Harvest Sunday 2017 Sermon: Don’t Knock the Basement: God is at Work in the Small Stuff (Galatians 6:7-9; James 5:7-8)

Audio Message: 

Note: To read the written sermon, you can find it beneath the worship videos.

Opening Selection: Made A Way

Selection 2: God’s On Your Side

Inspirational Selection:  Encourage Yourself

Post-Sermon Selection:

Closing Selection: Hold On, Old Soldier


Sermon Title: “Don’t knock the basement: God is at work in the small stuff”
Scripture: Galatians 6:7-9
James 5:7-8

I heard a sermon from a televangelist not too long ago. He was preaching on being called by God and having spiritual gifts, and how God is the one that validates a person’s giftedness, not a title, and not a man or church. I agree: only the Lord can call someone into a ministry, gift him or her, and give them an anointing that just pulls people to them. The anointing, the ministry, its success, and the man or woman of God’s abilities are up to God, not the individual. And you can’t just put on a label and make yourself something that God has not labeled you.

True. I agree that God gives calling, God is the one who blesses someone with a gift and a ministry from Him. But what offended me about the sermon was that the preacher resorted to laughing at those who “preach out of their basement and call themselves ‘Pastor,'” with the congregation laughing at his words. This offended me so much that night that all I could do was sit and ponder how someone with such anointing and calling himself could say such a thing about others. I mean, not just anyone in the basement is called of God to Pastor or preach, but some folks are in their home basements preaching because they ARE called of God. The reality is that not every preacher starting out has the financial resources to afford a building, a school, some physical structure and address at which to congregate with the saints. And there are some preachers and Pastors who, once starting out for the first time, don’t even have a church to call their own.

They feel called, feel God leading them to start a church, for example, but they don’t have the money to start big right away. They’ve got big dreams for what God will do in them and through them for His glory, but they don’t have the people or financial resources to “do it big” just yet. So, what is a preacher and Pastor, called of God, to do in such a situation? Sit and do nothing? Never get their ministry off the ground because they’re concerned about appearances?

I think the televangelist had good intentions. He wanted to say that you can’t give yourself a label and call yourself something; God must do that. But I take offense at the way he went about it. Preaching in the basement doesn’t make you a fake or a fraud, or someone trying to do something that God has not blessed. Rather, God can bless a preacher even if he or she does preach out of his or her basement. I’ve known company owners who started their businesses in their garage and went on to have multi-billion-dollar businesses. Remember Steve Jobs, anyone? Yes, the CEO of Apple dropped out of college to start his business in his garage. Apple has become one of the most successful companies in the world because of Steve Jobs’s vision. Yes, the best businesses have started out of the garage.

And, in the same vein, the best ministries can start out of the basement. Maybe this televangelist can correct me if I’m wrong, but the last time I checked, God calls whom He pleases. He doesn’t care if you’re in your basement, a garage, in your backyard, or in your car – as long as you’re called. If He wants to call you, He’ll call you, and when He calls you, He gives you what gifts, abilities, and ministries He wants you to have. He doesn’t care if He has to reach you in your basement, He’ll do it because He’s called you, He’s pleased to call you for His work and His purpose. Basement or bedroom, garage or ground floor, backyard, front yard, or no yard, God can and will call you for His work as He sees fit.

This preacher is successful, called, anointed, and appointed, but I’m disheartened at his attempts to mock those who may be fresh to ministry, aware of God’s call, given a sense of what God has called them to do, but have no choice but to start in their basement. The Essential Church, as you all may know, is an internet church plant, a task that God gave me in mid-July of this year.   I speak as one who’s had a ministry begin in the backroom of a house, from what was an Internet Bible Study. It may seem foreign to some that God can call a backroom or basement preacher, as the televangelist joked about, but God calls men and women from wherever He pleases. He doesn’t care that you or I think the basement or the backroom is tacky, wacky, and poor, or that some think backroom preaching isn’t quality or validated or certified. God isn’t concerned with man’s evaluations because, as the Word of God says in 1 Samuel, “man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.”

But I’m getting ahead of myself now. First comes the exposition, then the rejoicing.

Today’s primary text, Galatians 6:7-9, puts us in a letter Paul wrote to the Galatians, a church that, like all the churches to which he wrote, had problems of their own. The Galatians were plagued with Judaizers telling them that they needed to be circumcised in order to be saved, what Paul called “another gospel” in Galatians 1:8. Paul tells the Galatians that they have the truth, that the gospel he preached among them came from God, not from collaboration with man, and that man could only consent to the gospel the Lord had given him for three years in the wilderness of Arabia in Galatians 1:11-2:9. He proves through the Scriptures regarding Abraham in Galatians 3 and Isaac vs. Ishmael (Galatians 4:21-31) that the works of the law cannot save; only faith in Jesus can justify one in the eyes of the Lord.

Here in Galatians 6, Paul tells the believers in the region about the works of the flesh versus the fruit of the Spirit. Paul calls the works of the flesh “works of the flesh” because he wants to show them that the flesh sins. The heart of man, at its core, is evil, and so man does evil (and these evil actions reflect his heart). The fruit of the Spirit can’t be cultivated by the believer without the help of the Holy Spirit; the Spirit must aid us with the grace of God for every moment, for every action, every thought, every saying, and so on.

In Galatians 6:7-9, Paul reminds the Galatian believers of the truth about God and His expectations for man: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.” In other words, as the song I’ve heard all my life says, “You gonna reap, just what you sow/ what you plant, surely will grow/ what goes up, must come down/ and what goes around, comes back around.” The word “not mocked” there is passive, meaning that others mock God, not that God mocks others. Man is always mocking God because he doesn’t understand the ways of God. And yet, despite man’s mocking God, he won’t have reason to mock God because whatever God has said will come to pass. Man won’t be able to point fingers at God and laugh because God said something that didn’t come to pass or didn’t happen. God is not like man. In Numbers 23, we find that Balaam, the false prophet, was to prophesy against Israel, but the Lord met Balaam and gave him a word to give Balak and the princes of Moab. What did Balaam say? In Numbers 23:19, he says,

“God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent.
Has He said, and will He not do?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

In other words, God doesn’t lie and He doesn’t take back His word. What He says He will do, He will do. What He has spoken, what He has said in His written Word, the Bible, will come to pass. Everything in it will happen.

But we live in a world where man mocks God, laughs at God. In 2 Peter, men mock God because He said He’s coming back but hadn’t yet returned. Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:3,

3 knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water, 6 by which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. 7 But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.

8 But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

This tells us that God hasn’t forgotten His Word. He hasn’t delayed His coming because He promised something He couldn’t or wouldn’t do; Peter said that the Lord had not yet come because He is giving mankind time to repent and get his soul right with the Lord. His delay is due to His mercy, not any slackness or slothfulness or unreliability on God’s part.

He has said that what man gives, that is what He will get. If he “sows to his flesh,” meaning that he lives his life around the things of the flesh, the works of the flesh, parties, drunkenness, debauchery, sex, drugs, runs the streets, robs, steals, and kills, then he will reap corruption – everlasting punishment, Hell, spiritual devastation in the end, eternity without God. Jesus referred to Hell in Matthew 25 as “outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

What the Lord tells believers here is that they must sow to the Spirit, walk after the Spirit, in order to reap eternal life. At the end of verse 8, Paul says, “but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” If you sow to the flesh and live your life according to the flesh, you’ll receive death, for, as Paul said in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death.” But if you sow to the Spirit, if you invest in the things of the Spirit, you’ll receive everlasting life – for, as Romans 6:23 says, “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The word for “sow” means to “plant seed,” reminding us of the farmer who plants seeds with the expectation of seeing a crop arrive at harvest time.

This “sow and reap” analogy would’ve been understood by many who knew about the work of farmers. In the early church, there were many Christians who were farmers. It’s said that the farmers were allowed to work on Sunday when Sunday was declared as a day of worship under the Roman Emperor Constantine. And the farmer analogy makes sense to us today. No farmer sows corn and reaps peas. If the farmer sows corn seeds, he will reap corn. If the farmer plants tomatoes, he can’t expect squash. No, if he sows tomatoes, he’ll get tomatoes. If he sows squash, he’ll get squash.

Paul is saying that you must “sow,” invest, in the things of God, in a life filled with the Spirit, in order to reap or receive eternal life. You cannot sow to the flesh and then expect to reap eternal life. Notice that the farmer sows the seed, but then he waters the seed and makes sure it’s in an ideal place to get sunlight. There’s more to sowing than just planting the seed; it’s the entire process the farmer goes through to see to it that he gets a crop. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:3-8 about ministry work,

3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal? 5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. We all have a part to play in ministry, whether we plant the seed, water it, or cultivate the crop, but it is God who brings about the success. Whatever success comes from it, comes from God. Whether you’re working in a building or a basement, God is the only one that can bring the increase.

Whether we sow to the flesh or to the Spirit, it occurs over a lifetime. The spiritual choice we make to either follow Christ or live as the world lives is a choice that we continue to invest in beyond the initial decision. We here at The Essential Choice rejoice over this sowing, because we know that sowing is more than a one-time action. This is why we condone Calvinism and the idea of OSAS (Once Saved, Always Saved): because we believe that perseverance in the Lord must be done by faith along with good works, and that one must endure to the end in order to be saved. Jesus says this in Matthew 24-25, He says this in Revelation 2:10, and Paul mentions the same in Hebrews 6:4-6, among other places.

The Christian life is all about continuous sowing, and whether or not you’re sowing to the flesh or the Spirit, all believers and unbelievers alike are sowing to one or the other. The question we must ask ourselves here is, if Once Saved Always Saved (OSAS) as a theory is correct, why is Paul telling the Galatians about sowing to the flesh and “reaping corruption”? If Once Saved Always Saved is true, then they’d never face corruption and wouldn’t need to worry about eternal punishment.

Well, in verses 7 and 8, Paul has told us that we shouldn’t be deceived: Whatever God has promised, whatever He says His law is, it will come to pass. The Lord will not say something that won’t happen. Those who invest in the flesh will reap damnation and punishment, but those who invest in the Holy Spirit and a Spirit-filled life will reap eternal life. You can either face reward or punishment.

In verse 9, though, Paul gives believers encouragement. Having given them the knowledge that God is a God that makes promises and fulfills them, that God is not slack concerning His promises (as Peter says) nor is He unable to fulfill them, the apostle now encourages them to continue sowing to the Spirit: “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” The word “to not grow weary” implies exhaustion, fatigue, discouragement, feeling down, even to the point of depression. The Lord commands us to do good, and He gives us the promise that He’ll reward those who diligently seek Him in Hebrews 11:6, but sometimes, the road gets rough.

I want to say to you today that God’s Word tells us to sow to the Spirit and reap eternal life, gain eternal life, and the Word tells believers that God will reward us, but we can often grow discouraged with doing what is right. Sometimes, it seems as though Satan and evil people are winning. Remember the Las Vegas Massacre earlier this month? Yes, this most recent shooting, the deadliest on American soil, can lead to discouragement. No matter how much good we do, evil will be around us for as long as the world remains. And the evil around us can discourage those of us who are trying to do the right thing, trying to witness, praying to the Lord, reading His Word, seeking His will, praying about situations that only He can fix.

We know that God has called us to either plant or water, but we can get discouraged when, no matter how great and intense our effort, we see little growth, little crop, few if any results. And yet, as James 5:7-8 tells us, the farmer has to remain patient. Even after sowing the seed and watering it, he has to wait for the results, not be too anxious but pray and stay faithful until the crop grows.

Sometimes, it seems as if we’re in ministry preaching and teaching the gospel, but we feel alone. You’re the person that is that basement preacher the televangelist made fun of, being told that you’re a quack, that no matter how sincere you are, you aren’t gonna make it, you don’t have what it takes to succeed, you’re not legitimate because you’re “just a basement preacher.” You’re that Sunday School teacher that keeps teaching the truth every Sunday, but your adult students just look at you as if nothing’s registering. You’re that Pastor, that preacher, that keeps preaching the Word to crowds that are simply in church to be entertained, not to be informed, not to be educated about their Lord and His commands. You’re that Pastor of that internet ministry, who has the call of God and His promise that “I will be with you,” but you find yourself preaching to the air sometimes, as if nothing you say has any effect. You don’t have the money to afford a building, you don’t have the people just yet, all you have is a lowly internet ministry that may get a few visits and visitors a day. And in the midst of that, you can become discouraged. Has anyone under the sound of my voice ever been discouraged?

You may be that woman, who’s holding down the home, but you’re being told by your husband that God didn’t call you in the church and that you’ll never teach and preach as long as you’re married to him. You might be that person with a passion to change something about church life, but the church is so stuck in its old ways that they never give you a chance. You want to impact change for Christ, but you’re being pushed out because you’re too young, you don’t “look the part,” someone else is a family man and he’s a better selection for the job than you. You may be that person that has the call of God on your life to work in church ministry, but your folks are telling you that you should just go pursue some sort of secular career and make more money and be happy. You may be someone that has been witnessing to everyone you meet for the last 5 years: at the grocery store, at the gas station, around the street corner, in your neighborhood, and yet, you haven’t seen one soul come to the Lord and accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. And in the midst of that, you can become discouraged. Is there anyone out there, that’s ever been discouraged?

The televangelist, who laughed with his church about basement preachers, is one of those mocking voices in the world we live in that spoke pain into the hearts of the basement crowd instead of praying for them and encouraging them in the Lord. Yes, he was trying to put down quacks, but he threw every basement preacher under the bus in return. For some basement preachers, and even some backroom preachers, are called of God. The Lord has put a calling on their lives, He’s given them His Spirit, He’s given them His mission, He told them that if they go and do His bidding, that He’ll be with them. But that televangelist who’s sitting in his fine home with his multiple cars and big church building and huge ministry forgot that he shouldn’t knock the basement – for God is at work in the small stuff. Yes, there are some basement preachers, that’ll go on to be the next Billy Graham. There are some basement preachers that’ll go on to be the next Paul, or the next Martin Luther. There are some basement preachers that’ll be the face of the church in the next 20 years, that’ll go on to have mass revivals and bring the hearts of men and women back to the Lord. Yes, the televangelist forgot that God is often at work in the small stuff. He forgot that God called HIM in the basement. EVERYONE starts in the basement. Some of us are so far in the castle that we’ve forgotten what it was like to live “outside the gate.”

When the Lord chose the 12 disciples, not every disciple was highly educated. And yet, despite their lack of education, the Lord still called them. They had “basement” education in that they were fishermen, yet God called them anyway and gave them what we know as His great promise to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” They didn’t have education, they were likely preaching in a few basement situations, but they had something better than a church building – they had the promise of God. Even when you’re in the basement, you can still make it, as long as you have the promise of God. Anyone know they have the promise of God today?

I don’t want to take up too much time, but I stop by to encourage you while giving your critics a critical message: “don’t knock the basement, for God is at work in the small stuff.” The great prophet Elijah came from a “basement” place called Tisbeh – it was in the middle of nowhere, out in no man’s land. And yet, the Lord called him to be a great prophet, to be His spokesman in the world. Elijah came from a basement place, a place that few even knew about. Have you ever told someone where you’re from, and they just look at you as if they have no idea where that is? Well, that was Elijah. He was a prophet, but he was a Tisbeh prophet, and yet, the Lord used him all the same. It didn’t matter if he was from a basement place. I could see a few folks laughing at Elijah, telling him that his geographic location was a “basement” of sorts – but he had something better than the basement: He had the promise of God, the calling of God, the Lord was with him. Don’t knock the basement, for God is at work in the small stuff.

Anybody remember David? David was a young man out in the field, tending the sheep. All his brothers were inside in the comfort of the home while David was out with the sheep. When the prophet Samuel came to Jesse’s house, he recommended his sons in the house to be king, but the Lord denied them. Jesse forgot that David was even in the field until the prophet asked about any other sons. Yes, David was treated as if he was a “basement” son. All his brothers were considered to be likely candidates for the kingship: they were taller, more muscular, better built, and more towering figures than old youth-faced David. And yet, the Lord told Samuel when Samuel looked on David, “The Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Don’t knock the basement, for God is at work in the small stuff.

There was a man named Moses (anybody remember Moses?) who was born to Jewish parents. He was meant to be killed by Pharaoh’s edict in Egypt. He was hidden by his mother to protect him from death, and placed on the water, a “basement” place where little survived. And yet, the Lord sovereignly provided in such a way that Pharaoh’s daughter drew Moses out of the water and raised him as her son. He became a son to Pharaoh in Egypt, and went from a basement situation to the top of Egypt, the finest in the land. He faced another basement situation, having to flee Egypt, but the Lord raised Moses from his basement situation and made him the leader of Israel, the leader of the people of God. Look at your neighbor and say “Neighbor, don’t knock the basement – for God is at work in the small stuff.”

There was Joseph, anybody remember Joseph? He was one of the youngest of 12 sons of Jacob. His brothers envied him because he had his father’s affection and his dreams of exaltation over them. They decided to do away with him, to see what would become of his dreams, but they couldn’t harm Joseph because he was in the hands of Almighty God. They sold him into slavery and thought they’d gotten rid of his exaltation over them, but they forgot that they couldn’t contend with the God of the Universe. The Lord told Joseph through his dreams that He’d make him great, and there was nothing they could do to stop it. And even in Egypt when he served his master faithfully, Potiphar threw him in the dungeon because Potiphar’s wife lied on Joseph. He ended up in the dungeon, a “basement” of sorts, and was there for some years. He even told the cupbearer to remember him and speak a good word for him when Pharaoh delivered the cupbearer from the dungeon. The cupbearer was restored to his position and forgot about Joseph. That’s just like man: no matter what you do for him, no matter how great your kindness, he will forget you. But Joseph had something better than the dungeon, something better than man’s memory, something better than the favor of Potiphar: he had the calling and favor of God. Don’t knock the basement, for God is at work in the small stuff.

I’m about to conclude my sermon, but I got one more piece of evidence: there was a woman by the name of the Virgin Mary. She was a Jew, not very wealthy, and she was espoused to a man by the name of Joseph. She was just living her life as a faithful Jew to the service of the Lord when she was met by the angel Gabriel, who told her not to fear, that she’d found favor with God. She would conceive, and bear a Son, and she was to call His name Jesus, for He’d save His people from their sins. Anybody know this story? When Jesus was born, He was born in a feeding trough, in a basement situation. By many standards today, He was born in something much worse than a basement. But Jesus had something more than the favor of men, something greater than being born in a building or a physical structure. He was born out in a feeding trough, but He had the favor of God, calling, and power of God. He was more of a King in His basement, the feeding trough, than all other kings were in their fine palaces with their regal, royal robes. Don’t knock the basement, for God is at work in the small stuff.

John the Baptist was preaching out in the wilderness, a place where few would ever visit or want to see. The wilderness is often a place where nothing grows, but John the Baptist preached the Word and saw souls come to the wilderness to be baptized. Even the Pharisees showed up to see what the holy ruckus was all about. Yes, Jesus took two fish and five loaves and fed 5,000 men not counting women and children. In the end, my words to you and my words to the televangelist are, “Don’t knock the basement, for God is at work in the small stuff.” You never know where the Lord is going to take you, or someone you know whose ministry is so small. I’ve learned in my life that “small isn’t all,” that starting small doesn’t mean you’ll end small, that God can elevate you to the highest of heights in the Lord if you just stay faithful. We shall reap in due season, the text says, if we do not lose heart, if we do not give up.

Yes, the same God that chose lowly David, the same God that chose Elijah from an unknown place, the same God that called John the Baptist to preach in the wilderness, that drew Moses out of the water and kept him alive while all his generation perished, that took Joseph out of the dungeon and put him on the throne, that rescued His people out of Egypt, that fed the masses with a little boy’s 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread, that chose David over his brothers, that raised Joseph from his pit and his dungeon, is the same God that says to you today to not be weary in well-doing. For the Lord can take us places we’ve never been, but we have to hold on, keep the faith, stay in the race, and never give up on God’s promise. As He told the disciples, “I am with you always.” That’s all we need to know, is that He’s with us. That’s enough. The promise of God is enough.

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