says we all are. The temptation is to stay within our comfort zones, and we can do that. But the price that we pay for doing that is that some of the things that God’s Holy Spirit wants to do will not be done. As a result, some of the people within the church will stay hurting, and some outside the church will stay unreached.

Being led by the Spirit may mean launching out into a new ministry. It may mean that God will call on you to say something that you know others are going to oppose. It may mean doing something that others will criticize. Real church ministry is a messy thing. I cannot promise you that your new ministry will be accepted. I cannot even promise that you will always have success. 

All I am saying is that we often get it wrong, and our Lord wants us to get it right.  Following Christ is not the same thing as playing “follow the leader.”

LORD, give us courage to follow you into the right path. We know you want to speak and act through us. Show us how to follow your leading, to accomplish your will, to be your church.

[1] 2 Corinthians 11:4-5.

the deity of the Holy Spirit


Travis introduced this sermon series to us – the elder team – a few months ago. I agreed to speak on the deity of the Holy Spirit. What first came to my mind was that there never has been a challenge to the deity of the Holy Spirit – at least not directly.

The real challenges doctrinally come from those who refuse to believe that the Holy Spirit is a person, the same way that the Father and Jesus are real persons. They tend to describe the Holy Spirit as a kind of energy or influence from God. They think of the Holy Spirit as an “it” rather than a “him” — something like the force in Star Wars.

Christian churches debated this subject a long, long time ago, and they determined that according to the Bible, the Holy Spirit is more than that. He is a person, just like the other two members of the trinity. They found that the Bible describes the Christian God as three persons in one God.


It does not make sense really, but that should not surprise us. After all, we are talking about the nature of our creator. I don’t know why people think that they should be able to understand his nature. I studied the trinity for my theology book, and wrote an entire chapter on the issue, but it just scratched the surface. Anyway, if you want to know more about the trinity, we will be posting some resources for you to read and study on the Relevant Church website.

The problem with denying that the Holy Spirit is a person is that it steals from him all the aspects of deity that are essential to what the Bible teaches that he does. That’s what I want to talk to you about. You see, just saying “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” may be a true confession, but it is just about useless. It is a profession without a purpose, which runs the risk of being irrelevant.

When we say, “I believe in the Father” – there is a lot of implied purpose in that statement. It is saying, “I believe that there is a being who purposefully brought the universe into existence by his own will, he loves the world, and has determined to purposefully rescue the universe from the evil that happened as a result of rebellion and sin.”

When we say, “I believe in the Son” — implied in that statement is the fact that Jesus Christ pre-existed his birth as God the Son, and purposefully came to this earth to fulfill the Father’s will by becoming the sacrifice for our sins. That is why he was born one of us, and that is why he died on a cross.



What is the implied purpose to our statement “I believe in the Holy Spirit”? I wrote six chapters about that! This morning I want to focus on just one thing that Jesus taught about what the Holy Spirit does.

“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.” (John 14:15-17 NLT).

This is one of several passages in Scripture which shows all three members of the trinity at the same time. Jesus, the Son, promises his disciples that he will pray to the Father, and that the Father will give the disciples another Advocate. Jesus affirms the existence of all three members of the trinity here. But what I want to focus on is what Jesus affirms about the Holy Spirit.


First, let me tell you that Pentecost was the answer to Jesus’ prayer. That means that from that time on, the Holy Spirit is more than just God with us. He is God in us!

You see, the Holy Spirit was present with the disciples and empowered them for ministry. They performed miracles and led people to Christ and his kingdom by that empowerment. This was before Pentecost. After Pentecost, they had the same power, but it never left them because the source of the power was now inside them. That source is not a thing. He is a person: The Holy Spirit. What makes this doctrine even more relevant is the fact that when the Holy Spirit came to the disciples at Pentecost, he stayed – not only in them, but in everyone they led to Christ. That includes you and me.


A major purpose of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to continue the discipling ministry of Jesus Christ.

Look carefully at that word “another” in verse 14. The Greeks had two words for the English “another.” The word heteros meant another of a different kind. Our word heterosexual contains the idea behind heteros. A heterosexual chooses a partner of a different gender, as opposed to a homosexual who chooses a partner of the same gender.

But the word for “another” in verse 14 is not heteros. It is allos. This word means another of the same kind. So, Jesus was saying that the Holy Spirit would be another person just like Jesus is a person. The Holy Spirit would also be deity just like Jesus is deity. Whatever Jesus was for those disciples, the Holy Spirit would also be. Whatever Jesus did for those disciples, the Holy Spirit would also do.

The title that Jesus used to describe his ministry that the Holy Spirit would take over is – in this translation — Advocate. The translators have struggled trying to come up with a suitable English word to translate this Greek word. The Greek word means someone who is called alongside. Some translate it Comforter, others, Helper; others, Counselor. I think the word that best captures Jesus’ meaning here is Discipler. A major purpose of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to continue the discipling ministry of Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus came alongside his disciples to disciple them, so the Holy Spirit will disciple us.

We experience this in four ways.

1.Guidance into all truth by illumination.

2.Gifting with spiritual gifts for edification.

3.Going where he wants us to go for evangelization.

4.Glorifying Christ through sanctification.


The Holy Spirit inspired the authors of the Bible to give us a faithful and accurate revelation directly from God. But that is only part of what Jesus promised. He said that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all truth. So, he not only gave us the Bible, he also helps us to interpret it correctly. He gives spiritual gifts to teachers and writers and preachers and worship leaders. He is in us, so he uses us to disciple us.

He also gives other spiritual gifts to each member of the body – the church. The gifts he gives us allow us to back up what we teach and what we believe. His power is at work within us to confirm what he is teaching us. He is in us, so he uses us to disciple us.

He also empowers us to back up what we believe and teach by means of authentic Christian living. I think one of the most important truths taught in verse 17 is not clear in English, because English does not have a separate 2nd person plural. To really understand it, you have to translate it to Southernese: “But y’all know him, because he lives with y’all now and later will be in y’all.” The truth about the Holy Spirit is not that he is God in me, but that he is God in us – all of us.

Incredible diversity in churches is God’s idea. The Holy Spirit speaks through a diverse lot of different people.

He comes into our lives and speaks to us from within our unique experiences. He is then free to use us in our uniqueness and diversity. That’s why it is a sin and a crime when churches set up false standards of commonness. When we all look alike and sound alike, we are telling people that if they want Jesus, they have to become like us. No way! Jesus didn’t die for you so that he could make you into someone else. He loved you, and he still does.


The Holy Spirit wants to be in us to use us to disciple us. By saying yes, we affirm the deity of the Holy Spirit. It is a theological statement, but it is also very practical. It frees me to be me, and you to be you, but insists that we both are loved by the same Father, and were saved by the same Son, and are empowered by the same Holy Spirit.

LORD, your Holy Spirit came into our lives the moment we put our faith in Christ. But, we confess, we have all failed to give him free reign in our lives to disciple us. We confess that we have been suspicious of the differences of some other believers, so we have kept them at a comfortable distance. Forgive us. Make us people who affirm the deity of the Holy Spirit by accepting his ministry within us, and through all of us. In Jesus name, Amen


This sermon was preached at Relevant Church in Williamsburg, Virginia, USA on Sunday, February 16th.

Jeff serves at Relevant as an elder.

new stuff and old stuff


Matthew 13:51-52

51 Jesus asked “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.”

52 And he said to them, “Because of this, every scribe who has been discipled for the kingdom from the sky is like a homeowner, who can take out of his treasure new stuff and old stuff.”

Unpacking the text

Picture Jesus with his twelve disciples. He had just been out in the open air, teaching them the familiar parables of the soils, the weeds, the mustard tree, and the yeasted loaf. They were probably outside so that Jesus could use nature itself as his visual aid. There were crowds all around them, and they heard the same words as the disciples did.

· But many of them did not understand. Jesus’ words were like seed sown along the path, that never penetrated into the soil, and was soon stolen away by the evil one.

· Some did understand, but they were not grounded in the faith. At the first sign of opposition or trouble, they were going to bail.

· Some were going to embrace his message, then get sidetracked with other desires or worries.

Next, Jesus and his disciples move inside for some further instructions. Jesus explains the parable of the weeds to them, and them only. In fact, this entire section (verses 36-52) is only found in Matthew’s Gospel. These parables and explanations are the insider information about the kingdom that Jesus preaches about. These few men were Jesus’ good soil, so he was going to spend his quality time on them.

· First, they ask Jesus to explain the part about the weeds. Jesus takes every single element of that story and explains its meaning for his disciples.

o Jesus himself is the farmer who broadcasts seeds. Now, it is important to remember which parable Jesus is explaining here. In the parable of the soils, the farmer is the evangelist. Jesus used the parable of the soils to explain to his disciples that as they proclaimed the gospel there would be different responses. In that parable, the seed is the word of God.

o But the parable of the weeds takes only one element of that parable and expands upon it. That one element is what Jesus calls “the good seed.” The good seed is the fruit bearing disciple. In verse 38 Jesus calls them the “children of the kingdom.”

o The field is the world. The world is going to contain true children of the kingdom and false children of the kingdom. We might be tempted to go back to the parable of the soils and try to teach ourselves how to discern who is the real deal and who is not. But Jesus does not tell us to do that. His point is that in the case of the weeds, we are not going to be able to tell. The field is going to be covered with crop, but only some of it is going to be genuine.

o The weeds are poisonous weeds that look just like wheat. Jesus calls these weeds “sons of the evil one.” The devil himself planted them in the field. They look like children of the kingdom, but their purpose is fulfilling Satan’s will, not God’s will.

o The only time that we will actually be able to truly discern who is genuine and who is not is at the harvest. That is when the angels will gather all “causes of sin” and “law-breakers.” and throw them into a fiery furnace. Jesus had already taught his disciples that God is able to destroy soul and body completely in a place called Gehenna at the end of the age. So, the disciples knew that the fiery furnace in this parable was the second death. Jesus said that in this place was going to be weeping and gnashing of teeth. You weep when you are sorrowful, and you gnash your teeth when you are angry. It is not hard to understand why both of those emotions will be felt by those who will be condemned on judgment day. I think Jesus is implying that a lot of people are going to be actually surprised that they did not make the cut.

o The final element of this parable is a picture of the true harvest, shining like the sun in the Father’s kingdom. After hell had destroyed all that is false, the true is what you have left. The good news of this gospel parable is that if you are the real deal, you are going to have eternal life.

· Next, Jesus tells two very similar stories. One is about a treasure hidden in a field. A guy finds it, and then sells all that he has to buy the field, knowing that the treasure will come along with it. The next is about a pearl of great value. A guy sells all that he has to buy that one object.

o Now, we are used to using these parables to talk about the cost of discipleship. After all, in another context, Jesus told these same disciples “any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”[1]

o I wonder if we are getting what Jesus meant to say here though. You see, the valuable thing that survives into the next age in the first parable is the good seed: the children of the kingdom: us! That’s something to think about.

· The final story Jesus tells in this setting is about a net that is cast into the sea, and it collects fish of every kind. The good fish are gathered up and put into containers, and the bad fish are thrown away. Jesus once again tells his disciples that this story is about the end of the age, when the righteous are preserved, but the evil are thrown into that same fiery furnace and destroyed.

· Verse 51 has the all important question: “Have you understood all these things?” Have we? Let me rephrase the question. Do we as believers understand how important we are to God? We are the children of his future kingdom – his kingdom coming from the sky. We are the good seed. We are the treasure hidden in a field. We are the pearl of great value. Jesus gave his life for us. We are not throwaways; we are keepers!

· Then, in verse 52, Jesus says “Because of this, every scribe who has been discipled for the kingdom from the sky is like a homeowner, who can take out of his treasure new stuff and old stuff.”

o Some scholars think that Jesus used the word scribe here because at that time it was an alternate term for disciple. That makes sense if you remember that Jesus was inside a house speaking to only his disciples at the time.

o So Jesus says that if a scribe can be discipled in the concepts of the kingdom, then it is like he has both antique valuables and shiny new stuff as well.

o Let’s think about that for a minute. How does that statement follow from what Jesus had just been teaching? I mean, there must be a connection. Jesus begins his statement with the words “because of this.” That means that everything he has just been teaching his disciples is the ground for the statement about disciples being homeowners with new stuff and old stuff. Does anyone else have a problem with this, or am I just dense?

o Maybe I don’t understand Jesus’ words so easily because I have never been a home owner. We have always rented, or had parsonages or mission houses. But I can understand the concept of home ownership. Also, if you went to my apartment today you could see some old stuff in it – some hand-me-downs from our parents and a lot more hand-me-ups from our children. We don’t have a lot of new stuff, but we do have some.

o What I’m trying to do is make the connection between the spiritual lessons Jesus was teaching in verses 36-50 and his statement in verse 52. The key must be the comparison between the old stuff and the new stuff. I’m thinking that the new stuff is the kingdom coming down from the sky stuff. The old stuff must be everything else – that is, all the good things that were part of their lives before they came to Christ. The old stuff is not good enough to save you, but it isn’t necessarily bad stuff.

o But what does that have to do with hell? You see, I am not forgetting that Jesus was teaching his disciples that there is going to be a harvest some day, and lots of people who think they are wheat are going to find out that they were weeds. The angels are going to collect them in bundles and burn them up. They think they are priceless treasure or good fish but some day they are going to find out that they have a furnace with their name on it. That is the essential message that Jesus is teaching, and it is true. But I’m trying to connect that truth to what Jesus says in verse 52, because at face value it seems like the punch line to a different joke.

o So, in verse 52, Jesus says “Because of this, every scribe who has been discipled for the kingdom from the sky is like a homeowner, who can take out of his treasure new stuff and old stuff.” Because of what? Because we are the new stuff. Because we are God’s plan for the next universe. Because we are precious, valuable, and important to the creator of all things. We are the real deal. There are a lot of people in this world who have a lot of things to offer. You can hang out with them, but be warned, all the stuff they have to offer is the old stuff. It’s not going to make it to the new life. It’s not going to make the cut. The old stuff is going to burn.

Summarizing the timeless Message

OK, I’ve unpacked the text, now it’s time to summarize all that into one statement that gets to the point. The timeless message is not about fields or farms or fish. It’s about people. This world we are living in is made up of two kinds of people. You probably have some of both kinds in your family; I have. You might have some Facebook friends in both categories; I do.

Jesus is not saying that one of these groups is made up of perfect people, and the other is made up of smelly, broken riffraff. That’s not how this salvation thing works. No, what Jesus is saying is that he has invested in the lives of his disciples something new: the gospel. Believers accept the gospel, and unbelievers reject the gospel. The gospel is taking root inside us, and changing us. That treasure is inside us, but it’s planted. Sometimes it does not show because it is hidden. But it is there.

At the end of this age, when Jesus returns, he is going to rescue those people that he planted. They are going to survive into the next age. The others are not. Today, we have some of the old world in us, and some of the new world. Sometimes, it is not even easy to tell which team we are on. But here is the big idea, so simple I have to apologize for saying it: GOD’S PEOPLE ARE IMPORTANT TO HIM!

We are the true wheat, so we are going to survive harvest. We are the treasure hidden in the field. We are the pearl of great value. We are the good fish. Hell is real, and it is going to destroy everything in this world that will not make it into the next. But we have the new stuff. Yes, we still have a bunch of the old stuff too, but that does not define us. God’s grace defines us. The Master of the harvest determines what crop gets saved. The owner of the boat determines which fish get kept.

Applying the Message today

I have been a Christian for over 40 years, and I have been preaching and teaching the Bible all that time. I am not saying that to brag, I am saying it to confess. If what I have been reading from this passage is true, then I have been misinterpreting it and misapplying it for a long time. You see, I still wake up sometimes at night wondering if my faith is real. I wonder if I am really the wheat or if I am some gluten free but poisonous genetically modified substitute. I wonder how I could be a treasure worth Christ dying for. I smell like bad fish. When I’m having thoughts like that, frankly, the reality of a coming day of judgment and hell as a fiery furnace – these are not encouraging thoughts to me.

But of the twelve disciples that Jesus was teaching that day, only one was a bad fish: Judas. Jesus was teaching the eleven that they were really important to him. They were not as mature as they wanted themselves to be. They knew they did not measure up to their own standards, much less those of the people they were trying to reach. But Jesus invited them to take a peek into their future. He was telling them that he was not going to give up on them. They were going to make it. They were going to make the cut.

So I can take some encouragement from these words, and so can you. Jesus is telling us that he started this, and he’s going to finish it. He planted his gospel of the coming kingdom in your heart, and he will suit you for that kingdom. He’s the one who caught you, and he’s going to keep you. He loved you enough to die for you. He’s not going to give up on you now.

If you are a Christian today, you are a homeowner, and you have a bunch of old stuff in your garage. But you also managed to pick up something else along the way. You have a relationship with God, bought by the blood of Christ – a relationship made possible by the grace of God. Not everybody has one of those. That’s the new stuff that you have, and on judgment day, it will make all the difference.

If you are not a Christian today, then all you have is the old stuff. It does not matter how new your stuff may seem; it is still the old stuff. All the old stuff is going to burn. Come to Jesus! He promises the gift of eternal life.


This sermon was preached at Fellowship Advent Christian Church, Taylorsville, NC, on Sunday, January 19th, 2014.

[1] Luke 14:33 .

a different mission


“So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”” Acts 1:6-8 ESV


I would not blame anyone for being a little distracted right now. There is a great deal going on globally, and things here in the United States seem a bit shaky. I would not be surprised if the history books list this as a crucial time, a time when major decisions were made with lasting effects.

I am going to ask you to go back with me in time to the first century AD, the time when the words of this text were first spoken. They were given in a time like this. They were spoken when powerful men made decisions that plunged the world into war, decisions that cost millions of lives, and brought pain and ruin to the lives of millions of others.

All of these words were spoken in Jerusalem, a city whose inhabitants were convinced that they would someday rule the world. The believers in Jesus got together and were sure that now was the time for them to take over. Jesus had demonstrated his power over everything. Even death could not stop him. Logic dictated that the believers form armies and overcome their oppressors. Jesus said no.

Jesus did not object to the theology behind his disciples’ question. He implied that some day his people would join him in a reign over all the earth. Jesus objected to the mission implied by their question. He commanded that they gear themselves up for a different mission.

That mission is still ours today. In fact, it is the only mission we have. Jesus’ great commission was essentially the same. We were commanded to make disciples of all nations, and this was to begin in Jerusalem. It was a mission that would be ours until the end of the age,[1] and we are not to stop until we have reached the last unreached place on earth.


The power behind our mission is the Holy Spirit himself. The believers at Pentecost were empowered by the Holy Spirit to reach Jerusalem for Christ. They were filled with the Holy Spirit and began telling the mighty works of God in different languages. Those who heard their words responded to the gospel as preached by Peter, and came to Christ themselves. Soon, the whole region was filled with the message. Then the Holy Spirit moves Philip to preach in Samaria, and Peter and John get in on the action, “preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans.”[2] Then The Holy Spirit sends Peter to Joppa, and sets aside Paul & Barnabas to preach the same message to other gentiles. So, the book of Acts records how the Holy Spirit began accomplishing the mission.

Wherever the Holy Spirit goes, holiness happens. He takes our ordinary lives and reboots them, restoring them to their originally intended function. Wherever the gospel goes, people are confronted with their own sinfulness, because they meet Christ. He does not demand that we change, he offers grace. But his grace changes us.


From that point on, life ceases to be about us, and what we are about. Life becomes about letting the world know that Jesus lives, who he is, and what he has done. That is what it means to be a his witness. A witness is someone who testifies of something that he has seen and experienced.

You cannot be Jesus’ witness until you actually experience him. Once you experience him, you cannot help being his witness. You may not do it well, but you already are his witness.


The scope of our mission is always global. No matter who you are, no matter what your gifts, no matter what your background, Jesus challenges you to have an impact on every nation on the planet.

We are living in a time when that is more possible than it ever has been. Although we travel every year, there is no way for Penny and I to visit even the seven Asia –Pacific countries whose ministries we oversee for the denomination. But we can still be regularly involved in the ministries of those countries because of this remarkable time we are living in. We keep in regular contact with church and mission leaders in 20 countries, as part of the Global Training Initiative. I write and post articles and devotions on the internet that are being read by people in over 90 countries.

You and your church are making a global impact when you pray for missionaries and national leaders. You are making a global impact when you give to missions. I applaud you for doing that. But I want to challenge you to go beyond that. There is no telling what you and your church could do if you caught on to what it means to be a world Christian today.

[1] Matthew 28:16.

[2] Acts 8:25.

bigger barns



Today’s message at Relevant Church in Williamsburg, Virginia



Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” 16 Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. 17 He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ 18 Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. 19 And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”‘ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ 21 “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.” (Luke 12:15-21 NLT).


I’m a fan of time travel stories, and often wander what it would be like to go back in time and see how people reacted to the words that Jesus said. I suspect that the reactions were not “oh, how wonderful!” or “my, how profound!” No, I suspect that Jesus made most normal people scratch their heads in confusion, and he made most “important” people bang their heads against the wall in anger.

Today’s text is a good example of this. Two things prompt Jesus to tell this little parable. First, he had warned his disciples (with thousands looking on and listening in) not to follow the example of the Pharisees, because they were hypocrites. They were acting like they had right relationships with God, but they were really serving self. Their outward religion was a cover for inward corruption. Jesus told his disciples to beware of their leaven. In other words, don’t touch a Pharisee with a ten foot pole. They are unclean. The odd thing about that is that the popular understanding that people had in Jesus day was that the Pharisees were spiritual supermen. They were the ones who got it right, and that was why they were rich. Jesus said, no, that’s not right. The “normal” people scratched their heads.

The Pharisees themselves were convinced that they were following the rules. They saw wealth as a blessing from God, given precisely because they had followed the rules. When John the Baptist – and then Jesus – opposed them, they got mad. “How dare these ‘prophets’ condemn us. Can’t they see that we are blessed by God? They must be demon possessed.” The “important” people got angry at Jesus.

The second thing that prompted Jesus to tell this particular little parable is a request that someone from the crowd gave him.

“Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.” (Luke 12:13 NLT).

Now, the Bible does not give us the details of that man’s issue. He may have had a legitimate legal grievance with his brother. Or, he may have been trying to get Jesus to intervene over his father’s wishes. Those details are not really important to Jesus right now. The point is, the man was trying to gain from his association with Jesus. So, Jesus asks “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” (Luke 12:14 NLT).

Jesus is not Santa Claus. We’re not going to get what we want just by sitting on his lap and spilling our Christmas list. That is not why he came to this earth. When we really start realizing this, a lot of stuff is going to be taken off our prayer lists.

OK, with that established, let’s look at today’s text:

Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” (15).

That statement is just as radical today as it was two millennia ago. Today the popular belief is that those who have the most stuff have the best life. The rich are idolized no matter what they believe, and no matter who they serve.

Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”(16-19).

This was the man’s 401K – his retirement plan. He said “I got some good stuff. I’m going to make bigger barns, so that I can hold all my stuff. Then I’m going to kick back, go to Barbados, and get some sand between my toes.” Well, that was the plan. But God knew something that the would-be retiree did not know:

But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ (20).

The man was rich, resourceful, productive, and successful. He had made a plan that would provide for his needs and (presumably) those of his family. He would have been praised by the popular culture of his day, and ours. But in just one moment – one last heartbeat – he was going to lose all that he had ever gained.

“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”(21)

This is the moral of the story. Jesus tells his disciples and the others who have ears to hear “don’t waste your life just collecting stuff. Bigger barns are not the answer.” So, what is the answer? The answer is “a rich relationship with God.” But how do we get that? Jesus told another parable that explained that:

“…the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it’ (Matthew 13:45-46 NLT).

The “pearl of great value” in Matthew 13 is that “rich relationship with God” of Luke 12. Once you discover that it exists, you also discover that it is going to take everything you have, and everything that you can ever get to obtain it. You then have a choice: you can be like the Pharisees, and just pretend to have it, but still keep building bigger barns for yourself. Or, you can invest in God. That’s a crude way of putting it, but it is what it is.

Big Idea: Invest in a rich relationship with God, instead of more stuff.

I started investing in my relationship with God when I was ten. I regret that I wasted ten years of my life on building useless barns. But, as long as you are alive, it’s not too late. What made the rich fool a fool was that he died before he got the chance to do what he was made for.

Here are a few investment tips:

1. Pay very close attention to what God says.

The Bible just happens to be God’s word. As such, we can find out what God wants, what he does not want, what he has planned – things like that. If you are serious about getting a rich relationship with God, start there.

For me, paying attention to what God says means spending regular quality time reading and studying the Bible. Some of you know that I write a devotional blog. I read a Bible passage every morning and comment on it. It was really hard at first, but now I cannot wait to do it every morning. Sometimes it is easy, and sometimes it is not. This has been the hardest year in the plan, because this year covers the prophets of the Old Testament. These guys often had to give voice to God’s heart when his heart was hurt by his people’s sin. As a result, there are a lot of negative confessions, and threats of judgment. No one is comfortable with this because it goes against our cardboard cutout of God. God is supposed to be a peaceful good shepherd, not a wrathful, vengeful destroyer. But the more I pay attention to his whole word, the more I realize that he is both.

2. Spend quality time in conversation with God.

I’m still working on this one. I don’t pray as often as I should, but I suspect that everyone who is honest says that. Prayer is hard to do because it is like talking to the school principal when you are in the 3rd grade, and have just been sent to his office.

The good news is God is like a grandfather when it comes to prayer. I love to hear Jeffrey and Elena and Simon and Quenton speak. Even when they have been bad, I love to see them and hear them.

Notice what Paul told the Philippians about prayer:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT)

Paul is talking about what happens when we pray. Prayer is a way of exchanging our worries for his peace. We may go into prayer like a third grader expecting punishment, but we can leave the throne with a smile from grandpa!

3. get involved with the church.

Jesus Christ has two bodies. He has a body in heaven at God’s throne, and a body on earth: the church.

There are three foundational commands in scripture: Love the LORD, love your neighbor as yourself, and make disciples. In the church and as the church, we can obey all three of those commands.

As the church, we are gathered together for the purpose of intentional investment in God and his kingdom. A rich relationship with God includes fellowship with each other, and ministry to one another. John said: “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 John 3:16). Investing in God implies investing in our fellow believers too.


When we come to the communion, we celebrate Jesus’ willingness to give up his bigger barns in heaven and to invest in us. That investment cost him his life. As we take these emblems, we can celebrate and be thankful that he cared enough to invest his life in us. We can also remember his challenge for us to invest in a rich relationship with God.