"Treasure In Clay Jars" series


Illustration: I recently had the opportunity to join a police officer on patrol. He apologized that the shift wasn’t more exciting. I was okay with that.

Taking Risks
We are not accustomed to taking risks. About as risky as most of us get is managed risk. We devote so much to playing-it-safe. Every morning the talk shows let us know what we should fear and tell us how to be safe. I am glad that we have weather radar and as I was watching the reports of the storms last night I marveled at how the technology could pinpoint the action of tornados. I realized that this was a private company that owned this hi-tech. They invest in it because people are interested in being safe.
However, risk is part of life and especially life in Christ. As a friend recently said, “No one said this would be easy.” Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. – John 15:20.

Read 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, 8-9. Paul reflects on the life that follows Jesus and he acknowledges that the world resists the gospel – even though it is good news. Why? Because the darkness has veiled their hearts. Their vision has been obscured. But when we have beheld the light of the gospel, we have a hope that allows us to take risks – not for the sake of being risky, but for the sake of the gospel.

Clay Jars That Shine Like Stars
Today our brothers and sisters in Vietnam and Laos worship. Worship is a very risky activity for them to do. But we admire them for taking the risk. Why do they take that risk?
What would you say about a group of believers that moved their worship out of suburban safety and into a neighborhood plagued by drug abuse and burglaries? Not an outreach, but they moved everything down there! They take it for granted that their building will be broken into and that equipment will have to be replaced. Would you consider them foolish? Bad stewards? ( Is Jesus going to get really upset over a stolen sound system?) Would you call the believers fanatics? Why do they take the risk?
Whether they are in Laos or the Southern United States, these risky Christians seem to be playing by a different set of rules. I suggest that they are simply taking their calling seriously. Why should it be any different for us - we are trying to conform to Jesus Christ rather than the surrounding society. Don’t we realize that that is risky?

When we follow Jesus Christ, we have different priorities that may act against common sense. We are not going to conform to the dominant culture in every way. Are we okay with that? I don’t mean that we won’t conform to the things we don’t like – but we will also not conform to some of the things we do like! To be faithful to God’s mission we must often stand in contrast to the culture around us. (Read Philippians 2:12-18.)

Clay jars that shine like stars – the light of the gospel shining off the treasure. We are different. We are called to follow Jesus and we are shaped by scripture. And that means we will have to take some risks for the sake of the gospel. But what sort of risks?

What’s so risky about the Gospel?
God is calling us to take some risks, not risk for the sake of being risky, but for the sake of the gospel: [Note: I am indebted to Paul Clark and Jeff Christian for suggesting these three examples of how the church takes risks for the sake of the gospel. These points come from their unpublished sermons based on the Treasures In Clay Jars book edited by Lois Y. Barrett]

1) IT IS RISKY TO BE COMMUNITY: We live in a very individual age. Living in unity with one another – in the church – can be challenging.
I have never forgotten the story I heard Rick Atchley tell about an elderly sister who was walking into the foyer of her church house one Sunday. She looked over the bulletin board that featured pictures of the mission in Africa and she said softly, “I wish they would stop baptizing so many of those kind of people.” This sister’s version of heaven was segregated. A pearly gate with the banner "WHITES ONLY" above it and a back gates labeled "COLORED." How can we be one in heaven if we cannot live as the community of Christ here? Do we think that Heaven will have high-rent and low-rent neighborhoods?
It is risky to live in community with others when we have a play-it-safe and build tall fences mentality. I think we would be more effective at sharing our faith if we would just simply be kind to people in the community and talk to them about God. What if we welcomed them to our home before we welcomed them to worship. I am convinced that people “go to church” with who they know. This risky living in community is how we unleash the treasure?
Christ took the risk of creating community. He wanted community and unity between us and God.

2) IT IS RISKY TO BE GENEROUS: It is risky to share with one another and with our community without expecting a return on our investment. We are generous with our wealth, but shall we also be generous with our love.

3) IT IS RISKY TO BE DIFFERENT: When the Christians of the second century were ridiculed and scorned by the society around them. They were called incestuous, cannibalistic, and atheistic. They didn’t overcome this by standing up for their rights or wielding their power to influence. They certainly didn’t overcome by conforming to the expectations of a dying culture. They overcame by kneeling in prayer in the arenas where they were slaughtered. And do you know who they prayed for? The Roman Emperor.

Taking Risks can be fearful - especially in church. That is because everything else in culture is changing so quickly. We want to have some place we can come that stays the same.
But the reason there are some things that do not change is not because someone opposed change. The reason is because some people did something to be faithful rather than do nothing because they were fearful. They took a risk for the sake of the gospel that does not change.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 12 March 2006

Treasure in Clay Jars
Lesson Four: Pattern 3 – Mar. 12, 2006
“Taking Risks for the Sake of the Gospel”

What is this lesson all about?

  1. You will examine ways in which scripture calls for Christians to exchange personal comfort and predictability for risk taking and dependence on God.
  2. You will recognize the risks involved in being set apart from the world because of the gospel.
  3. You will explore how the Spirit of God empowers believers to be risk takers for the gospel
  4. You will gain understanding of the implications of personally becoming greater risk-takers in taking the saving gospel of Jesus to culture.
Getting Started:
  1. When have you done something risky? How well did you come through the experience?
  2. What would be the most difficult part about being a missionary in a third-world nation? What would motivate someone to give up the comforts of life in America for the sake of the kingdom? Offer a prayer of blessing for missionaries living in dangerous places.
  3. What would be the most dangerous place to live in our community? How many children do you think live in that neighborhood?
Searching the Word:
  1. Read Matthew 10:11-31 aloud. Who was Jesus speaking to? The twelve apostles, before he sent them out to preach. What kind of welcome did he expect that they would find as they talked about him? What were some of the risks the first followers of Jesus faced?
  2. How did Jesus instruct his followers to respond to opposition? Generate a list. See verses 16, 17, 19, 23, 28. What kind of opposition have you faced because of your faith?
  3. In what ways does verse 24 connect Christians' persecution with Jesus' suffering. How much do you think this helped? How do you feel when you hear of believers who suffer for Christ? Do you ever feel guilty for having it so easy? (See the attached Parable On Perspective).
Making It Real: Exploration and Response
  1. Do we believe that Jesus is sending us into our community to call attention to the kingdom? If so, then what instructions do you think he would give us?
  2. Where might be some neglected or dangerous neighborhoods in our community where Christians are afraid to go? Who is speaking for Jesus in such places? How could we help children in those neighborhoods? What do we have to risk?
  3. Every church wants to recruit prosperous, educated, moral leaders as members. Who are some people that nobody is inviting to their church? How could we reach out to them? Why do we consider it risky to help these people?
  4. Ask the group to identify ways in which they perceive Christians as being different or set apart from the world. Possible responses include how Christians use their time or resources, how they treat fellow workers, employees, how they speak, etc. In what ways are we reluctant to take risks because we are “captive to our culture?”
  5. Taking the discussion one step further, ask the group to respond to this quote: “Some congregations seem to be living by a set of rules different from that of the dominant culture. Their priorities are different. They act against the “common sense.” They are trying to conform to Jesus Christ rather than to the surrounding society.” (Treasure in Clay Jars, p. 75)
  6. Creative Generosity – How does a church responsibly respond to needs, some of which are ‘spur of the moment’, such as a natural disaster (reflect on ways in which God used the faith community in reaching out to Katrina evacuees), when those funds are not in the budget?
  7. Invite the group to respond to these questions:
    • How can we encourage each other to be greater risk takers in taking the gospel into our culture?
    • In what ways does God’s Spirit empower and lead Christians when they are risk takers for the gospel?
    • How do we answer the question today, “Who is my neighbor?”
Prayer Time
  • Pray for the lost
  • Pull out a local map and pray for specific streets where there is little hope. (You could say, everywhere, but try and make it personal. Divide into prayer groups if that helps).
  • Ask God for courage to take risks for the kingdom.
Kid-friendly Activity
  • Read Luke 10:25-37 aloud. You might act it out (the story of the Samaritan). What risks did the priest and Levite avoid? What risks did the Samaritan take?
  • Pair up kids with adults. Share about a kid you know who has a rough time behaving at school. Adults share with kids about a struggling kid you knew when you were younger. How could we as God's followers help kids who are having a hard time?
  • What would be hard about helping a kid who is having a hard time?

Attachment 1: A Parable On Perspective


One day a father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the firm purpose of showing his son how poor people can be. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family.

On their return from their trip, the father asked his son, "How was the trip?" "It was great, Dad." "Did you see how poor people can be?" the father asked. "Oh Yeah" said the son. "So what did you learn from the trip?" asked the father.

The son answered, "I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon.

We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us, they have friends to protect them."

With this the boy's father was speechless. Then his son added, "Thanks dad for showing me how poor we are."

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 12 March 2006

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