August 28, 2012

Making Room: Loving People as Jesus


Some of you may not remember Junior High. It was a long, LONG time ago for some of you. I’m just saying. But if you can remember that far back, do you remember what it was like in gym class when the Gym teacher announced that for today’s game you would be choosing teams. Two team captains were chosen and they would select, one by one, those who would be on their team for dodgeball, or kickball or dodge the Dinosaur...It was nerve wracking! Because we all know the worst thing that could happen was to be chosen last.

The team captains had to judge who they most wanted on their teams, and what skills they thought would help them win. We all knew who was going to be first. It was always the fast kids, the athletes, the kids who were good at the sport we were playing, the popular kids, no matter how bad or good, were going to be chosen by their friends. But as the numbers started to dwindle. Six kids, three kids, two kids...It was horrible.

If you were the last kid chosen...it was embarrassing. It meant you were pathetic, unathletic, and everyone knew it!

At least in PE there was a teacher there to make sure everyone got to play on a team. But on the playground it was worse because there was no teacher there to make sure you got to play. So if you were last and the teams were even and you were the odd man out...you didn’t get to play!

Even if you were a start athlete...there comes a time in everyone’s life where they don’t get what they hope to get.

You have that great interview for your the job you need. It went very well, and you fully expect to get the job. Then you receive the phone call saying they have chosen another candidate.

You fell in love. She was beautiful. He was amazing. It was wedding bells for her, and just what he needed to get over his fear of commitment. And then it all fell through. They didn’t share the feelings you had for them.

We know what it is like to not be chosen.

We are currently in a message series called Making Room. We are looking at what it means to make room in our lives for others. It can be a messy thing to make room for other people with all their problems and sins and jacked up lives. As people who are called to live Christlike lives we have to wrestle with what it means for us to lovingly embrace people with their sinful messed up lives and at the same time seek to live a holy life.

But throughout the Bible, it is abundantly clear that Jesus came seeking to save those who were lost, far from God, rejected by society, and outcast. The Bible also tells us a time is coming when once again teams will be chosen. Sides will be taken. Only this time it will not be left up to the whims of the popular kids and athletes. It will be at the hands of Jesus Christ who is able to see into our very hearts and will be judge us according to how we treated people whose lives are a hot mess. They are hungry and thirsty and they are excons with all the baggage that brings. They are not people whom you would want in your life.

Matthew 25:31-46
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. ”
Judgment, especially the Final Judgment, is a hot topic in the church. People have all kinds of predictions about when it will take place despite the fact Jesus himself said no one knows when it is going to happen. They have all kinds of elaborate theories and models about how it is going to take place. Pre-Millenial, Post-Millenial, A-Millenial, Tribulation, no tribulation, rapture, no rapture...the list goes on and on. What bothers me most about all this discussion is that people get so wrapped up in the when and how they forget the why.

They seem to forget that Jesus is coming back, not just to come back. He is not coming back to tell us how good we were at figuring out the when He would return. He is not returning to tells how good of a job we did of getting it all figured out theologically. No, He is returning to judge our actions and to set everything right in a world gone wrong.

Matthew 25 tells us He will gather all the nations together. People from every tribe, language and land, and will separate them, separate us, into two groups. One group is described as the sheep. The other group is described as the goats.

Biblically sheep were often a reference to the group of people who were blessed by God. There were a lot of ways people thought you got into this group. Some believed that just because you were Jewish you were the chosen people and automatically a part of the people of God.

Today we have a similar line of thinking. We have a group of people that think because they are part of the church they are part of the people of God. Some think that because they said a Sinner’s Prayer at one time they are automatically part of the Kingdom of God. Some think that living a good, moral life is enough to make them part of the Kingdom of God.

But Matthew 25 reminds us that those who will be part of the People of God live transformed lives expressed in their actions.

It is easy to get caught up in the modern debate about works vs. grace. The Bible never speaks of earning our salvation with good works, but deep down we know genuine things happening inside us express themselves in outward actions.

If a someone says, “I love you” to his or her spouse...their actions will demonstrate that love. They will be present in each other’s life. They will do things for each other, sacrifice for each other, care for each other in ways that go above and beyond what we consider normal. If a someone says “I love you” and then neglects their family, beats on their spouse, or refuses to live sexually within the confines of the marital relationship...we don’t believe they really loves them.

Actions are a demonstration of what is happening in the heart. The actions are not the love itself, but they are certainly a practical expression of it.

The same holds true with our faith. It isn’t just saying a sinner’s prayer or wanting to go to heaven or having some intellectualized belief that a god exists. True faith in Jesus Christ is demonstrated in our actions...actions that look like the actions of Jesus Christ.

So Matthew 25 says Jesus is going to return. He is going to set up a judgment throne. He is going to separate people into two groups. One of those groups are the people of God, and one of those groups is not the people of God. And He is going to do this according to our actions.

So He divides these two groups and he says, to one group, “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”

And he says to the other group, “‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’”

And the obvious question on both sides is, “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’” Because we don’t remember you ever being around. After that whole ascension into heaven thing...we just saw other people. When did we see you in need?

Then Jesus responds with a pretty shocking statement, “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did/did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”

When we serve others we are really serving Jesus.

The opposite of that is also revealed in this passage. When we refuse to serve others we are refusing to serve Jesus.

Have you ever watched that show Undercover Boss?

The CEO of a company dresses up like a regular joe schmo and works alongside his employees to see what they think about the company and who they are as people. They usually learn a lot they didn’t expect.

The best part is always the reveal...when the Boss gathers all the employees together and reveals he/she is the one who has been working alongside them. You can see the fear flash across the face of the employees; even the ones who did a good job. They are thinking back, trying to remember if they did or said anything that will cost them their job.

This passage is a little like that. Last week we asked the question, “Would people want our Jesus based on the way we treat them?” This week our passage challenges us to ask, “Would I treat this person this way if they were Jesus?”

Would you treat Jesus the way you treat our current President?

Would you treat Jesus the way you treat your parents, your neighbor, the annoying person sitting next to you?

Would you treat Jesus the way you treat the person living a homosexual lifestyle or some other lifestyle outside the will of God?

Would you treat Jesus the way you treat those people who have spent time in jail?

It might seem troubling to some of you that I would put Jesus in the place of some of those people. Luckily for me, I’m not the one doing it. Jesus did it to himself. When Jesus is telling this story he personalizes it. He puts himself in the position of the person. “I was hungry...I was thirsty...I was a stranger...I needed clothes...I was sick...I was in prison...” These classifications would have been understood to be a representation of how we treat the least, lost, lonely, and losers in the world around us.

Jesus wants us to know that when we serve others we are really serving Him.

There is an Eternity at stake.

Matthew 25:46 says, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

How we treat others determines our eternity because is demonstrates the authenticity of our faith. But our actions can also determine someone else’s eternity, and that is a frightening thing. It isn’t so much the human mistakes and oversights that get us into trouble...it is the times when we are blatantly acting against the actions of Jesus.

Young men and women around the world have been driven away from God because their priest molested them. Thousands more have been driven away because they can’t stomach a church that would cover that up and refuse to prosecute.

Hundreds of thousands of women go in for an abortion each year. Many have been driven away from God because the protestors shouted horrible things at them in the name of God.

Every year children and teens walk away from God because their parents act one way on Sunday and then another the rest of the week. College students leave because their church and parents would not handle their difficult questions about the Bible and God.

Thousands of people were driven from God when the Church whose leader says things like “love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you.” Were the loudest voice in going to war.

Our actions have eternal consequences both for us and for those around us.

Throughout history, the Church has been most effective...it has been most impactful for the Gospel...more lives have been changed in Jesus’ name when it fulfills its call to love the least, the lost, and the lonely...Not when it has stood high on its haunches and proclaimed how right it is morally or doctrinally and not when it has wielded great political power.

One author says the early church saw “the importance of hospitality to the spread and credibility of the gospel...” Meaning more people believed it was real when they saw people loving like Jesus loved. It was credible. It was worth believing in because of the ability to love that was developed in the Christian’s lives. People saw it....they wanted it.

God will be seen most clearly our lives when we are serving, loving, caring, feeding, building hospitals and orphanages, caring for the sick and dying, loving the addict and helping them find healing, caring those on the fringes of society, serving those in prison.

Anyone can love those who love them back and act properly and fit in with the crowd. But when we are truly transformed by the power of God we are able to love those who are not loved and welcome people in with open arms who are not being welcomed...then the Gospel will move forward and people’s lives will be changed. Eternities will be changed both for them and for us.

August 20, 2012

Making Room: The Power of Biblical Hospitality


A few years ago, Lori and I visited a church in Lee’s Summit Missouri. It was a church plant that met in a local high school, and I wanted to see what they had going on. We pulled into the parking lot, and there were signs giving us direction, there were greeters at the door, the children’s ministry team was nice as we checked Bri into her classroom. But aside from the people who were assigned to welcome us...no one said, “Hello” until the official greeting time.

We were the only people sitting in the worship area, and one guy even walked by. I could see him glancing at us and you could see the internal wrestling as he asking himself, “Should I say something to them?” In the end, he just walked on by.

For awhile, I thought it must have just been that church. After visiting other churches through the years, though, I realize how often churches just aren’t welcoming places. They are extremely friendly if you manage to break through and enter the Circle of Trust...but getting there can be a hard road.

This morning we are starting a new series called Making Room. We are looking at what it means for us to Make Room for people in our church and in our lives. Today we are looking at the Biblical idea of hospitality.

We hear that word a bit nowadays. Janae, who runs our coffee bar, has a degree in Hospitality services. Hospitality services focus on casinos, hotels, resorts, and restaurants, and how they provide for their guest’s needs and help them feel welcomed.

When most of us think of hospitality we think of inviting friends over to our home, making them feel welcome, providing good food and drinks. It means having a nice, clean house that is presentable for guests. It means getting the drinks when they need more, and having enough food so no one goes home hungry. There is a lot wrapped up in our modern understanding of hospitality.

But the biblical understanding of hospitality is about far more than just having friends over for an evening or making someone feel welcomed.  

Romans 12:13, “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

Hebrews 13:2, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

For the early church, hospitality was an important expression of loving your neighbor as yourself. It was a sacred process of 'receiving' people from the outside and changing them from strangers to guests. It is the root word in Hospital and Hospice, and the Church was the first organization to start hospitals and care for the dying.

One author writes, “Even a superficial review of the first seventeen centuries of church history reveals the importance of hospitality to the spread and credibility of the gospel, to transcending national and ethnic distinctions in the church, and to Christian care for the sick, strangers, and pilgrims.”

For us as Christian, this more than just a question of how we greet people when they enter the church or welcome people into our homes, though that is important to do. The real question is, Are we people who welcome the outsiders and through our expression of Christlike love change them from strangers to guests to friends? Maybe we ask the question this way, Would someone far from God want to know Jesus based on how you treat them?

True Biblical hospitality is a “taking in” of the stranger, the outsider...and that is a dangerous, messy thing. When we take someone into ourselves we risk the openness. Allowing them to get to know us and see us for who we really are. We risk getting to know them. People have some pretty dark corners in their lives, and relationships are messy.

In today’s heated church culture we risk having our demonstration of love and concern...our biblical act of hospitality...misunderstood by others. They took that person in? They are friends with a person who commits that sin? They allow that person in their home?

There are two biblical stories I want to rely on this morning. The first, from Genesis 18 may seem rather self-evident once we get started. The second from Luke 15, which we will use to close our time together, may not seem so obvious.

So turn in your phones with me to Genesis 18:1-10, and let’s read.
The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground. 
He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant." 
“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.” 
So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.” 
Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.
“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.
“There, in the tent, ” he said. 
Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
Genesis 18 is considered the primary text for hospitality in the Bible. Theologians, pastors, and teachers have referred to this passage in their teaching of hospitality for centuries. This morning I want to break this scripture down and apply it to our lives with a series of questions.

The first question comes Genesis 18:2, “When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.”

Do we rush to meet the stranger?

This is more than an introvert vs. extrovert thing. Some people are naturally more shy than others. Some people are really good at making friends quickly. But this is about more than our ability to make friends.

The purpose of biblical hospitality is to help the stranger and outsider feel loved and accepted by us, and therefore by the God we represent. But if you are like me...there are certain kinds of people whom I would rather not be around. Sometimes it is because of how they act, things they say, the sins they commit. Sometimes I can’t even explain it, they just get on my last nerve. I find myself running away from them...not physically running away...but relationally running away and keeping my distance.

But God’s call to be a people of hospitality challenges me to submit those feelings to Him so they can be transformed...so I can truly love my neighbor as my self...not because of what they have done or not done...but because the Gospel has changed me into a person who stands with the same open arms of grace for whomever would come.

St. Benedict wrote a book of guidelines for those entering his monastery. He says, “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ...” Everyone who arrives should be treated as Christ!

God’s expectation that we love our neighbor as ourselves does not rest on the other person...it rests on us. God doesn’t say love your neighbor as long as they respect you. He doesn’t say love your neighbor as long as they don’t commit those sins. He doesn’t say love your neighbor as long as you agree with them. He says, simply, love your neighbor.

Our second question comes from Genesis 18:3-4, “He said, ‘If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.’”

Do we make them feel at home?

Karen Main wrote a book about hospitality called, "Open Heart, Open Home.”

“We think in terms of entertaining as a...chance to demonstrate [the] skill and the quality of [a] home, when actually entertaining has little to do with real hospitality. Entertaining says, "I want to impress you with my beautiful home, my clever decorating, my gourmet cooking." Hospitality, however, seeks to minister. It says, "This home is not mine. It is truly a gift from my Master. I am His servant, and I use it as He desires." Hospitality does not try to impress, but to serve. 
Entertaining always puts things before people. "As soon as I get the house finished, the living room decorated, my place settings complete, my housework done - then I will start having people in." Hospitality, however, puts people before things. "We have no furniture; we'll eat on the floor." "The decorating may never get done. Please come just the same." 
Because we are afraid to allow people to see us as we really are, we welcome the false ideal of entertaining. To perpetuate the illusion we must pretend we love housework, we never put our hair in rollers, our children are so well disciplined that they always pick up their toys. We must hint broadly that we manage our busy lives without difficulty. Working hard to keep people from recognizing our weak points, we also prevent them from loving us in our weakness. 
Entertaining subtly declares, "This is mine -- these rooms, these adornments. These are an expression of my personality. It is an extension of who and what I am. Look, please and admire." Hospitality whispers, "What is mine is yours."
Hospitality is about welcoming the stranger and outsider into who we are as people...warts and all. It invites them in with all their baggage and sin and problems as well. It is so easy to get caught up in hiding our flaws and protecting ourselves that we never develop genuinely close friendships.

Jesus was attending a dinner party at the home of his friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. When Martha complained that Mary was not helping, Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42

It is so easy to get distracted with all the preparations and things going on we forget what is most important. If we take biblical hospitality seriously...the most important thing is how we welcome and love the stranger and outsider.

Our third question comes from Genesis 18:6-8
“So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. ‘Quick,’ he said, ‘get three seahs of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.’

“Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.”

Do we offer them our best?

In the Bible, a person’s capacity for generosity is closely linked with their fulfillment of hospitality. Abraham gathered the finest flour and the choice calf from his herd. He recognized these guests as deserving of his very best.

This may seem to contradict the last point about welcoming people and not being focused on outward appearance. I’m certainly wasn’t saying we should not clean our houses, but we do need to keep it in perspective. Developing friendships is far more important than whether our house is clean or not.

But here, demonstrating biblical hospitality means offering our very best to the stranger and outsider. It means we have developed a generous lifestyle that recognizes all we have ultimately comes from God.

Tithing is asked of Israel and the church not because God needs our money, but as a joyous recognition that all we have has come from Him. We learn to hold it loosely, and use it for God’s purposes.

When we engage in biblical hospitality we offer our very best to others. When we serve the homeless we serve them with our best and not with the leftover cans of food no one in our household will eat. When we as a church give away bottles of water...we give away good bottles of water.

We give our very best to others because God set the example and gave his very best for us.

Our fourth question comes from Genesis 18:9-10, ““Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him. “There, in the tent, ” he said. Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Do we allow them to bless us?

In the Biblical culture, hospitality was necessary. People lived and camped near the food and water sources. A traveler was dependent upon the kindness of those living near these places. But it wasn’t just the traveler who was to benefit. In the Bedouin culture a host considered himself “blessed by the guests.”

Every year hundreds of thousands of people go on mission trips to various parts of the world. There is one thing most return saying, “I was more blessed than they were!”

Something happens when we give generously to those whom we don’t know...those who don’t deserve it...those who may even reject it. What happens is God has a chance to work in us in the doing. Hospitality addresses the physical needs of food, shelter, and protection for others. But hospitality also affirms the high worth everyone involved.

We cut that short if we don’t allow ourselves to be blessed by the other person. It is so easy as a Christian to carry an air of superiority. I have the truth, and you don’t. I am living right, and you are not. I have everything together and a job, and you don’t.

True Biblical hospitality recognizes that both the host and hosted have a blessing to give.

Conclusion
That brings us to our last Scripture Passage in Luke 15.

Jesus tells a story that many of us are familiar with. A man’s youngest son comes to him demanding his portion of the inheritance, and then runs away to a far off land where he squanders it in wild living. A few years down the road, broke and starving, the young man returns home hoping to be accepted back as a servant in the Father’s Home.

Luke 15:20-24 says,
So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

We see the same things here as we saw with Abraham. The Fathers runs to meet the wayward sun, he makes him feel at home, he offers him the best he has, and is blessed by his return.

One of the biggest lies going around the church today is that to love someone means you agree with and accept everything they do. The second biggest lie is that God’s command for us to love our neighbor is somehow dependent on what that person does or does not do.

Both of these are the sin of the Older Brother in this story who cannot imagine the lavish love of his father extending to this wayward, horrible younger brother.

And the challenge of this story is that we often find ourselves in one of these two characters...the younger brother who squandered everything the Father gives us or the older brother who does not fully understand what it means to be a son and resents the Father’s welcome of the wayward son...and that is power of hospitality.

We have experienced in God’s response to us the power of Biblical Hospitality..and our call is to share that with others.

August 14, 2012

Vision: 5 Marks of a Biblical Church


In the beginning of Acts, we see a group who have 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 were to wait for the Holy Spirit, and this would give them power to be His witnesses to the rest of the world.

They must have been confused about what that all meant, but when the Holy Spirit came there were no more questions. What an amazing turn of events. They moved from praying and waiting to the sound of rushing wind and flames of fire. They couldn’t stay in the room...they spilled into the streets filled with excitement about what God was doing!

And talk about changes...

This small band of disciples, 120 in the upper room, who moments ago feared being found by the Roman soldiers rushed into the streets and share the good news about Jesus in languages they had never spoken before. And Peter, who denied even knowing Christ, stood in front of thousands and proclaimed, “The Messiah was here, but YOU killed Him. Repent and receive forgiveness”

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.

Acts 2:42-47 is the most powerful example of what a church looks like when it is functioning the way God intends. It wasn’t perfect. It didn’t have anything figured out. It faced difficulties and trials...but this gives us the foundational principles to be the Church.

It would be a mistake to think they could have created this church on their own. They were scared, they were hiding, they were unwilling to even acknowledge they even knew Jesus before the events of Acts 2 and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

It is also a mistake to think we can create this kind of church on our own. We need God’s Holy Spirit to empower and lead us. Imagine, though, what would happen in our community if we became that church, and then imagine what would happen if we planted other churches like that in the communities around us.

I get excited just thinking about it. Thinking about the lives God wants to transform and rescue. The families God wants to heal. The people who need to hear about God’s love for them.

Last week we broke this passage into 5 things that mark a church that is striving to be what God intends.

  • It is a church that seeks Truth.
  • It is a church that seeks to Worship.
  • It is a church that seeks to live in Community.
  • It is a church that seeks Growth.
  • It is a church that seeks live out God’s Mission.


So this week, let’s look at those more in depth.

Seeking Truth

I have always been skeptical. I questioned everything. I don’t believe things because you say so, and I ask a lot of questions...especially when the answers don’t seem sufficient.

I discovered many of my teachers and preachers were uncomfortable being asked the hard questions. Their answers were more rehearsed than reflected upon. They regurgitate what they were supposed to say, and they never gave me the other side of the issue.

I also discovered if I probed too much and asked the “wrong” question, or made them feel uncomfortable my faith was doubted. True followers of Jesus “trust and obey.” “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it!” My problem was they hadn’t demonstrated God even said it. I wasn’t trying to create problems (most of the time); I just wanted the truth.

College and seminary were very different. Professors faced the tough questions head on, and the answers looked nothing like what I had been told. It was a struggle for me to reconcile the difference between my professors and my preachers. Why weren’t they willing to share this stuff? What was it about questions that scared many of them? Did they even know this stuff?

For a church to function biblically, Truth has to be a primary focus. Doubts, questions, & seekers are not to be feared. They are a sign people are seeking the truth...they are hungry for it. People who are afraid of questions and inquiry and disagreement demonstrate their lack of confidence in what they believe. So they either have hidden doubts of their own or they feel inadequate in their ability to discuss what they believe.

Both of which can be cured with strong biblical teaching and preaching and study focused on Jesus Christ. Acts 2:42 says, ““They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching...”

As a church we take the Bible VERY seriously. So seriously we are willing to question it, dig deep, challenge it, and allow it to challenge us. We take it seriously enough that I challenge our leaders to read it regularly. We ask God to give us insight into it. I hope that within any 2 year period you have read the Bible through.

Our goal is to study God’s Word with everything in us, and live it as Jesus showed us how. Because it isn’t about acquiring more knowledge...reading God’s Word is meant to transform how we live our lives as witnesses of the Kingdom of God at work.

This week someone mentioned that because of all the hubbub going on with Chik-fil-A and the media that they went back to their Bible so they could see what it said. That is awesome! That is what I desire for us as we seek God’s Truth.

Seek to Worship

We are hardwired to worship. Even if we are not worshiping God; we worship something. In a lecture at Oregon State University, Rabbi Ariel Stone said, “For all that it has been sullied and mishandled, there is apparently a need we have for [worship], something that we cannot as human beings do without.” Everyone of us gives our time, energy, money, attention, and homage to something...and that is worship.

For some it is a sports team. For others it is their job. For some it is their family. For another it might be a favorite hobby. Whatever we spend the majority of our time, energy, and money on...that is what we are really worshiping, and it isn’t always God. But if we are going to be the church God calls us to be...we must learn to worship Him.

There are different words used for worship in the Bible. They can be grouped into two primary categories: words focusing on the one being worshiped and words focusing on the one doing the worshipping.


  • shachah: "bowing down before an object of honor"
  • egid: "showing respect" or "doing homage"
  • gonu and gonupeteo: "bending the knee"
  • proskuneo: to kiss toward...it was falling flat out before...used of the Magi in Matthew.

The primary focus is on the fact that the one being honored and bowed down to is truly worthy of the homage they are being paid.

The second set of words:

  • abad: "service or work for God"
  • latreuo: derived from latris - "servant"
  • leitourgeo: means a work of the people. From which we get the word liturgy...meaning how the service is put together.

The focus here is on the person’s response...because worship is not just a thought in our head, it is expressed through action. We gather together, we sing, we learn God’s Word, we live in community, we do acts of service...all of these actions and more are acts of worship.

When I preached a message on this awhile back, I came to this definition of worship: Worship is responding to God’s grace by humbly bowing ourselves to Christ and sacrificially serving God with our lives.

Worship isn’t about style...it isn’t about the music...it isn’t about how I feel or will feel because of it. It is giving God the honor He deserves and living a life that gives Him honor. For us, worship shows 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...this is called corporate worship. We must also be committed to worshiping God each day in our own lives...that is personal worship.

Seek to Live in Community

In the 1940’s Dr. Rene Spitz became concerned when infants at an orphanage were dying despite proper nutrition and a sterile environment. Later he discovered the number of babies had grown so rapidly...many were not receiving any significant human touch. The rise in infant mortality was traced to this lack of human touch.

Dr. Ben Benjamin states, "touch is vital for survival in the very young," and psychologist Dr. Robert W. Hatfield points out, "affectionate touch is vital for all human ages". Research even indicates that healing is helped by human touch and hindered by its absence.

From the very beginning, human beings have had a fundamental need to be in community. We are created to love and be loved. At the same time, sin creates this opposing force to prevent real relationships from developing.

So we live in this tension. We have a God-given desire for deep relationships, but we also create barriers that keep us from being in real relationships.

What are some of these barriers?

  • Busyness
  • Newness...there are barriers to getting over meeting someone new.
  • Self-protection and fear...usually rooted in a lack of trust
  • Previous wounds
  • Lack of ability to forgive.
  • Inability or lack of desire to listen.
  • Over-inflated ego or the desire to always be right.

Acts 2 holds the answer in one, simple Greek word...koinonia.

Koinonia-means ”to share in.” It is sharing in the lives of other Christians. Sharing each other’s joys and pains. It is a deep connection between people.

We can’t develop this by just attending a weekend service. Real community happens as we share our lives with others, and for us the best place for that to happen is when we serve on a team together or join in a small group. We grow, we learn, we study the Bible, we pray for each other, we care for each other, and we trust each other. I am currently in the best small group I have ever been in in my life. We are able to express our doubts, fears, and struggles...and know that the other people love and care for us.

I want those kind of relationships for everyone in our church, and I want that for everyone in Huber Heights. Imagine what Huber Heights could be like if we were the church where people could come in and find a loving, caring, accepting, and forgiving place where they could find their way to God in community.

Speaking of, we are starting another small group. I don’t know where it will meet yet, who will lead it, but if you are interested in joining a small group there is a sign up on the back table.

Growth

Talking about the need to grow a church has always been tough...not so much the need to grow spiritually, but the need to grow numerically. In a way it is like tithing...it can sound self-serving...like trying to build my own Kingdom.

I believe wholeheartedly that churches should grow by reaching the community with the good news of Jesus Christ and God’s love for them...but I have always hated that it starts with the idea of growing a church. A while back I realized we don’t grow by thinking about growing and focusing on the growth. We focus on building a healthy church that seeks after God and loves people. When we do that the growth will happen as God wants it to happen.

I’m a horrible gardener. I can kill a plant just by looking at it...it is my superpower! But I do know plants grow by being healthy...having the right soil, the right amount of sun, the right nutrients...water. They growth is in two key areas: a deeper root system and also by reaching out farther and higher.

Building a healthy church should be our focus. Growth is a result of a healthy organism, and healthy churches grow. And a Biblical church should be growing in two ways. It should be growing stronger by growing deeper in Christ and by growing farther in outreach to the community.

For us to grow, we have to grow deeper in our relationship with God first. Our mission as a church is to extend the Kingdom of God by helping people take their next step closer to God...and one of the best ways to help others take their next step is to take our next step. To grow in our faith so we can help those around us grow in theirs.

Then, and only then, can we grow by reaching others. We do this by inviting others to come to church with us. We do this by serving others with acts of kindness. We pray for those around us.

Over the past year we have doubled in size as a church. Our aim is to do that again by this time next year, but our focus is not just on growing. Our focus is on being a healthy church that loves God and love our neighbor and being a place God blesses.

Mission

My return to God came because I started asking the question about what I was going to do with the rest of my life. In our search for meaning and purpose...we often start in the wrong place. We ask questions about who we are and what we are good at doing, but if we are to come up with the right answer, we have to start by asking, “What is God doing?” and “How does He want me to fit into it?”

As a church we look for where God is working in the world around us, and ask, “How can be part of that?” And when we start looking to fit into God’s mission using our gifts, talents, abilities and involvement to make a difference...we will find meaning and purpose for our lives that is more deeply satisfying than anything else in this world.

To be part of the Mission of God means we care about what God cares about, and just a cursory reading of the Bible tells us God cares about the broken, hurting, poor, and those rejected by the religious establishment, and who are unwelcome in polite society.

Love is not the first word most people use to describe the church...and the reason is despite all our talk of grace...we really don’t understand it. Grace means we have received something we don’t deserve from someone who didn’t have to give it to us. We can’t earn it. We don’t deserve it. We may not even know we need it.

But if we can’t love and forgive others, it is a sign we have not really understood grace. God loves and values us beyond our wildest understanding. He offers us forgiveness and hope when he doesn’t have to, and out of that we are asked to love and forgive others in the same way.

He is not asking us to let people off the hook for the evil they have done...He is just asking us to let Him to be the convictor of sin and their judge...to free ourselves from that responsibility and allow the one who fully knows right and wrong to make the call. He is asking us to be grace-filled toward others because we have been given grace.

This is the Kingdom we are called to represent. A Kingdom that loves and heals and cares for the unwanted and unloved. And we are the ambassadors of this Kingdom representing Christ and speaking for Him in this foreign country.

We learn to speak His words. We learn to do His actions. We proclaim His message...that God’s power and rule is breaking in to our world and people can find love, forgiveness, and wholeness through Jesus Christ. That is our message. And WE are the ones sent out to proclaim it so when people look at us...they will automatically think, “That is how Jesus would treat me!”

God has chosen to use us to fulfill His mission of love and transforming renewal in this world.

Conclusion

When I was in college, we were required to take a course that exposed us to different ministries. From wealthy, suburban churches to inner-city homeless shelters. Part of the course was a trip to Washington DC.

One of the most talked about parts of the trip was the day we were to pose as homeless people on the streets. On Friday night, we dressed up in our “homeless gear” and slept in our clothes. When we woke up, we couldn’t take a shower, and they dropped us off at various locations around the city.

We were to wander the city doing whatever level of homeless activity we could. I tried begging for money only to be cussed out. I also attempted a nap on a steam grate.

That night when we returned to the hotel, we were ready to change our clothes and take a shower, but our professors called us into a meeting room and announced that 6 of us would be going to church just as we were at that moment...which meant no shower or clean clothes.

I wasn’t chosen, but Dwayne, one of my roommates, was. By the next morning Dwayne stunk so bad no one wanted to ride in the same van with him. In the middle of January, in the coldest weather spell DC had seen in 10 years, we were driving 15 miles to a church in the suburbs with the windows down.

When we got to church...it was HUGE!!!! The parking lot was full of Jaquars, BMW’s, Mercedes, and other very expensive cars. The pastor’s message was essentially that if God loves you and you are obedient to God and you give as much money as you can to God then God will give you more money! People cheered when the offering was announced.

I thought Dwayne was in for a very rude experience. Dwayne was in rags. He smelled horrible. We were his friends and we didn’t want him around...how was this church going to respond?

They responded with love. Dwayne was hugged by more people than you can imagine. They told him about different ministries that could help him. He said later that he felt overwhelmingly loved by that church.

Whatever I thought of their theology and preaching, I certainly couldn’t fault their love for the outsider and the broken.

You know it doesn’t matter if we have the best theology and the most biblical everything...if we can’t love people with the kind of love God gives us it will all be for nothing.

August 7, 2012

Vision: Gaining a 30,000 Foot View


I have a thing with heights, but flying has always been fun to me. I always try to get a window seat, though, because if I get a little nervous I can look out the window at the scenery and relax. You see the world from a completely different perspective, and I find that very relaxing.

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.

It was the most turbulence I had ever experienced on a plane, and I started to get a little nervous. I saw the guy across the aisle from me white-knuckling his arm rest, and all the heads in front of me were bouncing to and fro like a box full of bobbleheads. So I started looking out the window at the scenery...and then I saw something on the ground that looked like this... this not what exactly what I saw, but it was very similar.

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 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

Awhile back I took these principles, grouped them together, and talked about 5 Marks of a Revived Church.

Those 5 Marks are:
Truth
Worship
Community
Growth
Mission

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.