A few years ago my relaxation plan backfired when I was flying out of Salt Lake City, Utah. I had taught at a conference in Boise, and this was my first time flying out of Salt Lake City. The airport sits in a valley and mountains surround the airport like the edges of a bowl. This means the airplane has to take off and climb rather quickly. Also, the crosswinds swirling around the tops of the mountains make for a rather bumpy ride.
For those you who have never flown, this is not what you want to see when your plane if flying through bone-jarring turbulence. It tends to freak you out. You learn to pray in a whole new way!
A few weeks ago, Brianna got to fly for the first time in her life. She was nervous, but excited. It is hard to explain flying to someone who has never experienced it. Your plane takes off and within seconds the large buildings and cars become nothing more than ants. As the plane gets higher you see farther and farther. You can see for hundreds of miles. As we flew over Richmond, Indiana we could see the lights of Cincinnati in the distance. She was blown away. Flying allowed her to pull back and get a view of the bigger picture!
There is something about being able to step back, change your point of view, and gain a whole new perspective. We do this when we are putting a puzzle together and we have stalled out and are unable to find a place for that piece of the puzzle we have been holding for an hour. So we get up and walk around, we study the box cover to see what the puzzle should look like when we are done, then we come back and almost magically we find a new piece of the puzzle.
We needed to step back, take a breath, and get the bigger picture.
And sometimes we need to do that in our Christian walk. It is so easy to get bogged down in the minutia of the Christian faith. We have devotions to do, ministries to serve in, good deeds to do...and pretty soon we can get lost in a forest of good things and just simply lose our way.
That old phrase, “You can’t see the forest for the trees” certainly rings true. When you are lost in the woods the first thing you do is calm down, try to find some high ground, and try to gain some perspective of where you are.
A 30,000 Foot View of the Christian Life
For the people of Jesus’ day they were swimming in a sea of laws. 613 to be more precise. Rabbis and teachers of the law scoured the Torah to find all the laws the People of God were to obey. The Torah is the first 5 books of the Bible. We call them the Pentateuch. But these rabbi and teachers of the law wanted to obey God, they wanted to follow Him faithfully, and they wanted to be faithful in leading the people under them in following God.
But 613 laws were almost impossible to keep! But faithful Jews wanted to please God so they worked really hard at keeping them.
It was common, though, to try to boil them down. The Jewish people regularly asked, “What is the big picture here?” 613 laws are too many to remember is there a way these can be boiled down to a few essentials so we can actually wrap our heads around them.
So one day the Pharisees came to Jesus to ask him what he thought. Matthew 22:34-40 is known as the Great Commandment and gives us Jesus’ understanding of the big picture what those who follow God should concern themselves with. It says,
“Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”I wish Jesus had been more clear in his explanation because the past 2,000 years have been filled with people who desperately seeking God but cannot come to a conclusion about what it means to love Him and to love our neighbor.
Even this week we saw the debate in full force. The question being asked this week, I hope, is how do we stand up for what we believe in a way that doesn’t alienate the other person? What does the loving thing look like in this situation we saw this week? And no matter where we fall on the spectrum...there is always someone to disagree with us because Jesus didn’t define the word “love” precisely enough for us. He just gave a story about a Samaritan and asked us to answer that question from the perspective of the other side.
In a few weeks, we are going to discuss this issue more fully as part of the series called Making Room. What does it mean to make room for people in our church and in our personal lives when they hold very different opinions than I do. I would also like to have a time for discussion on how these issues affect us as we follow Christ. I understand there are people sitting here who hold extremely divergent views...and yet we are called to unity as followers of Christ. It is going to be an interesting and challenging time...but will hopefully draw us closer to each other and ultimately to Christ and learning to live our lives as Christ would have us lead them.
Wherever you ended up this week, I hope you spent hours of time in God’s Word and on your knees BEFORE you decided to act. So often we acts with our heart or with emotional reaction instead of submitting ourselves to God’s Word and to prayer. We go on autopilot and rely on what we have always been taught...we fail to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes...occaisionally, I have an opinion, and I know I am often guilty of reacting rather submitting to God...I am guilty of working off opinion rather than prayer.
For me, as for you, the words of the Great Commandment are meant to give us the 30,000 foot view of what our Christian lives should exhibit. Everything in our walk with Christ should fall under these two principles. If they don’t, then we have missed the Gospel and what it means to live out the Gospel in our world. Our understanding of sin, how we should express our beliefs, what acts of service we should do, how we should act when our co-worker disagrees with our beliefs....all of these, for those who claim to follow Christ, must be wrestled with in light of what Jesus said are the two most important things.
This is stepping back and taking in the big picture...the overall vision for what the Christian life should look like.
A 30,000 Foot View of the Church
As a church, these two commandments are the framework. If we, as Jesus followers, are attempting to exhibit these two commandments, then the Church overall will exhibit these two commandments. Why? Because the church is us. The church is not a building. The church is not an organization. The Church is a gathering of people who are seeking to follow Christ together.
So as groups of Jesus’ followers gather together and form communities who are seeking to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love their neighbor as themselves...what does that look like?
Well, if you read the Bible, it sure isn’t perfect! The Corinthian Church had amazing spiritual gifts, some of the best teachers, and was started by a guy who wrote most of the New Testament...and yet, they had sinful sexual behavior, divisions, members sueing each other, a lack of wisdom, abuse of those spiritual gifts, and questions about morality. The Colossian church had false teachers infiltrating it. The Galatian Church wanted all new Christians to follow the Jewish Laws and customs...the list could go on and on. The Early Church, despite how some people want to interpret it...was a messy place.
And it was a messy place because it was a place that welcomed sinners and people far from God and made them part of a community that was following Jesus Christ.
But in the midst of this mess...we also get to see a glimpse of what the 30,000 foot view of the church functioning properly looks like in Acts 2:42-47. It serves as the big picture for us.
“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 people start doing churchy things, and through this passage we see most clearly what God wants in a church. It is the most powerful glimpse of what a church looks like when it is filled with Holy Spirit and functioning the way God intends the Church to function.
It doesn’t last long. Within a few chapters people who are receiving help start bickering that those widows receive more help from the church than our widows. But right here...for a brief moment...we get this amazing picture of what the church is intended to be. 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 Breaking of Bread
and to Prayer
They were filled with awe at the wonders and signs
All the believers were:
Had everything in common
Sold property so no one was in need
Met in the Temple courts
Broke bread in their homes.
Enjoyed the favor of all people
Awhile back I took these principles, grouped them together, and talked about 5 Marks of a Revived Church.
Those 5 Marks are:
A truly biblical Church must have each of these marks. It is possible to gather on a weekend at a place we call a church and they have one or two or three of these mark, but have no spiritual power behind it. Many have tried to implement the principles without first having the presence of the Holy Spirit, and many 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 growing a large church ang getting people to say “yes” to the Gospel, and yet are not leading people deeper into discipleship.
We have all been to churches where one or two of these marks are missing, and, while we can’t put our finger on it, we knew something was missing.
We are about a year and a half in as a church. We have been doing regular Sunday morning worship and doing churchy things since March of 2011. The reality is that our future as a church is not yet built on a solid foundation. Our success as a church plant has yet to be determined. We have a long road ahead of us.
So it is important for us to notice the progression of Acts 2. If you look at how that chapter unfolds, first, those in the upper room sought God. Second, they were filled with the Holy Spirit. And then they were able to be the church God intended.
We might be able to 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. I don’t believe you do either. I want to build a church empowered by the Holy Spirit that reflects a passionate love for God and love for neighbor...a church that reflects these principles and makes an impact on our world for the Kingdom of God.
Crossroads Vineyard Church
Our primary goals over the past year have been to:
1. Create a great Sunday morning worship experience.
2. Reach out in acts of love and kindness to our community.
3. Grow closer through small groups.
4. Develop a strong leadership base to build on.
These continue to be our primary goals over the next year.
I want us to keep improving our Sunday morning experience as a church. I want to get better as a preacher and teacher of God’s Word. I want our worship to lead us closer to God. I want our children and teens to learn God’s Word and grow closer to Him. We have some difficulties to face because we are a mobile church and we are still training and discovering people who will step up in leadership and in ministry to see God’s vision for this church become a reality.
We will continue to reach out in acts of kindness and demonstrations of God’s love who often hear condemnation and judgment from religious folks. Our outreach is a way to open the door in other’s hearts so they can receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ...so they can really hear that He loves them and wants to rescue them out of their sin and have a relationship with them. We will continue to invite people to join us in this journey.
We will continue to develop small groups. I believe that in a small group is where you will receive the best spiritual care and encouragement to grow in your faith. I give you enough stuff in one hour, one day a week to help you become the person God has in mind. But through caring relationships, accountability to others, and developing a group of friends whom you can rely on and receive prayer from...that is where discipleship will happen best.
We will also continue to recruit, train, and develop leaders for this church. A pyramid’s height is directly proportional to its base. I believe the same thing is true for a church. We can only go as high as our leadership. We can only go as high as the people who volunteer and serve and give to make this church a reality.
The 5 Marks of the Church stand as the guiding principles for who we are and how we evaluate ourselves, but it plays itself out in one very important way for us. Our mission as a church is to help every person in the area take their next step closer to God. That is our goal. To build a church that reaches this entire area with the message of Jesus Christ and helps them grow closer to God. And we will do it by having a great Sunday morning service, develop small groups that help people grow deeper and closer, reaching out to our community in loving and compassionate ways, and discovering leaders who will help us build on a firm foundation.
Over the next year we will continue to push forward, but I need your help. I need your help to reach our community for Christ. I need your help in leading and volunteering to create a great Sunday morning experience. I need your help in funding, serving, and carrying out acts of kindness in our community. Small groups need your input and you need the community. I need your help in inviting, loving, and leading our community closer to Jesus Christ.