Chiseled, Week 3 — The “Tie A Yellow Ribbon . . . ” Sermon Rewind

I normally don’t like to mix metaphors, but this time I did.

In a series all about the metaphor of chiseling, sculpting, and stonework, I inserted a message revolving around acorns and oak trees.

It used a really glorious section of Scripture — Philippians 1:1-11 with a special focus on 1:6 — to land at this bottom line:

The finishing process is grueling but the finished product is guaranteed.

As a response, a whole lot of people picked up a whole lot of acorns.


I don’t know if you knew this or not, but my house is in a neighborhood that is adjacent to a tree farm.  For real!  Makes it so I live close to the city (RiverGate) but surrounded by nature.  But more to the point for today, it makes me an expert on trees.  Yes!  I have a few trees in my yard, I live next to a tree farm, once upon a time I had a tree house, so you do the math!  Tree expert!

                But I want to leverage that expertise to tell you something you may already know but more importantly to tell you something that I believe with completely change how you look at yourself.  Alter how you view your past, how you experience your present, and how you anticipate your future.  No big deal, right?  But anyway, it’s this: ACORN AV & HOLD ONE.  This is an acorn.  Hard shell, not especially tasty unless you’re a squirrel, and have this obnoxious habit of falling OFF trees and ON TO your car.

                But locked up in the softer part of the acorn, loaded up within its circumference is this:  AV of oak or check into bringing one live.  Do you know about oak trees?  Massive.  Strong.  Enduring.  They are the final tree in a mature forest.  An oak tree can live to be 300-400 years old. So THIS acorn is really THIS tree in disguise. Or, more precisely, in development.

                Well, I know you’re welcome for that lesson in horticulture; that advanced seminar in arborism, and that next week you’re expecting Wilford Brimley to give the message to us.  But deep down you’re thinking, did I have to come to church for this?  Could I have gone to the 4H club instead?  The Sierra Club? The Green Party?  Something?  Well, like I said, I believe as we moved through the Chiseled series, a series all about who we are under development, that what I have to say today about you and what is ALREADY deep inside you is so revolutionary, so scandalous, so encouraging, that some of you might just end up in such an altered state you won’t know what to do with it.

                Where I get all this loaded up excitement is from the opening words of Philippians.  Now: the bible is a library and Phil is in the heart of the correspondence section.  And Paul is writing to a church full of people he knows and for the most part loves.  Look at how he starts:

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

So right from the beginning, in a manner that’s most unusual, Paul signals a note of collaboration.  He is usually a SINGLES player but here opts to play DOUBLES.  And who is the letter to? 

To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons[a

and circle ALL.  And then do you notice how he specifically mentions “overseers & deacons”?  That means he is writing to all the minions AND all the leader.  Hey leaders, hey staffers, hey seminary grads, hey pastors, you are very much part of what I am fixin’ to say.  So listen up!

                Then Paul starts getting to the meat of the matter in 1:3-5: 

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,

  Circle the “all of you.”  Oh, he loves these people, he smiles when he prays for them – have you tried that?  Works incredibly well!  I do it with the guys in my men’s LG! – and note again the unmistakable collaboration that gets woven through.  “All,” “partnership.”  And all that is just the prelude for the heart of his joy and his boldness; look at 1:6: 

being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

  Oh my gosh.  Is there any single verse better suited for this series Chiseled?  Is there any more clear that God has loaded you and you and you with meaning and purpose and power?  All of you?  Leader you?  Follower you?  Staffer you?  Even those of you who think “I’m good; I help, why do I need this?”  — your oblivion and overconfidence is proof positive of what I am saying.  On the flipside, those of you who think “I got nothing.  My closet is full of skeletons, sometimes I’m not even sure what I believe” … well, you’re Exhibit B of just how much we need to grip this.

                Because look at what Paul says comprehensively about the Philippians and by extension about us.  God who began.  So:  something is already started in you that you don’t even know about, that you’re only vaguely aware of, but it’s there.  Because God planted it in you just like he planted that oak in this acorn.  You’re loaded.  Tell someone you came to church today and got loaded … see how that goes!  But look what you’re loaded with:  good work.  It’s good.  It’s not mediocre, it’s not survivalist, it’s not endure life; it’s good.  Garden of Eden good.  In the big picture, Paul is speaking of salvation … those when God starts that work of you getting right with him through faith, he’s gonna complete and finish it.  But if it’s true of salvation, how much more true is it of the lives we live til we get there?!

                For some of you it’s that talent that is hidden, just waiting to be unwrapped and developed.  For others, it’s that sobriety that rests deep within you; you think the real you is drinking you when it’s NOT.  And then others, it’s that ability to have healthy relationship … something that’s proven elusive to you so far.  And that may be because of sin or selfishness or you simply don’t catch relational cues that you should.  Then for a whole slew of you it is that ability to influence the next generation behind you or the lost generation that surrounds you towards faith in Christ.  You thought it was just my job or the band’s job but now you know it’s not a job, it’s a privilege, and you’re the one invited in to it.  And then for a few of you, it’s a call to full time, proclamation kind of ministry.  It’s crossed your mind, you’ve wondered about the pull before, but right now, today, you’re realizing that that has been loaded into you from the very beginning. It’s the oak inside.  How cool if a young person today gets a call to ministry & 25 years from today has so far surpassed this place in terms of impact & influence.

                Then look at that carry it to completion.  This incredible confidence that what God has locked inside all you acorns will be brought to maturity.  You will get through the seasons of trying to push through the soil, of the dangerous early years when you’ve got to be tended to grow well, and then fruition.  You’ll arrive at the sobriety, restoration, impact that God has loaded up inside you from the very beginning.  You endure the drought, floods, storms, and sun, knowing that all that hard stuff is part of the invaluable process of making you strong enough.  Because the promise is right there for you & me & all of us; circle that word will.  It doesn’t say may or might or hope; it says will.  All you people who came to church loaded, all you acorns today, all you who have ever thought your limitations outweigh your potential, here it is:  The finishing process is grueling but the finished product is guaranteed.  That guarantee of completion is what opens you up to allow, to partner with God as he finishes what he began.  What’s loaded in will be launched out.  You’re not only the good work you’re empowered for the good work. 

                It’s almost like the American artist James Whistler – hey!  He painted his mother! (AV) – who was told one time that a shipment of blank canvases had been lost in the mail.  When the investigating authorities asked him if the canvases were of any great value, Whistler answered, “Not yet.  Not yet.”  If he could have that confidence in himself, how much more can we have confidence in our God?!  We’re a bunch of not yets in this place … but that implies all the certainty that we will be.  The finishing process is grueling but the finished product is guaranteed. 

                Or it’s this.  Because I don’t know, there may be a person or two ten whose not that into nature and acorns and oaks.  You get the metaphor but it doesn’t speak to you.  You’re more into IT, banking, construction.  And if you’re into IT, banking, construction, you know what job a lot of you have?  Project management!  You manage people, systems, spreadsheets, data – just poke my eye out, please! – from beginning to end.  Listen: Philippians 1:6 lets us know that God is a project manager and YOU are his managed project!  Yes, YOU!  The finishing process is grueling but the finished product is guaranteed. 

                Or maybe it’s even like that time when I was 12 or so and my Dad was driving me to our home in Dallas from playing tennis.  And I had an unusually high angst level for a 12 year old – sure glad I got over that, aren’t you? – and remembering telling him that I didn’t think my tennis dreams (#1 in Texas) would ever happen because it was too good to be true.  And he very quietly but firmly said as we waited at a stoplight:  Nothing’s too good to be true.  He felt I was loaded up with potential & nothing too good to be true. That’s what it’s like; that’s what your Heavenly Father is doing in loading up you with potential for things more imp than tennis. The finishing process is grueling but the finished product is guaranteed. 

                And for me to be remotely faithful to Scripture here, I have to connect all the “all of yous.”  Look at 1:7-9:

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

READ & circle the all of yous.  You know what that tells me?  That this  happens best in a group.  From the first words of the letter – Paul AND TIMOTHY – to the acknowledging of the leaders to all the all of yous, Paul lets us know that God works on the finishing process with us in groups¸ not isolation.  It’s why a lot of you like working out with other people – someone is there to spur you on and challenge you more.  Hey – it’s why here at the church, we invite you to join a ServeTEAM and not a ServeISLAND.  Thought about that?  It’s not do your own thing and pave your own way.  It’s let’s band together and accomplish something significant together.  Philippians 1 lets us know that there is no Gospel proclamation without Gospel collaboration.

                Whew, I love to see it here.  It’s why that Sunday night when our Student Ministry meets, I love to watch their volunteers in action.  And I loved it when one among their number – an adult who’d been loaded up with ministry potential from birth wandered into their prayer circle before they started.  He’d just received a diagnosis of cancer.  And I saw the Student Ministry ServeTeam drop what they were doing, alter their planned prayer, and pray for their friend.  I guess, I guess I saw some acorns becoming oaks that night.  The finishing process is grueling but the finished product is guaranteed. 

                Speaking of oaks … do you know what happens when you get enough of these acorns together and a group of them become trees together?  They call it an oak grove.  And do you know why there is such strength?  Because look here – AV.  One oak tree (that started as an acorn) develops a root system that spreads to cover 4-7 times the width of the tree’s crown. Whew! That’s deep.

                Those roots, that width, that depth … that’s us.  I don’t know what the particulars of what God has loaded up in you.  I just know that as a community we’re ready to launch it.  The finishing process is grueling but the finished product is guaranteed.