February 13, 2011

The 5 Marks of a Revived Church

Tim Hawkins video...

That video pokes a little fun at the church. The thing about comedy...things are funniest when they are true...and that last part is both funny and, unfortunately, often true!

My first thought is...that shouldn’t be the case, but it does raise a very important question for me... “What should the church look like?” or “What are we supposed to be?” There is a big difference between what the Church should look like and what it actually looks like.

I have attended church most of my life, and I started working in churches when I was only 20 years old. Over the past 16 years (that means I’m 36 so you don’t have to do the math!) I have never NOT been working in a church. And I have been part of churches throughout the entire spectrum. Liturgical/Traditional/Contemporary, Urban/Rural, small church/mega-church, Long-time established church/brand new church start. And when you spend that much time in a church...you get a pretty good sense of how church is working.

But how the church is working is very different from how it is supposed to work. As we start Crossroads Vineyard Church here in Huber Heights, I thought it was important to remind ourselves of the principles God intends to have guide the church...not in specifics of worship style and methods...but in foundational principles upon which to build. And Acts 2 is where we can see this best.

In the beginning of Acts, we see a group that has just experienced the death of their leader, and the one they assumed to be the Messiah. They witnessed the resurrection of Jesus; something they could hardly believe themselves. Then Jesus was taken up into heaven.

Just before He ascended into Heaven, Acts 1:4-8, Jesus tells them,
“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit...But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

They are to wait for the promised Holy Spirit, and this will give them the power to be His witnesses to the rest of the world.

“Wait!” And, as the great Tom Petty says, “Waiting is the hardest part.”

What were they waiting for? What is this baptism of the Holy Spirit?

But when the Holy Spirit came...there were no more questions.

What an amazing turn of events. They went from prayer and waiting to the sound of rushing wind and flames of fire and they were filled with the power of God through the Holy Spirit. They couldn’t stay in the room...they spilled into the streets filled with excitement about what God was doing!

And talk about changes...

Peter, who had denied even knowing Christ, is now standing up in front of thousands proclaiming, “The Messiah was here, but YOU killed Him. Repent and receive forgiveness”

This small band of disciples, 120 in the upper room, is now speaking in languages they didn’t speak before and using those languages to tell others about Jesus.

And then we get to Acts 2:37-47. It says,

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Many see Acts 2:37-47 as the birth of the Church (big C) because they start doing church things, and it is in this passage that we see most clearly what God wants in a church. It is the most powerful example of what a church looks like when it is filled with Holy Spirit and functioning the way God intends the Church to function.

It isn’t perfect. It doesn’t have much of anything figured out. It will face difficulties and trials...but this passage gives us the foundational principles we need in order to be the Church God intends.

When we break down vv.42-47 we can see those principles a little better...let’s just go through the passage and look at these.

This new church devoted themselves to:

  • the Apostle’s Teaching
  • the Fellowship
  • the Breaking of Bread
  • and to Prayer

They were filled with awe at the wonders and signs

All the believers were:

  • Together
  • Had everything in common
  • Sold property so no one was in need
  • Met in the Temple courts
  • Broke bread in their homes.
  • Ate together
  • Praised God
  • Enjoyed the favor of all people

I have taken these principles from Acts 2 and condensed them into the following 5 Marks of a Revived Church. I am going to just put them up here on the screen for you to see them and get the blank-filling out of the way. So here you go...the:

5 Marks of a Revived Church:

  • Truth
  • Worship
  • Community
  • Growth
  • Mission

A truly revived Church will have all of these marks, but it is possible to be a church and have one or two of these and have absolutely no spiritual power behind it. Many have tried to implement the principles without first having the empowerment, and they have succeeded in a way. Both large and small congregations fall into this category.

You get enough people together who read the Bible, study Church history, and like to think analytically and you can have good preaching and truth...but still lack the power of the Holy Spirit. You can have a group of good musicians, powerful singers, emotionally oriented people, and have great worship...but not be a revived church. There are churches that are great at the mission/social justice part, but have no regard for biblical truth...the list could go on and on. There are churches that are great at getting people to say “yes” to the Gospel, and yet are not doing it out of a sense of revival.

We have all been to churches that, while having one or two of these principles, has something, that you just couldn’t put your finger on, that is missing.

So, as we start this church in Huber Heights, it is important for us to notice the progression of this chapter...First, those in the upper room sought God...then they were able to be the church God intended.

We can find a way to do some of the 5 things on our own, but I don’t want to be a part of a church like that, and I don’t believe that you do either. I want to build a church that is empowered by the Holy Spirit so we can reflect these principles and make an impact on our part of the world...I want to expand the Kingdom of God.

So in the little bit of time we have left, let’s look quickly at these five points. We won’t delve too deeply into them because they are forming the starting point for our next message series.

The first Mark...

We must seek Truth.
Based on all the emails we get forwarded about conspiracy theories and Nigerian princes wanting to give us money...it is easy to become skeptical. We are part of what theologians and philosophers call a postmodern revolution. This means that the way we think about things is changing; especially for those in my generation and younger.

There is a rejection of our ability to truly find Truth in our world. For many truth is so distorted by our perception of it that they believe Truth can never really be found.

But like the X-Files says, “the truth is out there.” Maybe not in the same way, but it is out there. And a spirit-led Church has some valuable insights to offer this discussion.

For us as a church two things fall into this category...We are biblically based and we are orthodox.

Being biblically based means we start with Scripture. God has spoken to us through His word, and He continues to speak to us through it. It is God’s word to us, and guides our faith and our practice as a church. We will seek out it’s meaning, and, through the power of the Holy Spirit, seek to live out what we find.

To be orthodox means that we are in agreement with 2,000 years of Christian history on what it means to be a Christian, and what it means to live a Christian life. This is seen most clearly in the Creeds of the Church.

As Christians, no matter what denomination we are a part of, we have something in common and are part of the same family.

Do you know who is leading the way in revived churches in Africa? The Anglican Church. Do you know who leading the way in South American countries? The Pentecostal Church.

Being orthodox means that we believe that God has spoken to more than just me and my clan. He has spoken to God-following men and women through the ages, and we can learn from them.

This also helps us address the postmodern rejection of Truth because of perception...as we work together and take in other perspectives, we see truth from it’s many sides and break out of our own prejudice and blindness.

We all have a part to play...but it starts with being committed to being both biblical and orthodox.

The second mark is...

We must seek to Worship
It is easy for those who have been in contemporary church for very long...to really misunderstand worship. I know that sounds like it shouldn’t be true, but it is.

Why? Because many have stopped worshipping God and started worshipping the experience of God. We like the feelings we get from being in God’s presence, and over time we forget that those feelings came not because we sought the good feelings, but because we sought out God.

John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard, says “Too many Christians today focus on a cosmetic view of Christianity in which they see themselves in self-improvement programs. Come to Jesus and get your marriage fixed. Come to Jesus and become prosperous. Come to Jesus and get this or that blessing or whatever thing they are looking for. We emphasize strongly to come to Jesus because He is wor­thy to be worshipped, whether or not He fixes our marriages or heals our bodies or gives us new cars.”

You see, no one wants to be loved because of what they can do for the person. We have seen those lopsided relationships. Nobody wants to be taken advantage of in that way...and it is not really love if we only seek out the person for what we can get or how they make us feel and not for who they are.

True worship starts with a desire to know and love God; period...not to get things from him.

Don’t get me wrong. There are benefits like a renewed spirit, feeling better, and being joyful...but those are the side effect and the point.

For us as a church, worship will show up in two key areas. Corporate worship and Personal worship. We must be committed to worshiping God as a gathered people on Sundays and in small groups, and we must be committed to worshiping God each day in the privacy our own roooms.

The third thing is...

We must seek Community
The Greek word used to denote what we see here in Acts 2 is Koinonia. It carries with it the idea of people joining together for a common purpose. But is also means way more than just getting together to hang out.

Lori and I have these friends Peter and Kim. We became friends in Kansas City, and they moved down to help us with the church plant in Pleasant Hill. It is the closest thing to koinonia I have ever experienced because it was more than friendship. We ate at each other’s homes. Watched each others kids. Cried with each other through some tough times. So when we moved to Dayton and they moved to New York...it was like losing part of the family...there was something missing.

I believe that each one of us should be able to find that kind of friendship and relationship as part of the Crossroads Vineyard. We should be connected with other people so that we don’t have to question where can go when we need help. We don’t have to worry about being visited in the hospital. We don’t have to worry about finding a place to stay when the power goes out because of an ice or wind storm...or who knows what else happens here in the Miami Valley!

Let’s work to develop those kinds of relationships.

The third thing...

We must seek Growth
I hate when pastors start talking about growing their churches because it sounds like they only want more people to attend so they can feel better about themselves. There are also many pitfalls when a church grows numerically.

But that doesn’t take away from the fact that we do need to grow in two very important ways as Christ-followers.

First, we must be evangelistic.

Steve Furtick, the pastor of Elevation church, wrote this week on his blog, “we need to be more focused on the people we’re trying to reach than on the people we’re trying to keep. As others have said, to be fishers of men, not just keepers of the aquarium.”

People in our community and our world need Jesus. They need His forgiveness. They need to know His love. They need something that only God can give. And we are His hands and feet in extending His Kingdom. We can’t just swap sheep...we have to reach those who are lost. This doesn’t mean they have to go to our church, but we do need to help them find the Savior and then find a community of believers to be part of.

The second area of growth is discipleship. We are called to go into the world and make disciples. Too often we have been content to just make converts and move on. We get people to say a sinner’s prayer and then never follow-up.

We must be a place that helps people grow in their faith. That helps them take that next step that will help them grow closer to God. For some it will be the invitation to salvation. For some it will be the opportunities to serve. For some it will be a challenge to get moving and do something for God. Whatever it is we will help people grow to be more and more like Jesus.

We must seek to be part of God’s Mission
Social justice has received a bad wrap lately. Some have tried to tie that phrase to a perceived leftist socialist agenda...but social justice as found in the Bible is so much more.

Being a part of God’s mission means bringing God’s Kingdom to our world both near and far. This has local as well as global implications for us as a church. We must care for those who are hurting and broken in our area, and we must care for those who are hurting and broken where God leads us in the world.

We take the biblical mandate to seek God’s justice and to serve the poor seriously. We are involved in providing food to those in need and, as we grow, we will grow in our ability to serve...providing help to those in need.

For all of you Steeler’s fan...since your team didn’t win the Super Bowl...here is a quote from Chuck Noll “Champions are champions not because they do anything extraordinary but because they do the ordinary things better than anyone else.”

God calls us to a pretty big vision of what the church can be. A place where we study and learn His word...worship Him...where people care about each other/forgive each other/accept each other/but also challenges each other to grow closer and go deeper with God...to be a place where the lost, broken, and hurting are cared for...where people are loved...and a place that seeks to extend God’s justice into the world around us.

That’s a pretty tall order.

It is a mistake to think that we can create this kind of church on our own, but it is also a mistake to believe that we just sit around and wait for these things to happen. We need God’s Holy Spirit to empower and lead us...We also must put our best effort forward to accomplish the task God has laid out ahead of us. I believe that if we do the ordinary things better than anyone else we will see God’s Kingdom expanded in Huber Heights.

Imagine, though, what would happen in our community if we became that church...and then imagine what would happen if we began planting other churches like that in the communities around us.

We begin meeting weekly on March 6...but that is not the main point. We are moving toward a Grand Opening on April 10. So over the next month or so, I need your help. Help me by joining up on the outreaches...by telling everyone within earshot that we are starting a new church in Huber Heights...by inviting people to join us. There is a lot of hard work ahead of us. There is money that has to be raised so we can do the outreaches and get the word out. But God is up to something, and I’m certainly glad to be part of it.

February 10, 2011

Of Use by God

Here is a great thought from The Spiritual Life by Evelyn Underhill. It was part of my devotional reading in The Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Servants. (If you get the Guide to Prayer...invest in the leather version, you won't regret it!)

Sometimes I have the tendency to get too full of myself or to think too highly of my place in God's purpose and mission. It is neither to sit complacently by and watch things happen, nor is it to do my own thing...I am to of use by God when and how He sees fit.
The riches and beauty of the spiritual landscape are not disclosed to us in order that we may sit in the sun parlour, be grateful for the excellent hospitality, and contemplate the glorious view. Some people suppose that the spiritual life mainly consists in doing that. God provides the spectacle. We gaze with reverent appreciation from our comfortable seats, and call this proceeding Worship.

No idea of our situation could be more mistaken than this. Our place is not the auditorium but the stage—or, as the case may be, the field, workshop, study, laboratory—because we ourselves form part of the creative apparatus of God, or at least are meant to form part of the creative apparatus of God. He made us in order to use us, and use us in the most profitable way; for His purpose, not ours. To live a spiritual life means subordinating all other interests to that single fact. Sometimes our positions seems to be that of tools; taken up when wanted, used in ways which we had not expected for an object on which our opinion is not asked, and then laid down. Sometimes we are the currency used in some great operation, of which the purpose is not revealed to us. Sometimes we are servants, left year in, year out to the same monotonous job. Sometimes we are conscious fellow-workers with the Perfect, striving to bring the Kingdom in. But whatever our particular place or job may be, it means the austere conditions of the workshop, not the free-lance activities of the messy but well-meaning amateur; clocking in at the right time and tending the machine in the right way. Sometimes, perhaps, carrying on for years with a machine we do not very well understand and do not enjoy; because it needs doing, and no one else is available. Or accepting the situation quite quietly, when a job we felt that we were managing excellently is taken away. Taking responsibility if we are called to it, or just bringing the workers their dinner, cleaning and sharpening the tools. All self-willed choices and obstinacy drained out of what we thought to be our work; so that it becomes more and more God’s work in us.

The Spiritual Life by Evelyn Underhill