Read 1 Corinthians 3
What a picture of uniformity and precision execution they are. Now all armed services learn to march in their respective boot camps. This is a throwback to the days when ground combat involved tight formations and firing in ranks.
Today it is a tool to help instill discipline and teach obedience to orders. Some services emphasize close order drill more than others. The Air Force has many fine qualities but their close order drill is closer to herding geese than it is precision marching and rifle handling.
But if you have ever seen the Silent Drill Team in action then you have seen uniformity and precision. These Marines move with no commands, always in step, spinning and throwing rifles with bayonets affixed. There is always one part of their performance when two ranks face each other with rifles shouldered—bayonets still affixed—and the rifles are spun from one Marine on one side to his counterpart on the other, both executing at the same time. This is done in sequence as the platoon commander walks between the Marines with spinning rifles inches before each step he takes.
If you appreciate things such as uniformity, precision, trust, discipline, and dedication; then this is something to put on your bucket list.
Now I want to take you to another group of Marines. This is a battalion going through cold weather training. They train for operations in the Arctic or in mountainous areas with considerable snowfall.
There are various pieces of cold weather equipment issued each Marine. From thermal underwear to snow camouflaged outer garments. There are wool watch caps, gloves with liners, and even cold weather mittens. There are a variety of other pieces of clothing that can be added for layering to retain heat or stuffed in the pack if the unit is going to be on the move.
How does the unit commander tell everyone what to wear?
He doesn’t. He gives them the mission and Marines get dressed accordingly. Those engaging in cold weather training for the first time are guided by the veterans, but it is the individual Marine who must dress so as not to freeze, but not to overheat.
Early in the cycle of a unit undergoing arctic training the most common casualty is from overheating. Marines have to learn how much heat their bodies will create in different conditions and how little clothing to wear.
The wiser Marines know to bring a pair of gym shorts to cold weather training. Many a time Marines will have on only a tee shirt and shorts underneath their white outer camouflage if they will be skiing or snowshoeing for a few hours. If they stop, they add a layer.
All of that said to make one single point. If you were to encounter a group of such Marines, you might mistake them for a group of people that got kicked out of a homeless shelter.
For with so many different possible uniform combinations, seldom do any two Marines look alike.
With just 11 different uniform items there are almost 40 million different combinations. Those of you who are mathematicians and worked this out in your head realized that I rounded up. The factorial of 11 is only 39,916,800.
As some of these items are identical, such as socks, the number in reality may only be 20 million. And some of these combinations don’t work well, such as gloves. You can use the right glove on the left hand if you turn it palm outwards, but that is generally not the preferred method.
All of this considered, there might only be 5 million possible uniform combinations for Marines training in extreme cold weather conditions.
While the fashion police might have a heart attack; these are Marines through and through. They look like a bunch of vagabonds but if you are camped out on a piece of ground that they have been ordered to take; you had better just move on before they get there.
These Marines have as much disciple and dedication as those in dress blue uniform executing precisions drill movements in front of thousands.
For the moment, put those two images aside.
Now consider some titles or ecclesiastical nomenclature with which you are probably familiar.
First Baptist Church.
Southern Baptist Church.
Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America.
Assembly of God Church.
Church of Christ.
First Christian Church.
Disciples of Christ.
Roman Catholic Church.
Mars Hill Church.
Westboro Baptist Church
And the list just keeps on going…
So consider this typical conversation.
But I am just looking for a Christian church! I just want a church that follows Jesus. I want a church that believes the things that Jesus told us to believe in.
Then there is only one church that fits that bill.
The church. Those who proclaim Jesus as Lord and follow him are the church. The denomination doesn’t matter so much as does the faith and discipleship of the believer.
So in reality our faith and discipleship is just an individual thing. We don’t need to attend church?
Attending church is sort of an oxymoron or it is at least a little redundant or perhaps just loquacious. We are the church. To say that we attend the church is to say that we attend ourselves.
You know what I mean. Everyone says “go to church.”
We are called to gather together. In fact we are admonished not to stop doing this. Another word for gathering is congregate.
Like in congregation?
But which congregation or which denomination for that matter is doing things the right way? I don’t want to pick the wrong one.
That’s our human nature kicking in. We think that if there is more than one way to follow Jesus, one of them must be better than the other.
So, they are all the same?
That’s not what I said.
So there is a taxonomy of denominations—a hierarchy if you will, with our own—of course—being at the top.
That’s not what I said.
Well just what is it that you are trying to say?
There is one foundation but different builders.
Like Paul who planted and Apollos who watered.
Or Timothy or even Titus who remained behind to shepherd a newly formed flock.
Yes, each different but building upon the same foundation.
Perhaps there are others?
Even among us today.
Like one who serves by singing?
And one who plants by preaching?
And one who builds by baking?
Or cleaning, or reading, or raising their hands in worship, or sitting on their hands in worship, or so many other things that we do differently?
Yes, yes, yes, yes, and many other yeses.
Maybe we build upon this foundation by having messages in drama?
Or having the youth participate in so many different parts of worship.
You know what would be cool?
If the message could be delivered in dialogue.
Instead of just having to listen to the preacher time and time again.
We must remember that we are called to work out our own salvation. That is, the foundation is provided and we have an architects’ license and a builder’s permit to take our gifts and talents and be creative.
That license takes us well beyond the sanctuary and the church building.
Sometimes when we build upon the foundation of Christ, we will look like that platoon of Marines drilling in perfect precision.
At other times we will look like those Marines in cold weather training—homeless hobos with packs and rifles.
But we have the same foundation and we are building upon it.
Previously, I discussed what we built holding up when it was tested by fire. That day will come, but for now let us consider our building efforts that are underway right now.
Sometimes our building stops because somebody else has a different idea.
Sometimes our building stops because we are so focused on discrediting the way others are following Jesus that we stop our own journey right where it is.
But while we may need to be aware of what is going on around us, our focus must be on following Jesus and building upon the foundation of salvation that we know in him.
And what we do may be different than what other Christians do. Take a room full of Christians and see if you can find two who have the exact same view of these timely topic areas.
Same sex marriage.
Sex before marriage.
And perhaps the most controversial issue in America that is now beginning its 5th decade: The designated hitter rule in baseball.
Sometimes we think that because I am following Jesus, everyone else should be following him the same way, believing the same things, liking and disliking the same things that I do.
But that’s not quite the case.
That last list wasn’t fair. Those are all controversial topics in many circles with a dozen rabbit trails each.
OK. Let’s just get down to church stuff.
How we baptize.
Dedication of babies.
Professions of faith.
Confessions of Faith.
Speaking in tongues.
Use of musical instruments.
Use of recorded music.
Putting words on the wall.
Appropriate church attire.
Partaking of the Lord’s Supper.
The timing of the rapture.
Using words such as rapture that are not in the Bible.
How can we be so different yet be building upon the same foundation of Christ?
I challenge you to look at the world around you. Trees don’t grow up equidistant from each other. They come up where their seed took root and strive to obtain sunlight from above and nutrients from the soil; yet at a glance we see a beautiful forest.
To examine this part of nature more closely, we might think we see chaos—existence without order.
Look at the sides of the road as you drive through Oklahoma. There are some berms that just appear to be that good old red clay that we have so much of in this state. But it doesn’t stay that way.
Cactus, yucca, Indian Blanket flowers, and other vegetation take root and grow the best that they can. Other wildflowers are interspersed where they can take hold and get a little sunshine. Some are flowers and some are vines of gourds, but they all grow upon a common foundation and produce according to their kind.
I always enjoy the drive to Branson, Missouri. The highways are cut through rock and of course there are the “Watch for falling rocks” signs here and there. I always thought those were ridiculous signs.
What exactly am I supposed to do? Watch as the rock lands on top of my vehicle.
How about a sign that says, “Drive like your life depended on. Put the pedal to the metal until you get to safety.”
That would make more sense. But if I drove that way I would miss some spectacular sights.
Perched high above me, proceeding out of a solid rock face, is a single tree. It is not just a little sapling that sprouted and will soon die from lack of nutrients.
It is a good sized tree, maybe 12 or 15 feet in height. It doesn’t compare to those growing in the richer bottom land, but it has done very well considering where it has taken root.
Am I to compare this tree to all other trees?
What is this need within us to compare one thing to another?
It is the wisdom of the world and God has made such wisdom foolishness. It is better to be a fool for Christ that the wisest man in the world without him.
We grow where we are planted, and wherever that may be geographically, we know that as far as our relationship with God goes, it is upon the foundation of Jesus Christ.
Let no one boast in men.
Let us not boast in our congregations.
Let us not boast in our denominations.
Let us not boast in our affiliations.
All of our boasting is in Christ alone.
What we build upon this marvelous foundation of life in Christ Jesus is for the glory of God.
So let us set aside the guidebook of the world that judges one man over another.
Let go of placing value on the people with the most money or the most celebrity.
Be free of the heart that covets what another person has.
Let us set our sights on following Jesus as the person God made us to be. We are different from each other but we build upon the same foundation.
At times we will walk step by step with each other.
At other times it may seem we have entirely different blueprints.
But if we are living out our salvation to bring glory to God, we must not compare our building efforts to those of another.
Schools have grades for knowledge and awards for perfect attendance.
Businesses award bonuses based upon performance and production.
Sports teams compete and there can be only one number one.
But in Christ, we all build upon a common foundation and only our Master will judge what we have done.
The wisdom of the world says we must count and measure.
The wisdom of the world says we must compare and compete.
God’s wisdom says to run your race with your eyes fixed on Jesus.
God says to grow where you are planted until he sends you somewhere else.
Who are we to judge another person who follows Jesus?
That does not mean that we become content and complacent in who we are, for we are growing in faith and in grace and our heart is being shaped in the image of God.
We are running a race of faith, never coming to a complete stop.
We are moving forward with our eyes fixed on Jesus.
And when we judge others who follow Christ for doing things differently, we have taken our eyes off of the goal set for us and we will stumble and fall.
Does this mean it is an anything goes world?
And sometimes we are called to bring a brother or sister back home when they have departed from the faith. These are difficult decisions and should be made only with prayer and the consultation of the Body of Christ.
But most of the time, we are called to run our race of faith carrying our own load, helping others carry things too heavy to bear alone, and always keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.
For everyone else who is still in the race and has not fallen by the wayside, their pace and intensity and profitability is between them and their Master.
Previously, I discussed seven things that we could all do to build upon our foundation of Jesus Christ. We all build upon a common foundation. They are:
1. Make disciples—bring people home
2. Tithe—equip the church for its work in the world
3. Bring up our children with Christ as their foundation
4. Live within our means
5. Feed the hungry
6. Live as a forgiven people
7. Love those who do not love us
Hopefully some other ways came to mind, but these are seven areas where we can all build right now; however, our building efforts may not all be at the same pace.
And it is not for any of us to judge the building efforts of another believer. If they have lost their way, that’s another matter, but if they have just slowed down to catch their breath, that is between the believer and Christ alone.
The same holds true for the one who lengthens their stride or in the context of building, lays more and more bricks each day.
As the church goes into the world, we meet people where they are. Let us remember what the church is—who we are.
The church is called out of the world to be set apart from the world to go back into the world with the gospel and to be God’s light and love in the world.
We meet people where they are but we are not content to leave them there. Most of the people that we talk with have heard of Jesus Christ but have never been discipled.
For most of the people we talk with the good news is not new news. They have heard it and some even responded with a profession of faith, but they have never built upon their foundation.
What are we to do? What are we who are trying to build upon this foundation of salvation with gifts and talents we have been given to do as we go into today’s world?
Help people move towards Jesus, not by judging their lifestyle but by encouraging them to find a better way.
And when they take a single step, we congratulate.
When they take another we celebrate.
And when they take another we integrate them into the Body of Christ permitting them to move at their own pace being judged by God alone.
And it is ok if we look like a bunch of vagabonds covered in snow instead of a precision drill team, so long as each of us continues to build upon the foundation of Christ Jesus.
We are not governed by the wisdom of the world but by our desire to please our Master, even and especially when the world calls what we do foolishness.
We are building upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. Each of us at our own pace judging only our own progress against what our Master has equipped us with.
One day, everything we have built will be tested, but day to day we test what we have built ourselves, knowing what God has blessed us with and knowing that we build to please him.