Living Generously
Caleb Campbell

“Living Generously” — sermon by Caleb Campbell

Desert Springs Bible Church, August 29, 2021

I am so thankful to our Worship and Arts team for the work that they put in each week.  Right now, our Worship and Arts Pastor Danny is on sabbatical, and many of the team members have stepped up over the last few weeks to lead us.  They practice during the week.  They do a bunch of planning and prayer, just to be able to lead us in worship.  Can we say thank you, too?

So, we’re in the middle of a series called Groundwork, in which we’re looking at some of the core values of our church family and exploring the texts that those are derived from.  On your way in, and you should have received a handout that looks like this.  If you do not have a handout, just raise up your hands, throw them up in the air, and wave them around like you just don’t care. Then one of our hosts will get that handout to you.  One of the reasons why we are printing it out each week for y’all is so you can mark it up and make notes.  You can see that I actually did all my sermon prep on this one, and so I’m going to preach from that, as well as a couple other notes.

Our hope is that for those of you who are part of the DSBC family is that you would have a deeper understanding of how it is that we’re wired and where that comes from — where our core values come from.  Today, we’re going to be in Ephesians Chapter 4 verses one through six.  For those of you who are watching online, we have our digital version of our study guide available.  If you go to DSBC dot church, on the front page of the website you’ll see a Groundwork link.  There’s a button you can press there to find all five of our study guides.

Today we’re on the third one, and we are looking at the one with the heart on it.  It reads as follows: “As a church family, we seek to live generously, using our time, skills and resources to bless and serve our community and to live as the hands and feet of Jesus.”  Now for many of us, when we hear the word generosity, we in kind of instinctively think that we’re talking about what?  Money.  And I think that’s a symptom of the fact that we are drenched in an individualistic, consumer-based, capitalistic culture.  When we hear generosity, we immediately just go to money.  In fact, for many of us are clenching up right now, because we’re afraid that all the pastor wants is our … And that’s true.  That’s very true.  I want your money.  I want it so bad I can taste it.  I’m not at all adverse to accepting your money.

Now, here’s one of the beautiful things about Desert Springs and the way that Jesus has wired this church.  We have a leadership team.  We have a board of directors and a Council of servant leaders who oversee me and make sure that I don’t use this stage or my position to manipulate people or guilt people into giving me their money.  Because there’s a highly likelihood that I would probably fall into that, because I really do think I would spend your money better than you do.

What we’re going to do today is we’re actually we’re not going to talk about generosity as it’s expressed through the giving of financial resources, primarily.  What we’re going to look at is something more that’s actually more global, as we think about generosity and also something that ends up coming up more in Scripture — at least in my reading.

Let’s see if we can put on our global Christian hats as we read through this text and even think through what this might look like in our day-to-day lives.  Before I read the text, I want to ask you a question that was posed to me at a a global leadership summit, which is a leadership-development summit that some of our team participated in with just a few weeks ago.  Albert Tate, who’s a pastor and author, asked this question, and it shook me to the core:  What if 2020 was the lesson, and now is the test?

What if 2020 and all of its trappings — all of the chaos, all of the difficulty, all of the gnarly stuff that we’ve frankly continued to go through to this day — what if all of that is the lesson, not the test?  See, for many of us, we look at these massive shifts in culture, … we look at these massive events that have happened and we say, “This is difficulty.  This is a trial.  This is a tribulation.  This is a test.”  But what if God used the last season not as the test, but what if it was the lesson, and the test is yet to come?  What if how we choose to live now is actually the test?

This is something I’ve been thinking about since that time — and I think it ties to our text today because the text that we’re going to read through today in Ephesians Chapter 4 talks about our lives and how we’re choosing to live our day-to-day lives as it relates to living generously.  And I believe that in this text, we will find that living generously mirrors God.  That generosity is an expression of grace, and that generosity grows us.

We’re going to go through this quickly because, for those who can see in the room here, we have our campuses set up a little bit differently today.  Because after my remarks, we’re actually going to break out.  There are tables all around in our worship center and in our lobby that represent some of the different ministries here at DSBC.  Some of our ministry team members will be staffing those tables after this, and they are ready to provide you with information on the different ministry opportunities that are here.  There’s also information on ministry opportunities that exist outside of our church family with some of our partner ministries that will be in the lobby.  I’ll give you some more instruction on that as we move forward.  For those of you who are joining us online, you can simply click on the “Serve” button at the top of the online platform, and there’s information on many of the different teams that are available to serve on here — some of which are in person, and some of which are available to you to do from your home online, as well.

So, Ephesians 4 verses one through 16.  I’m going to go through the verses, and we’re just going to notice some different things about the text.  Then we will take it home to see how this might be used of God to shape us, even today.  In this moment, Ephesians 4 one through 16:

“Therefore, I, the prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received

*** Time out.  What’s the verb he’s urging? What’s the word?  Walk.  So, right off the bat, we see that to follow Jesus, to follow the Jesus way, requires action.  It requires walking.  It’s not just something that we ponder.  It’s not just something that we pray over.   It’s also something that we put into practice with our walk.  We’re going to walk the way worthy of the calling that you have received.  ***

Let’s move on to Verse 2: “With all humility, gentleness with patience, bearing with one another, making every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace … ***

*** Time out.  If you’ve been with us for the last couple of weeks, this may start sounding really familiar to you — this call to unity, to be long-suffering with one another, to be gracious with one another.  In fact, a couple weeks ago we had a table up here with a bunch of hats on it, and we talked about how we’re a bunch of misfits from all different backgrounds and walks of life and perspectives who are bound together by the love and grace of God made known to us through Jesus.  Last week, we talked about how the job of the leadership here is not to indoctrinate you and to convince you to just say whatever we think you should say.  Our role is to equip you, by the power of the Spirit, to discern how the Spirit of God is convicting you, based on your understanding as we read collectively as a church family.  Then when we think about putting that into practice, which is what we’re doing today, we recognize that as we practice our faith, as we walk our faith, as we walk our faith with a bunch of people who are different than us, we may bump into each other over time.  Any of this happen to y’all?  Which is why you see these consistent calls for unity – the unity of the spirit, verse three, and the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.***

Verses four through six: “There is one body, one spirit, just as you were called to one hope at your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is above all who is through all and in all.”  Did you catch the one language just over and over and over again?  There’s this really interesting thing that Jesus prayed for His church.  He prayed that we would be as one, just as the Triune God is one.

Now check this out in verse 7: “Now Grace was given … ***

*** Time out.  What was given?  Grace.  Now for many of us, that word has become kind of oddly religious.  It’s got all these religious overtones, but for the original author, whose name was Paul, the original language is caring.  Grace is just a gift.   It’s the gift of God. The gift was given to us, so when we think about grace, we recognize that it’s a gift from God.  ***

“Now the gift was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”  So let me ask you this question.  Is God a gracious gift giver?  OK, good, you’re following this.  So, when so generosity mirrors God’s character — when we’re generous to each other, when we give gifts to each other — it is mirroring the character and the actions of God.  You all with me so far?  To give gifts — and I don’t just mean like presents, I mean to give generously of our time, our energy, our resources — is to mirror the character of God.

Verse 7-8:  “For now Grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  Therefore, it says, ‘When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to His people.’”

It says, “when He ascended on high.”  Now this sounds weird.  When He ascended on high, He took the captive and gave gifts to His people.  Now two things.  Doesn’t that sound weird?  Yeah, that sounds weird.  OK, here’s what’s going on.  Do you know when you’re at the club — I’ve seen you guys at the club, right? — You guys know when you’re at the club, and DJ Funky Fresh has some sweet beats — “bootcha, bootcha.”  (Rhythmic sounds) You guys with me?  OK, so maybe I’m not connecting.

OK, so when you’re at the club — actually you guys should all go to the club for little Biblical study — so you’re at the club, DJ Funky Fresh is up there, and then every now and again they’ll just have kind of like some, you, know “bootcha, bootcha bootcha.” (Musical beats).  And then they will play a clip from a song that’s popular to what the DJ thinks everyone in the room is gonna remember or recognize, right?   And those of us who like good music are gonna think, “I know what that is.”  Did they play the whole Aerosmith song?  No, the DJ just sampled the Aerosmith song in order to queue up into your mind the entirety of Aerosmith catalog.  And you’re doing all this in a brief amount of time with just a few words.

Now notice what the author does — the author, DJ Funky Fresh Paul, is going to sample or bring in lyrics from Psalm 68 and his intention, I believe, is to bring in the full weight of that psalm, which is speaking to the generosity and the power of God.  You guys with me so far?

OK, so a lot of times when you read your Bible — which you should do a lot, and definitely with a bunch of people who are not like you so you can argue about it and actually find maturity.  When you do that, you will notice that the New Testament authors are always doing this.  They’re doing it more than DJ Funky Fresh down at the club.  All the time, they’re pulling in previous Scripture — which is why I think you should read the entire Bible all the time, 1000 times and argue about it until you’re dead so that you can be wise, OK?

Where are we?  Verse nine, OK.  Now, this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that “He also descended to the lower parts of the Earth?”  Is that weird?  Yeah, I think it’s weird. Verse 10, “He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above the heavens, so that He might fill all things.” 

I think what the author is doing here, I think the author is just riffing on and giving you kind of an illustrated version of the death, the incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus — that Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, God the Son, took on flesh and descended and even descended into the grave, and then did what on Easter?  Ascended.

Do you see what the author is doing here?  He’s kind of giving you a visual illustration of what Jesus did.  We’re going to talk about the good gifts of God and how God has given even himself, that he’s descended and then ascended because he’s powerful, which ties to Psalm 68.

Verse 11:  “And He himself gave …” Here’s that giving language again.  “He himself gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.  So, these are different roles, at least in the author’s view. These are different roles within a local church or a local church community within a local city or region.  And He says God gives these people — He gives them as gifts to each other.  So, I would just want to press pause here.

If you’re part of DSBC, you’re a gift of God to the other people here. I know this will sound weird, but we’ll get over it.   We are not passive participants.  This is not a consumeristic enterprise, right?  I’m not a performer and in you the audience.  We’re gifts given to each other.  Have you ever recognized the fact that God has given the other people a part of your church family as a gift to you?  Let me let me lean in on it, especially the ones who frustrate you.  That’s a gift.

Let’s keep going.  It got really quiet.  Why did God give as a gift these different leaders?  Look at verse 12: “ … to equip the saints for the work of service, to building up of the body of Christ.”  Equip for what?  The work of ministry, the work of service, right?  Notice again the physical language.  We’re going to walk according to our calling.  The work of the ministry. We’re going to work and serve.  God gave these leaders to equip the saints, verse 12, for the work of ministry — to build up the body of Christ until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ.

Fullness …. *** OK, press pause.  Number one, living generously mirrors the character of God.  Two, generosity is an expression of God’s grace.  We are group.  We are gifts to each other.  Third, living generously grows us.  ***

Now, I get the question a lot in my field — this may sound like a surprise to you, but sometimes maybe once or twice I wrestle with pride and arrogance.  Thank you, Jeff, for being shocked.  I appreciate your feigning surprise, and unfortunately, I think a lot of people in my position do, too.  That’s not a slam on them.  It just kind of goes with the territory.  One of my greatest temptations in my vocation is to view butts-on-seats as the marker to my health and validity.  To put it another way, if the crowd is big, I feel big.  If the crowd is small, how do I feel?  Small.  Does that sound like Jesus to you?  It doesn’t sound like Jesus to me, either, which is why I’m continually in a place of repentance for that.

When I hear language about growing the church, my default temptation is to think that’s right.  “How do we get more butts-on-seats, so I can build my brand?”  Do you think that’s what the apostle Paul has in mind when He writes to the Ephesian church and talks about church growth?  No, I think that’s American consumerism that has infected the local church, and we’re doing as much as we can– I’m trying to do as much as I can — to submit to other leaders to make sure that we don’t become that.  When the apostle is talking about the growth of the church, notice the metric.  It’s not butts-on-seats, it’s not budgets, right?  The health of the church is not in the amount of people who are in the room.  Notice what the marker of a healthy church is.  I’m going to read it again.  See if you can discern it.

Verse 12 … “to equip the saints for the work of ministry to build up the body of Christ until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.”  What is the mark of a healthy church?  There are two of them.  Did you see?  Unity and looking like Jesus.

I’m going to do it one more time.  In the American consumeristic, individualistic culture, we can often assume that bigger is always better.  That is not the marker of a healthy church, according to my understanding of what Paul is writing here.  The leadership is to equip the saints for the work of ministry.  So you’ve got a church that’s serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach unity in the faith until — let’s go — until Democrats and Republicans can be a part of a church family without it being a big deal.  When we can sit across from the table from one another and not view each other with suspicion.  Then we discover that those political leanings are actually so down the line in terms of importance to the things that we find ourselves doing and caring about that.  It’s not just a joke.

Are we there yet?  I read your Facebook pages.  That sounded like I’m Santa Claus, right?  Like I see you when you’re sleeping, and I know when you’re awake. Church family, if there was ever a time that our community needs to see the reconciling, peacemaking, unifying work of the Gospel across everything that divides us, it’s right now.  I hear a lot of people talk about spreading the good news, but if we’re not living the good news, our words will fall on deaf ears, as hypocrisy always undermines the spreading of the Gospel.  So, unity … look at verse 13. We all “reach unity of the faith and in the knowledge of God the Son to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” 

The second marker of a healthy church growing into maturity is a stature measured by what?  What does the end of verse 13 say?  What is the mark of maturity?  I hear people say, “I’m a mature Christian,” and I just I want to say OK, what’s your marker for maturity?  If I read Ephesians 4, I don’t know that I ever want to use the phrase “I am a mature Christian.”  Because if I’m understanding Ephesians 4 correctly, the measure of maturity that I’m aiming for is to be like Jesus.  And Lord knows, I ain’t there yet.  When do we stop growing?  When do we stop repenting?  When do we stop asking?

“The Lord searched me and knows me …See if there be any offensive way in me and lead me to the path of life.”  When do we stop doing that?  So, our aim to grow together through service and unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  Our goal is to grow up and to be more like Jesus.  Here is the effect of this.  See if this sounds like 2022.  You remember 2020 may not have been the test; it may be the lesson.  And the test is now verse 14 … “Then we will be no longer be little children, tossed by the waves.”

Over the last year, have you ever had an experience that made you feel like a little kid in a boat in a storm?  And as we mature, as we serve, as we seek and strive and fight for unity, and put the gifts that God has given us into practice, we become more like Jesus.  We become less like a kid on a boat in a storm, tossed around and knocked around by everything that’s upsetting and frustrating and confusing and offensive.

“ … By every wind of by human cunningness, with cleverness and the techniques of deceit,” Verse 15, “speaking the truth in love.”  Maybe it doesn’t quite translate into English, but another way to do this is called “truthing” — to be about the truth.  “Living it, let us grow into every way into Him Who is the head into Christ from Him the whole body fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building itself up in love …” The proper what? How do we collectively grow up as an interwoven community?  How do we grow up into the image and likeness of Jesus?

What’s the last line say?  As each of us do what in love? “In love by the proper working of each individual part.”  If you’re a part the Desert Springs church family, according to this text, I would argue that you are a gift of God to this church family, just as the other people here are a gift to you.  And through the proper working of your gifts, skills, talents and resources — and the generous living out of those gift skills, talents and resources to the ministry — which is another word to say service to others – not only will they receive a gift that God has for them through you, but also, as you serve, there’s a new gift waiting for you.  The more we give, the more we receive.  This is the metric of the Kingdom of God.

“He who finds his life loses it, “Jesus said.  “But they who lose their life for my sake will find it.”  It’s the upside-down nature of the Kingdom of God — the more that we give our time, our energy, our talents and our resources in the service of others — the more gifts that we receive.  This is at work constantly in and through our church family.

I’m going to land the plane here with just a few encouragements, and then I’ll give you final instructions.  There was a person who met Jesus at this church who didn’t know much about the Bible.  He said, “I don’t know much about the Bible.  I kind of, you know, learned at a kid’s level.  Can I volunteer to teach kids the Bible?  We said, “Yeah, that sounds great.”  So, he would learn the Bible on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday and then on Sunday teach what He had learned to a first and second graders.  He said, “This is great for me because I get to learn it in a way that comes alive for me.”  His faith rapidly increased exponentially more than the gift that He was giving from these first and second graders.

There’s another person who I was talking to years ago, and He said, “You know, my faith is dry.  To put it another way, He said, “You know, following Jesus is boring.”  My question was, “Well, are you using your gifts to serve other people?”  His reply was, “Not really.”  And my encouragement this time was, “Put your faith into practice.  Walk the walk, get out and serve.  Use your gifts to serve and just see if you don’t see sparks starting to fly.”  And sure enough, they found that it was when that they were putting what they had received in here, when they started putting it into practice as the hands and feet of Jesus, their faith started coming alive.  It’s not only a gift to others; it’s also a gift to us.

There’s a person I know who wasn’t sure about what they thought about Jesus but liked our church family, and this is actually a corollary to my own story, and it was through serving and being in proximity to other Jesus followers who were serving that He actually found a faith in Jesus.  You see, there’s always a gift for us when we serve.

Still others of us — I know our student ministries, many of whom are in the house today.  Did you do you guys have a good night?  You know that they’re tired?  And I’m gonna tell you why you’re tired.  You guys were here till midnight cleaning up last night, right?  Yeah, so our student ministries hosted an enormous back-to-school event, and we had hundreds of kids on the campus.  I was standing there with one of the leaders, the adult leaders, the coaches who are just regaling me with story after story of how they have seen God at work in the lives of these students.  And it’s made their faith come alive.

When we give, there’s always a gift for us to receive, and here’s one of the sweetest ones.  There’s a woman who’s connected to our congregation who is in her 80s, and she’s not able to get out as much and isn’t able to spend time with kids or students or the production team or the hospitality team.  But she does love to pray for people, and so she’s committed to praying over people and then writing prayer cards of encouragement.  From her own kitchen table, she is sending those to people who have asked for prayer.  And it’s been such a crucial ministry.

And there are so many other ways that we get to see God at work.  There’ was a lady named Gail here in the first service.  In 2016 or 2015, we did a sermon series that addressed physical assault, sexual assault and abuse.  One of the things we were praying about at the time was that we didn’t have a ministry connected to our church family that helped people find healing.  We said, “We don’t just want to do a sermon.  We want to have communities to come around and to serve.”  And so, we just started praying, “Lord help this to happen.  We don’t know what to do.”   Gail felt a call in her heart.  She filled out a connection card and just said, “Hey, I think God is telling me that we should start a Mending the Soul group here at Desert Springs, and that’s how Mending the Soul at Desert Springs got started.  And since that time there have been many within our church, family and community who have gone through that program and found healing in Jesus.

The reason I say that is because oftentimes, almost all the time, the best ideas come from the pew, not the pulpit.  And all my staff members said Amen.  Thank you, yes.  So, here’s what we’re going to do.  We’re going to break here in just a moment.  For those of you who are already serving, I’m going to ask that you would spend time walking to each of the stations and just praying a prayer of blessing over those stations.  And if you have a word of encouragement to give to the ministry-team members who are there, I’d encourage you to encourage them.  Remember, God gives us as gifts to each other, and whenever we give, there’s always a gift waiting for us.  And for those of you who maybe even been praying through, maybe even in this last season — “Lord, what have You prepared me for?  You’ve wired me.  You’ve called me.  Where are you calling me to, Sir?” — maybe there’s a ministry that’s the Lord’s going to direct you to.  Or maybe you just need to visit all the different stations.  I’d encourage you to do that.  Our ministry team members will be available at the tables.  The Worship and Arts Ministry, by the way, will be up here on the stage after I vacate their premises.  There’s a bunch in the lobby as well, and so make sure to visit those.  If the Lord is calling you, fill out that connection card and give it to them.  Or you can ask questions.  You can come visit and shadow.

We also know that there’s a ton of great ministries in the Valley in our area to serve with.  We have some partner ministries available.  There’s a table in the lobby where you can grab that information to serve alongside ministries that are outside of our organization.  There’s also a table called The Ministry That Doesn’t Exist Yet.  And it may well be that God has laid on your heart a gift to this church family, a ministry that doesn’t exist yet.  And so if you would just prayerfully write that out with just left index cards there, make sure you put your contact information and drop that in there.  We are we’re going to commit to praying over that and reaching out and having a conversation.  Because, again, a lot of the best ideas come from the pews and not the pulpit.

And then for some of us who are still trying to figure this all out, in the lobby there’s a “What Happens When” table or booth.  It’s got some information on what happens when you serve, and what happens when you give.  I’d encourage you just to take one of those booklets.  Otherwise, the different ministries are labeled by the signs that you’ll see available.  For those of you who are joining us online, if you just click that Serve button at the top of the online platform, or just visit our website at DSBC dot church at the bottom of our website, there is a communications form.  We’d love to help you take whatever next step you are moved to.  We also have some opportunities to serve from your own home digitally, as well as doing things like writing out prayer notes.

So, I’m going to pray for us, church family.  I need you to hear me on this.  We do not recruit volunteers.  In fact, that word is a curse word in our office.  Because a volunteer — I get that the word is common language, and that’s fine — but a volunteer sets up this power dynamic, where there’s staff and volunteers.  That’s not what we’re doing here.  According to this text, it tells me that the leaders who have been gifted to the local church, their job is to equip, empower, and deploy all of the Jesus followers in that congregation to be the ministers to one another, to this community, to those around the world.  That’s our role.  So, we don’t have volunteers.  We have ministry team members.

I know that that sounds kind of funny but let me tell you something.  That power dynamic wrapped up in volunteerism is not connected to what we find in Scripture.  The ownership for this church family and the Mission of God in and through Desert Springs does not reside in the staff.  It’s in us.  It’s the body together, woven together, lifting each other up in love, and together growing into Christlikeness. So, I want to encourage you — for your own maturity and because of the gifts that you will bring other people within this church, family and within this community — would you prayerfully consider how it is that God is calling you to step in?

So let me pray for us.  Lord Jesus, we love You, and we give You thanks for the many ways You provide for us and bless us.  And as we think on and consider how it is that you might be calling us to love and serve one another in this community, would you show us clearly, even today, what direction on that path that we might walk Your way faithfully?  We love you, Lord.  It’s in Your name we pray.  Amen, Amen. ###