Picture of Pastor Smith

Sermon delivered November 5, 2011 by Paul Smith

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Character, Competence, & Chemistry

Ephesians 5:1-2

(RealAudio Version available)

I don't follow professional sports very closely.  It's a part of the newspaper and the newscast that pretty much goes unnoticed.  I usually watch the Super Bowl but quite honestly, it's more for the ads than it is for the game.  The World Series was pretty interesting this year.  Pretty exciting to the very last.  Sometimes I watch the World Cup.  The world's game, futball, soccer.  I've been to an occasional game.  The Atlanta Braves.  The Harlem Globetrotters. 

Team sports can teach us a lot about working together and getting things done.  When I say the phrase dream team, what comes to mind?  Do you remember them?  Dream team USA, playing in the Olympics.  The original dream team is considered to be the greatest team that has ever been assembled in any sport.  Yet even that description doesn't give it proper credit.  The dream team dominated the Olympics, beating their eight opponents by an average score of 44 points. 

Dream team USA was the first team that allowed NBA stars to be part of the lineup.  It gave glimpse to the world of basketball at its very finest.  Since 1992, basketball has been gaining in popularity.  They were a phenomenon, on and off the court.  Their coach, Chuck Daly, reminisced, it was like Elvis and the Beatles all at one time.  Traveling together, the dream team was like 12 rock stars.  That's all I can compare it to, he said. 

What a band it was.  They started out with the games three all time stars.  Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird.  They also added the irresistible Charles Barkley for a little spice, his competitive edge that knew no end and often went ballistic.  Then there was swingman Scottie Pippen, as well as seven other NBA stars. 

Their opponents didn't have a chance, but they didn't care.  One player, while trying to guard Magic Johnson, was seen frantically waving his hand at a friend carrying a camera, coaxing him to get a picture of him guarding Magic Johnson.  They knew they were playing the best, the best in the world.  When they won the gold, 117 to 84 against Croatia, the coach said, they'll go back home and for the rest of their lives they'll tell their kids, I played against Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.  The more they play against our best the better they will become.  Chuck Daly their coach concluded the interview this way.  Finally, there will come a day, I'm not saying it will come anytime soon, mind you, but it's inevitable that it will come.  They will be able to compete against us and do very well. 

Yes, team sports teach us a lot.  They teach us a lot about working together and playing well together.  The teams that practice and work at playing well together, teams that watch the pros, study the books and the plays, get better as time goes on. 

Does God have a dream team?  And if God had a dream team, what would it look like and how would it be chosen? 

This morning I'd like to explore the idea of God's dream team.  Flashback with me if you would to grade school.  I went to four of them growing up.  The one that comes quickly to mind is the one in Mount Vernon, Ohio.  I remember being out at the Adventist school there, out in the field, and they were choosing teams.  Two captains surfaced and they began to pick.  I was never the first one picked, nor was I the last one, for which I was glad, but they began to pick and as the teams began to form and the final selections were made those chosen would talk to the captain and help him or her make their decision.  Then would come the painful echo of the team.  We took Johnnie last time.  You have to take him today.  Kids can be cruel, can't they? 

If God had a dream team, how would it be chosen?  Would there be fresh recruits for spring training?  I believe God's dream team is his church, and according to Ephesians 1:4 through six, it says we're all chosen.  We are all, each one of us, indispensable, and without you, the team would be compromised.  The Philips translation reads this way.  Consider what he's done.  Before the foundation of the world he chose us to become in Christ his holy and blameless children, living within his constant care.  God has a dream team.  We are hand-picked, hand chosen, handcrafted, shaped and fitted for our position on the team.  Not just a benchwarmer or water boy.  We are chosen to play from our strengths. 

I believe there are three words that describe, that define, those who make up God's dream team.  There are three ingredients that God adds to the mix of those who are in his lineup.  There are three qualities he desires to be very evident as we face the opposition.  Those three words are character, competence, and chemistry.  God has high hopes for his team.  High aspirations for the church.  Jesus loved the church and gave himself up for the church. 

God's team down through the ages has been made up of many people from different tribes and groups.  The church universal has had good seasons and bad seasons.  Those in the game, running the plays, when Mahatma Gandhi was on the field scored no points for Jesus.  Gandhi is purported to have said, I love Jesus and I love his teachings.  It's his followers that trouble me. 

Whether it's you, out there individually playing in the game of life or at your home and your family, at your work, at your business, or collectively, us as a church family, when we play well together, what an awesome team we are.  What magnificent plays we make. 

I am absolutely proud of you as we have worked together to pull Wednesday night off.  To make it happen.  Teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer.  The setup, the takedown, the meal.  It's the best deal in the house.  Right in Fireside.  It's first-class.  There are even dietary options.  To see families reconnect after a busy day does my heart good.  To watch you connect with friends.  To watch the children greet one another.  Do you know there's a special table and you have to be 13 years or younger to sit at this.  They must have a password, and oddly enough it's the table that's closest to the hot chocolate.  To sit in on your discussions and your application of Bible principles does my heart good.  It makes me smile.  Many of our ministry leaders are using this time in framework to lead in their areas, and I could go on.  There's Pathfinders and Adventurers and Vespers and Sabbath school and Room in the Inn and choir and bells.  The music that we enjoy for worship.  Good things are happening.  You are serving one another. 

With all this in mind, with this effort and focus that we have here, we could make available more options for study groups meeting at different times in different places.  Where people are admonished and encouraged.  Where they're cared for and when they drift, they're missed.  We notice.  A group this size, it's hard to keep your eye out for each other, isn't it?  But when we're in these smaller settings, we can be like little pockets of community where people belong,  They have a sense of connectedness. 

You are exhibiting the three C's, and what a joy it is for me to serve with you.  What a joy it is for me to watch you serve one another.  Like the apostle Paul, I thank God for you daily.  We are the dream team, working together.  Pulling together.  Aligned and gaining momentum.  Moving the ball down the court.  Getting closer to God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven. 

What would God's dream team look like.  Three words define it.  Character, competence, and chemistry.  These are foundational, elemental, pivotal, as we seek to assemble a team that works well together on mission.  The three C's are desirable as we build men and women of integrity, leading in their homes.  Role models at work and in the community, and a cohesive leadership group for this our church.  Wouldn't you like to see the three C's demonstrated and lived out in the lives of your pastors, and in our new senior pastor, whoever that may be.  Wouldn't you like that?  And how about our church staff and our leadership group?  And the ministry leaders?  And our combined influence as a church family?  Wouldn't you like to see competence and chemistry and character demonstrated? 

As a congregation we are in transition.  We're making decisions that will affect this congregation for generations to come.  We are in the process of assembling a team.  The Holy Spirit is searching.  A search committee of three, father, son, and Holy Spirit.  They say in Isaiah 6:8.  Who shall I send and who will go for us?  This is always God's posture toward us.  His eyes are ever looking, looking for raised hands.  The celestial search committee is at work choosing and assembling the team, and I hope all of us will say, here I am Lord, send me.  Give me a place in the lineup.  My own jersey.  My assigned seat.  I want to be part of the team.  Practicing skills.  Learning new plays.  Recruiting new talent,  so that we can be a contender, a force for good. 

So here we are.  A church in the crossroads.  Before the watching world and the cloud of witnesses, heaven and earth in the bleachers and grandstands.  We are the church.  We're being watched.  In the words of Francis Schaeffer, the Christian theologian and philosopher, how should we then live?  How should we be living? 

The little letter of Ephesians has a lot to say about how we should live.  I love the little letter.  We could spend several months in this letter and find great profit and benefit.  It's full of practical counsel on how to live.  If we only had the little letter of Ephesians we'd have almost all we needed.  It shares the gospel.  It talks about ecclesiology.  The organization and structure of the church, and it has many statements of how we ought to live and work and play together.  What a list of routines to practice by God's grace.  Living out the practical counsel found in Ephesians. 

The church is God's dream team, and it has a long list of players who span the generations.  The baton has been passed numerous times.  Jesus has admonished us to make disciples, and that's about replacing ourselves.  The principle here is that of replacing yourself.  So I ask you this morning, are you mentoring some others?  Are you spending some time with those half your age?  Do you have your eye on a promising rookie?  Are you looking to leave the team better than when you joined it?  Pastor Gettys is making some heroic final laps in his professional ministry, but all of us in our personal ministries want to live lives of legacy, worthy of example. 

What would God's dream team look like?  I think we catch a glimpse of it right here by looking at our church.  But we see it even more clearly in the admonitions of Scripture.  Our Scripture lesson describes God's dream team.  In Ephesians 5, in the first two verses there, Philips translation reads this way.  As children copy their fathers, you as God's children are to copy him.  Live your lives in love, the same sort of love that Christ gave us, and which he perfectly expressed when he gave himself up for us in sacrifice to God.  Ephesians 5:1.  The NASV says be imitators of God.  Study him.  Know him.  Discern and cherish his characteristics.  The character of God.  The more we see him, the more we stand in awe of him.  And the more we study him, the more we'll become like him.  Not as something we do just to earn points or to be in his favor, but something we can't help.  It happens naturally.  To see him is to love him, and the more time we spend with him, studying him, the more we will be transformed into his image.  So study the original if you want to be a copy.  Behold him, worship him, stand in awe of him. 

If we were to do a word-study here, the word in the Greek is "meematia", from which we get the word "mimeograph".  You remember before the photocopier.  We also get the words pantomime and mime and mimic.  Our actions, our gestures, are so expressive that words are not necessary.  They may even be optional. 

A mime was an old art form in ancient Greece and Rome.  Charlie Chaplin was probably the most notable mime of all times.  You remember him with white face and white gloves and how the black and white movies would portray all sorts of things.  Perhaps you've played Guesstur.  It's a fun game.  You've got to zip it and you can act it out.  It gives new meaning to the phrase 'share the gospel and use words when necessary'.  We ought to be noticibly different.  They ought to know that we are Christians by our love.  We're called, really, to be divine mimes. 

Have you ever been to sea world and gotten your seats and waited for others to file in and find their places.  Really, I enjoy this part of the show more than "the show".  Inevitably, a mime would show up in the crowd as we would make our way to the seats, and this mime would tailgate a particular person or he may have mimicked the walk or the run or the mannerisms or the facial expressions, and the audience, the crowd would just really enjoy it.  Very intriguing and entertaining. 

Ephesians 5 says that we are to, by God's grace, mimic God.  How do we do this?  By living a life of love.  Ephesians helps us to see God's ideal and his game plan with the practical counsel given here.  I'd like you to sometime this week glance through Ephesians 4 and 5, and there you will find many short, pithy, succinct statements of how men and women who are part of God's team are counseled and encouraged to live.  One of them says, don't give the Devil a foothold.  Sacrifice.  Be a fragrant aroma.  Be careful how you walk.  Love one another.  Grow up.  Very short and to the point. 

I like Desire of Ages, page 312, where it says, by the life we live through the grace of Christ, the character is formed.  The original loveliness begins to be restored.  The attributes of the character of Christ are imparted and the divine image begins to shine through. 

Do you like the character you are?  Do you like the 'you' you're becoming?  When you look in the mirror do you like what you see?  I mean the inner beauty.  The beauty that's deeper than skin deep.  The beauty that doesn't fade with time.  When you stare in the mirror, is the one looking back authentic, genuine, a person of integrity?  Is your life congruent with what you believe and how you talk.  Have you ever heard someone say, what's gotten into you?  Now that's usually said when someone's behavior is less than admirable.  When they're out of character.  When they've done something they really shouldn't be proud of.  But have you ever been talked to this way?  What's gotten into you?  You're nicer than I expected.  Your behavior is uncharacteristically kind.  Evidence of God's work and presence in your life. 

I'm going to share a personal story that I shared with the prayer meeting just a few weeks ago.  You know we had the Voice of Prophecy here and they led out in our worship service and we entertained them afterwards in the fireside room with a  wonderful meal.  I was acting the part of host along with many others and I got up from the table after my plate was completely cleaned and I went to the desert line and there in that wonderful array of tasty items was the last piece of apple pie.  Now I'm a pretty good guy most the time, but if you get between me and apple pie or a turnover, I could cross you.  I could bite.  I could do something I wouldn't be proud of.  But you know what, as I walked with that piece of pie to the table, where Adrian Westney was, who I graduated from college with, who's now the pianist at VOP, a thought flashed through my mind.  Maybe Adrian would like this.  I asked him and sure enough he took it, and I was without.  But you know, I did okay.  I did all right.  Your pastor is still growing in grace, and I'm happy and surprised at times that the flashes of good that come from nowhere.  Well actually, I know where they come from.  It's Christ in me the hope of glory.  We've all been shocked by our behavior.  Hopefully, it's our good behavior. 

Perhaps the best statement I know of that embodies the importance of Christian character is found in Education, page 57.  The greatest want of the world is the want of men.  Men and women.  Men who will not be bought or sold.  Men who in their inmost souls are true and honest.  Men who do not fear to call sin by its right name.  Man whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole.  Man who will stand for the right though the heavens fall. 

Character is important in those who make up God's team, but competence is equally important.  When you play from your strengths, when your place on the team is influenced by your competencies, you are playing in a comfortable position. 

Do you know that Chattanooga has its own football team?  It's a soccer team, and they're known as the Chattanooga Football Club.  The CFC.  CFC!  CFC!  You should hear them chant that downtown.  As they work the ball down the field, seamlessly cooperating and working together.  They have the goalkeeper, of course.  They have defenders and midfielders and strikers, and they all work together in their areas.  One of the challenges of building a good team, a great team, is realizing the strength of each player.  There's a world of difference between a guard and a striker and the goalkeeper, but that shouldn't surprise us. 

Ephesians 4:7 reads, naturally there are different gifts and functions.  Individually, grace is given to us in different ways out of the rich diversity of Christ's giving.  When we play from our competencies, those gifts and talents that we've been given, it's very comfortable and we find a natural stride.  But for mature competence, we must be practicing, stretching, exploring, growing and becoming excellent in what we do.  God's service and God's team deserves excellence.  It deserves competence. 

A few weeks ago, Linda and I were privileged to see, in person, Jim Collins.  He wrote the book, Good to Great, in 2001.  He just released the book, Great by Choice just a few months ago, and it's the result of nine years of empirical study.  It was fascinating to hear him share some things new and some things old, and in this classic book Good to Great, Jim Collins says, to build a successful organization and team you must get the right people on the bus.  His research shows that great companies and great organizations need the right people on the bus, but they also need them in the right seats.  His research confirms the principles that we find in Ephesians, that the Holy Spirit is gifting us, blending a synergy of talents and personalities.  Assembling the gifts that are needed right here, right now, to do and to be what God is calling us to be.  So there are some biblical principles to be found even in a New York Times bestseller. 

You may have noticed as you drove in that we have a church bus.  Glorious, yellow, church bus.  We have two of them.  It may look like they're parked out there, but actually they're always moving down the road.  The Pathfinders probably have some memories to share about trips on these buses.  They could probably get quite nostalgic, but metaphorically speaking, the church bus is slowing down just a bit right now.  We're changing drivers.  Evaluating our course.  Considering a new destination.  Even changing a tire or two as we continue to roll along.  It's exciting to be on the bus.  Aren't you glad you're on the bus? 

Leadership's role is to make certain that we are in the right seat.  To be on the bus in the right seat, going in the right direction, makes for an exciting ride.  Competence for the team is when we are in position, playing from our strengths.  Playing as a team.  Working the ball.  Setting up the shot. 

God's dream team exhibits character, competence, but it also needs a strong dose of chemistry.  John 13 says it all, really.  You'll know my disciples, Jesus said, by their love for one another.  By their chemistry.  Their love, their respect, their civility.  They enjoy each other's presence.  Are you a catalyst for good?  Do you bring out the best of what's going on around you?  Are you an element that blends and improves the mix?  Do you enjoy the company that you keep?  Do they respect, affirm, and energize you?  Hopefully, these are things that are happening in your home, your place of work, but especially in our church as we work and serve together. 

May I be blatantly honest with you just a bit this morning?  I've noticed and observed a trace of a tattletale mentality here, where some will go and run and tell the pastor, instead of admonishing one another.  We are not called to be spies, intelligence gatherers, but rather to work closely together and to admonish each other in love.  If we listen, heart to heart, we're probably a lot closer than we realize.  The result of following the admonition of Matthew 18.  Simple counsel, really.  If your brother offends you, talk to him about it.  Go to him.  Discuss it.  The result?  Better human relations.  Better communication.  Better conflict resolution.  These are important skills wherever you are or where ever you go. 

One other verse from Ephesians as we wrap things up this morning.  Ephesians 1:22 and 23 from the Philips translation.  God has placed everything under the power of Christ and has set him up as head of everything for the church.  For the church is his body and in that body lives fully the one who fills the whole wide universe.  What's being said here is that it takes the sum total of all of us to equal him, and even then we come up short.  It takes us all to fully express what God is like, what Jesus is like, and for us to be his presence. 

So as we conclude, I'd like you to envision in your mind's eye the dream team, or the Harlem Globetrotters.  Visualize them on the court.  They play an awesome game.  They are limber and fluid as they work together, bringing the ball down court.  They exude joy and ease and efficiency.  To watch them play, you'd think they enjoy what they're doing.  They seem to read each other's mind and they delight in doing the seeming impossible things.  They work together.  Their work and their teamwork is a seamless synergy of collective movement. 

This may be a stretch, but it's as if this teamwork that we can visualize on court choreographs what God would have his church be like and how we're to work, and play and accomplish things together.  This choreography of the team making its way down court also embodies the sentiments of Jesus' prayer in John 17.  Father, I pray that they may be one as you and I are one. 

The father, the son and the Holy Spirit have been in Earth's game now for generations.  They came out of the celestial huddle with a game plan that involves the holy three, plus you and me, and they have passed off the ball and they each have taken center stage in this drama playing out here on earth, and now we're involved also.  Collectively, we're headed toward the goal.  You and I are players in this game and we must give it our best as we face the opposition.  So as we play, may we do our best and exude character, competence, and chemistry.

Hymn of Praise: #7, The Lord in Zion Reigneth
Scripture: Ephesians 5:1-2
Hymn of Response: #547, Be Thou My Vision

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Sermon at McDonald Road transcribed by Steve Foster 11/10/11