A Discussion Guide for Church Leaders and Followers!

22 Aug

A few weeks ago I started creating discussion guides that Faith Church’s small group leaders could use if they wanted to guide their group through a further consideration of a recent sermon.  Last week I introduced the sermon saying that the concept of “majority rules” could be good, but also really bad.  Faith Church is congregational, but that doesn’t mean the congregation votes to approve every decision in the life and ministry of our church.  Instead the congregation approves leaders, which I suspect is the case at your church too.  And that raises a lot of questions about the hows and whys of leadership.  Here is a discussion guide that you can use to study the concept of leadership in the church.

  1. What kind of person should become a leader in the church?
  • In the story in Acts 6:1-7 we realize that not anyone can be a leader in the church.  Instead there is a very specific criteria for who can be a leader.  In verse 3, the apostles give us the first description of what the next generation of leaders should be like.  Full of the Spirit and wisdom.  Next in verse 5 we learn another criteria for choosing these new leaders.  They had to be full of faith.  Paul would later further describe what kind of person can become a leader in the church when he wrote to two young pastors.  See 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. How are the lists in Acts 6 and Timothy/Titus similar or different?
  • Follow-up Question: Summarize the kind of person who can become a church leader in one phrase.  At Faith Church we synthesize the passages listed above by saying that church leaders must show beyond the shadow of a doubt that they are spiritually mature.
  1. How do you become a leader at Faith Church?
  • Back in Acts 6:1-7, the Apostles called a church congregational meeting and asked the church to select seven leaders based on the qualities we discussed above. Then it was up to the church to decide on selecting these seven.  At Faith Church our Nominating Committee administers a process of selecting leadership candidates through applications, interviews, prayer and discussion.  Once a candidate has proceeded through those steps, their name is placed on the congregational meeting ballot, and the congregation elects them by simple majority.  How does your church select leaders?  Is your congregation structure intentional about making sure only the spiritually mature can become leaders?
  • If you are a leader, how can this passage and process be a safeguard for you?
  • If you are not a leader, what can you learn about yourself and the possibility that God may have gifted you to be a leader? Read Romans 12:3-8 and discuss.
  1. How should church leaders lead?
  • What does the word deacon mean? The word deacon give us an important clue as what a leader should do. Deacon means servant.
  • Remember what Jesus told his disciples at the last supper? Peter was there that day.  When Jesus came to wash his feet, do you remember how Peter reacted? Read John 13:1-17.  What can we learn from this story about how leaders should lead?
  • It is possible Peter remembered the Last Supper when he wrote 1 Peter 5:1-5. Read that, and discuss what he says about how leaders should lead.
  • Leaders also set the example. Paul would say a couple times in 1 Corinthians, “imitate me” or “imitate me as I imitate Christ”.  Paul would also say to Timothy 4:12 “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and purity.”  Leaders, are you setting the example?
  1. How should non-leaders support leaders?
  • Read Hebrews 13:7 and 17. What principles does the author of Hebrews (we don’t know for certain who wrote it) say a congregation should apply when supporting leaders?
  • Remember what Peter said? In 1 Peter 5:1-5, pay special attention to verse 5.  What principles does Peter teach followers to adhere to?
  • How will you support your leaders when you disagree with them? There are some clear warnings in Scripture.  What cautions can we learn in the following two passages:  Proverbs 6:16-19, Matthew 13:24-43?
  • In Acts 15 there was a sharp disagreement in the church. What was the disagreement?  How did they respond to and solve the disagreement?  What principles can we learn from this?
  1. No matter if you are paid staff, volunteer leaders or non-leaders, all must be committed followers of Jesus. What will it look like for you to “deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow him”?

How “majority rules” can be so good and so bad

18 Aug

Do you believe that “majority rules?”  I am reminded of the game show, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and their “Ask The Audience” tool.  If a contestant doesn’t know the answer to a trivia question, they have the option, one-time only, to ask the audience which answer the audience would choose.  Audience members then pick up a key pad and enter their answer to the multiple choice question.  The contestant then sees the results, hoping desperately that a large majority of the audience chose one answer.  Sometimes the audience does just that, making it easier for the contestant to go with the majority.  But sometimes, particularly on hard questions, the audience is not able to pick one answer with a large majority.  How often do you think the audience majority is right on Millionaire?

In the church we often think majority rules.  We often create a system of church governance based on majority rules.  We Americans especially love this because of our culture of voting.  Everyone gets one equal vote.  We all have a voice, an equally important voice.  So churches, particularly in America, have adopted at least a partially congregational form of governance.

Is a congregational style of church governance a mistake?  I suppose it would better to ask, Can we support a congregational approach with biblical teaching?  Yes, some will say.  No!, say others.  And still others, maybe.  Take a minute with me to think about this.

Faith Church is officially called Faith Evangelical Congregational Church.  Isn’t that a mouthful!  The Evangelical Congregational (EC) part of our name is a reference to our denomination, the EC Church.  (To my EC brethren, can we please consider shortening our name somehow? I say that with a smile on face, but I also consider it a legitimate concern.)   The EC in the EC Church is not just two really long words.  They mean something.  I dealt with that word “Evangelical” a few weeks ago (and why we’re removing it from our church sign), and now let’s look at the word “Congregational” (which, by the way, we’re also removing from our sign, but just because it is such a long word!).

Basically, the word “Congregational” speaks to our polity.  “Polity” is little word that refers to a form of government. You can see how it is related to the word “politics.”  People often complain that a church can get so political, insinuating that to be a bad thing.  But the reality is that all churches have some form of government, and thus by their very nature are political entities.

EC Churches are congregational in polity.  What that means, historically, is that we each own our property, and we are self-governing.  We voluntarily commit to and connect with the denomination.  Locally, we also see the will of the congregation as important.  We have an annual congregational meeting where all members can vote on things like who will fill leadership roles, our annual budget, large purchases, and any changes to our by-laws.

I suppose some congregational churches could try to be even more congregational than we are.  They might try to have a congregational meeting monthly or even weekly and vote on all kinds of matters.  We don’t do that.  Our congregation long ago decided that they wanted to turn over the administration of the ministry of the church to a smaller group comprised of members of the congregation.  That group is our Leadership Team.  In the Bible these people are called “elders”.

But even the Leadership Team, meeting every other month, cannot devote enough time to organizing the ministry of the church, so the congregation decided to create seven Serve Teams, one for each major ministry area of the church: worship, fellowship, discipleship, outreach, missions, stewardship (finances) and operations (physical plant). 5-7 volunteers from the congregation serve on each of those teams, and thus in the serve teams we see congregationalism as well.

But is this version of church polity a biblical one?

Sometimes, to reveal a bit of my thinking, I wonder about the value of congregationalism.  I see pros and cons.  On one hand, I think it is really good and important for as many people as possible to get involved and invested in the life and ministry of the church.  Giving, serving, praying, helping, leading, teaching, you name it.  But on the other hand, is it possible that congregationalism, at its root, is based on the assumption that majority rules?  Don’t get me wrong. I think Faith Church’s polity is very balanced.

It also seems very possible that the concept of majority rules is faulty when it comes to church polity.  Should we ever make any decisions just because the majority says so?  As Nelson Mandela famously said, sometimes the people are wrong.

In those moments, we need leaders to step out and lead, even if our leadership is unpopular.

The concept of “majority rules,” and therefore congregationalism, is not always best.  In fact there are some wonderful biblical passages we will look at to delve into this further.  Just as the congregation is not always right, because sometimes people have the wrong ideas, people should not all have equal footing to impact decisions.  Before you think I am being discriminatory, let me explain.  In our society, we are right to consider all people equal.  But aren’t there really limits to that?  Not all are equal when it comes to performing heart surgery, right?  You don’t want just anyone managing your 401K, do you?  Furthermore, not everyone should be teaching our kids, should they?  So let’s look at congregationalism and leadership a bit further.

Some people want to be leaders and some don’t.  Some people who want to be leaders have no business being leaders.  Some people who don’t want to be leaders would be great at it.

Is it wrong to want to be a leader?  Does wanting to be a leader automatically disqualify you from being a candidate for leadership?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

What are the factors going on behind the scenes in a decision like this?  Who should be a leader?  Why should they be a leader?  And how should we select them to become a leader?

Once they become a leader, how should they lead?

And for those of that are not leaders, what posture should we have toward our leaders?

As you can imagine, this coming Sunday I will be preaching on leaders and leadership, and to an extent, followership also.  My spell-checker doesn’t like that word “followership”.  It underlines “followership” with a squiggly red line to alert me that it might be a typo.  I double-check, and it is not a typo.  So my computer has not heard of followership before.  It should have.  Have you heard of it?  You should have also!  A few in the church will become leaders.  Most will be followers.  So just as leaders should learn the art of godly leadership, followers need to learn the art of godly followership.

Join us at Faith Church on Sunday at 9:30am as we talk about leadership and followership in the church.

When Christians should stop inviting people to church

15 Aug

stop invitingI appreciate a good provocative title.  My wife says if I use them too much, people will become callous to them.  She’s right.  But I really am serious about the title of this blog post.  At first I titled it “WHY Christians should stop inviting people to church.”  But that was a smidge misleading, and I could be accused of manipulating the truth when I really just want to grab your attention.  I don’t want to be manipulative, so I changed it to what you see above.  “When” rather than “Why.”  “Why” could give the impression that Christians should never invite people to church, and that is not what I intend to communicate here.   I do, however, think there are times when a Christian should not invite a friend to church.  But when?  I’ll get to that in a minute.

Let me set the stage for that discussion first.  I’ve been preaching through what we are calling Faith Church’s Growth Process.  It is a process we believe that followers of Jesus should be going through as they seek to live like Jesus lived.  You can check out the previous sermons in this series by searching this blog site for “growth process”.  To summarize, the Growth Process suggests that most people start as worshipers, move on to fellowship with a local church, but most importantly of all, should cross the Matthew 7 line and move on to discipleship to Jesus.  Today we see that there is a natural outflow to disciples of Jesus.

One of the best examples of Jesus’ teaching on what this outflow should look like is found in Matthew 25:31-46, a story often called The Sheep and the Goats.

Did you hear what Jesus said?  Just believe in him and pray the sinner’s prayer?  Nope.  Just answer an invitation an evangelist or pastor gives to walk forward to the front?  Nope.  Go to church?  No.  Worship?  No.  He said that we are distinguished by what how we live out our faith!  There should be an outflow.  We show that we trust in him by obeying what he taught.  We actually do something! God wants his abundant life to take deep root in our lives, so that it flows out of us into the lives of those in need around us.

This is why our church has a passionate outreach with CVCCS.  We are seeking to help the Conestoga Valley community reach those in need.  Many people from our congregation volunteer at CVCCS, give donations, and serve clients.  This aspect of outreach is vital.  Throughout the Bible in the Old Testament and New, we see God’s heart for the poor, the oppressed, those in need.  We Christians speak the Gospel incredibly clearly and faithfully by reaching out to those in need.

Then we also reach out 1 on 1 to the people in your life, as Jesus said that one of his disciples’ primary mission goals was to make more disciples.  I’ve heard numerous times over the years that people have a desire to reach out to their family and friends, but they don’t know how, or they are really concerned that people will reject them if they start talking about Jesus.

So the conclusion that people have come to is that actions speak louder than words.  Or as St. Francis of Assisi suggested: “share the Gospel at all times, and only if necessary use words.”

People have said others will look at Christians living out the abundant life of Jesus and think “Wow, they are different.  They have something I don’t have.  I want what they have.  Peace.  Joy.  Even in the midst of difficulty, they seem like they are grounded.”  And then those people will come up ask the Christian “you are different.  I want what you have.  Why are you different?”  “And then the Christian will be able to say “I’m different because of Jesus.”  And they Christian will have the opportunity to share Christ.

Actor Stephen Baldwin tells the story of his nanny.  She was like that.  Always joyful.  It got under Baldwin’s skin, and finally got to the point where he asked “What is going on with you?”  And she was able to share Christ with him, and he became a Christian.

Can I be honest though?

How many of you have actually encountered this situation in your life?  I don’t know that I ever have.  If you haven’t had someone come up to you and ask “why are you different?”, is it possible that you are not different?  Is it possible that there is no or very little evidence that people can point in your life that speaks that you are a disciple of Jesus?

Or maybe it is because you’ve said arrogantly, self-righteously, “Well, I’m a Christian, so I don’t do _______!”  That kind of harsh statement only divides, creates a barrier.  We need to be gracious and loving about our decision to follow the way of Jesus.

Because Christians have behaved badly like this, we all need to examine our lives and invite others to examine us as well, others who will speak the hard truth to us.  Is it possible that that the Gospel we have been preaching with our actions has not been good news?  Is it possible that people around us have not seen much off the Fruit of the Spirit flowing from us?

Or maybe people don’t ask that question because the premise of the question is faulty.  We think that is what should happen, that they are so lacking something in their lives, that something feels missing and deep down they are not at peace, can’t be at peace, and they are longing for hope, for joy, for peace.  We call this the god-shaped hole, and some people have said that God created all of us with a god-shaped hole in our lives.  A longing to be in relationship with God.  An inner ache, an inner emptiness that only a relationship with God can fulfill.

And yet plenty of people give the impression that they don’t feel that way at all.

What should we do when people are expressing no or little interest?  In our day and age, there are more and more people that simply have no desire, no interest. What should we do?  My recommendation is to avoid the gimmicks.  Avoid the events.  Invitations to church?  They might help, but I think there is a much better way.  A much more down to earth approach.

  • Pray for people.
  • Be available.
  • Love. Genuine friendship.
  • Be ready to share the words of the Good News when people give you permission.

Seriously evaluate the idea of inviting people to church.  The simplest form of evangelism might not be to invite people to church.  In fact, it might be the wrong choice for some people.  They might have had a bad experience with church, and the wound could still be open.  They might not be into organized, institutional religious approaches, and let’s call a spade a spade, what we do in our churches on Sunday is an organized, institutional approach.  We’re used to it. We like it.  But we can blind to the fact that not everyone, and in fact few people, might have a willingness to try it out.  Instead it will likely seem extremely odd to many people.  Where else in our society do you go into a room where people sit in rows, sing songs, and listen to a lecture?  And why would they do it with a group of people they don’t know?  Just go ahead and start asking people who don’t go to church, or who have no background with church, what they think about worship services.  You might learn a thing or two about how other people view this pretty unique thing we do on Sunday.  That doesn’t make them wrong, by the way.

It is also not wrong for we followers of Jesus to enjoy worship services and hold worship services.  But we would do well to remember that it is okay if other people think differently from us.

So if there is a person in your life for whom inviting them to church might not be a good choice, or if you have invited them already and they have said “no,” then you’re likely going to have to change your approach about to introducing them to Jesus.   So pray for them.  Love them in genuine friendship.

One author says it is extremely important that we listen to people.  He says “Mission should be done with the posture of humility and compassion. A tangible way of doing this is actively listening to what people are saying. Knowing a person’s story will allow for a more faithful contextualization of the gospel.”

And when people give us permission to talk about Jesus, what should we say?  Don’t stop praying at this point.  Pray inwardly that the Holy Spirit will help you know what to say.  Jesus taught that the Spirit would help us.

The same author I quoted above said this “So what should we tell people about God? How should we do it? A good place to start is with the presenting of the overarching story of the Bible. By doing this we’ll be able to proclaim that Jesus is King, that he is working to right every wrong, and that he is restoring every broken part of this earth! Now that is good news! To me, this is much better news than the individualized gospel of Jesus hiding in our hearts.  The reality, is that most of the anxieties that come from evangelism stem from Christians not believing the gospel themselves. Or even worse, they don’t believe that the gospel is good news. When sharing the gospel, tell of the powerful, all knowing God who is on a rescue mission to redeem His world.”

What in the world is Christian “outreach”?

12 Aug

It has been a few years, but for a long time every fall Faith Church held a Harvest Bazaar.  Before that it was called a Christmas Bazaar.  Many people in our congregation would cook up a storm in their kitchens, creating delicacies for the bake shop.  Others would staff the snack shop, making amazing chicken soup.  Still others would be hard at work crafting and donating and volunteering and we would have numerous rooms in our church building filled with items that people could buy as Christmas gifts.  And buy they did!  We would often raise $2500 or more from the Bazaar.  But why would we do this?  It was a lot of work!

Our congregation initiated the Bazaar decades ago as a fundraiser to pay off the debt we owed on our building.  Eventually we did pay off the debt.  I still remember the mortgage burning ceremony.  We have had memorable experiences with fire in our sanctuary, such as when the Advent wreath caught fire!  But I’m talking about the time when we had paid off the mortgage to the most recent expansion to the building, and we celebrating by burning the mortgage documents in a bowl during a worship service.

Though the mortgage was paid off, we kept having the Bazaar for a number of years.  Now we decided that the proceeds of the Bazaar would be directed to the Building Fund and to support missionaries.  Both good causes.  And yet there was discussion about whether or not we should keep having the Bazaar.  Was its purpose completed?  People had numerous points of view, both pros and cons.  It took a lot of work, and people were getting burned out.  So we eventually slowed down our pace to holding the Bazaar every other year.  The last time we held a Bazaar was three or four years ago, and we have no plans for another.

At one point there was a suggestion made in favor of continuing the Bazaar saying that the Bazaar was an outreach.  How was it an outreach?  Well, didn’t it bring people from the community into our building?  It did.  That is true.  Probably hundreds of people in the community would stop in, look over items, eat food, and buy stuff.  But just because they came into the building could we say that qualifies as outreach?

We’ve heard this before about the Youth Chicken BBQ we hold every spring.  People say that not only does the BBQ raise money for our youth group, it also has an outreach element to it.  We’ve heard this about pretty much anything we do that brings people into the building.  By holding an event or program for which they walk through the doors of the church building, it is reasoned, we are reaching out to them.  We have done this quite a bit over the years:  Ballroom Dance Classes, Vacation Bible School, Trunk or Treat, Concerts, Breakfasts and now most recently Summer Lunch Club.

In our recent history this approach is how we have thought about outreach.  Is that outreach?  What should outreach be?  And before we can answer those questions, should we not ask the questions behind the question?  Why do we do outreach?  Should we do outreach at all?  We should have solid reasons for why or how we do outreach before we start outreach.  But do we have solid reasons?

Join us at Faith Church this Sunday August 14 at 9:30am as we seek to answer these questions.

The extremely important teaching of Jesus that Google (and maybe your church) is missing

8 Aug

Today while writing this post, I googled “the one thing Jesus taught us to do.”  I was looking for an image to illustrate the reflection that I usually write about the jesus teachprevious Sunday’s sermon.  The results of my image search were very interesting.  Can you predict which result was the most frequent?  Prayer.  I guess the algorithm guiding the search keyed in on the famous verses where the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray and he taught them the Lord’s Prayer.

But that’s not what I was looking for.   I guess my search was misleading.  As I thought about it, I realized that there was not just one thing that Jesus taught his disciples.  So I rewrote my search terms to “the most important thing Jesus taught us.”  Guess what happened?  A lot more images of prayer.  There was more variety this time, though.  The first image in the list said “serve others.”   I thought for sure “Love one another” would be there.   Or “Love the Lord your God”.  But those phrases were not there, or maybe they were buried so far down the list, that I stopped looking before I scrolled to them.

I do searches like this every week trying to find the right image for blog posts and PowerPoint shows to illustrate sermons.  It is most often a matter of word-smithing the search phrase in such a way that the results return what I’m looking for.  But this time I was curious as to what Google’s algorithms would come up with in regard to Jesus’ teachings.  Those results could be said to be a representation of what people believe to be Jesus’ most important teachings.  Therefore the internet is saying that Jesus’ most important teaching is about prayer.

Before you think this is a post about prayer, let me also point out that it was noteworthy what was missing from the search results.  This is not actually a post about prayer.   While I think prayer is very important, there is another teaching that Jesus gave his disciples that should be at the top of the list.  Why did it not show up on Google’s image search?  Perhaps it is an indication that we American Christians have not placed proper importance on this one extremely important teaching of Jesus.

Last week I suggested that there are two things that Jesus did NOT tell us to do, but that we do a lot of, and there is there is one thing he DID tell us to do that we don’t do.  The two things we do a lot are (1) the building of church buildings and (2) holding Sunday worship services in them.  Neither are bad activities, but they can consume our focus, whereas Jesus asked us to focus on something else.

What was the one thing Jesus told us to do?

We often call it the Great Commission.  Make disciples.  Jesus made disciples and he asked his disciples to make more disciples. 

Jesus did not say “I want you to make believers.”

Instead he said that if anyone would be his disciple, that person must deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow Jesus.

So when Jesus says that we are to make disciples, he is saying that he wants us to interact with people in such a way that they, too, deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him.  He does not want believers who keep their thoughts about him in their minds.  He wants disciples whose lives are transformed so that they look more and like him, so their lives look more and more like the way he lived his life.  That means when people get connected to the family of Faith Church, we do not want them to just be Sunday morning worshipers and fellowshippers, we want them to be people of whom it can be said, they are denying themselves, taking up their cross and following him.

If you say “Well, I believe in Jesus,” you should not be assured that you are actually a disciple.  If you say “Well, I believe in Jesus,” and you look at your life and you see that your relationship with Jesus is focused on attending Sunday morning worship and fellowship, you should not be assured that you are actually a disciple.

What does it mean to be his disciple?  His central teaching was that to be his disciple, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him.

What is taking up your cross?  How do we do that in 2016?

Jesus taught that discipleship was a life of learning from him.  To be his apprentice.  To learn from him how to live.  Gradually he molded his disciples into the men and women who could take over the mission of God’s Kingdom for him.

We need to address what taking up your cross is NOT.  We hear the phrase in our culture: “that’s my cross to bear”.  Is that what Jesus is talking about?  Not necessarily.  People can say “that’s my cross to bear” for all sorts of reasons.

“Well, I have to take care of my elderly parents.  It’s my cross to bear.”

“My boss is a jerk.  It’s my cross to bear.”

All kinds of situations can be our cross to bear.  But that’s not what Jesus meant. Usually we say that phrase as a “poor me”.

Instead a disciple carries his cross daily and follows Jesus.  Jesus meant that his way, his life becomes our focus.  We learn to do what he did.  Even if it is difficult.  Even if it is putting your life at risk for Jesus and the advancement of his Kingdom.  Even if it means you don’t get to experience the pleasures of this world, like you see your friends and neighbors and co-workers doing.

Jesus described it perfectly when he said that taking up your cross starts with denying yourself.

Taking up your cross is a figurative picture of giving up everything to follow Jesus! It is saying to Jesus, “I give you permission to do what you want with me.  I give you permission to have control of every area of my life.”  And then actually changing whatever areas of your lives he wants to change.

But how do you do that?

  1. An extremely important way to begin is to humbly and teachably read his word and ask the Spirit of God to convict you of any sin in your life that needs to be changed.
  2. The next step is to share this with people who will speak honestly with you.  Invite people who are also disciples of Jesus to speak the truth in love to you.  To hold you accountable to make the changes you know God wants you to make.
  3. Finally continue in this until you are making changes that God wants you to make so that you can see you are being transformed.

Before you start thinking that I’m describing a pretty horrible way to live, let’s look at what this life is actually like.  All this talk of self-denial and being changed and letting Jesus control you can sound really bizarre.  Until you look at Jesus’ actual life.  I urge you to do that.  Read one of the stories of his life: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  Decide for yourself.  I would submit that if you are not that familiar with Jesus’ pattern of life, you will be astounded by the grace, the joy, the peace, the attractiveness, the mercy and the love that flows from him.  His way of life was the happiest, best way of life.  A disciple is learning from Jesus how to live.

One aspect of being Jesus’ disciple, therefore, is putting off the old selfish way, and putting on the new way of Jesus.  The apostle Paul used that image in Romans 13:14 when he said “Clothe yourselves with Christ.”

It is like clothing.  I go out to mow the grass, work in the garden or split and stack wood.  I get very sweaty and dirty.  Those dirty sweaty clothes represent the old way of life, the selfish way, where certain sins reside in our lives.

I come inside, cool off, get a shower, put on new clean clothes.  Those clean clothes, Paul says, represent the new way of Jesus.  His way is the way of a transformed heart and life.  Paul calls it the Fruit of the Spirit, where the good things of Jesus are growing inside us, and those good things naturally come out.

Jesus taught us, “By their fruit you will know them.”  I look at my berry bushes and I know what kind they are.  The ones on the left have black berries and the ones on the right have red berries.  Then there are also plants with similar leaves growing up in the middle of the berries.  But those plants, though they look similar, have no berries.  They are weeds.

You know a person by his or her fruit too.  If you find within yourself, or if others tell you, that you are regularly grumpy, complaining, angry, upset, selfish, hiding away, escaping to fantasy, manipulative, lying, hurting others’ feelings, rough, harsh, talking too much, having to be the center of attention, then those are the fruits that are coming out of your life.

Here’s the thing though: so often they are coming out of our lives but we are more than willing to let ourselves off the hook and say “Well, I’m not so bad.”  Or “Tough, that’s just me.”  “Deal with it, that’s how God made me.”  If you ever hear phrases like that coming out of your mouth, or even if you think them, you should be very concerned about yourself.  You need people to confront you, to tell you the true story of who you are, and you need to listen to them.

So while a relationship with Jesus begins by believing, by trusting in him, it will not be a relationship very long if the trusting and believing is not followed by obeying.

“Trust and obey,” goes a classic song that we teach our children, “for there’s no other way.”  Or as James says in James 2, “faith without works is dead.”  Even Satan and the demons have faith, James reminds us.  They know Jesus is the truth, but of course they do not obey him.  That’s where a true disciple is different; a true disciple not only believes and trusts in Jesus, they also give their lives over to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him.

So are a you a true disciple of Jesus?  What does it look like for you to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him?

Listen to the whole sermon here.

Two things Jesus did not tell us to do (but we do), and one he did tell us to do (but we don’t)

5 Aug

I’m super excited that the Olympics start today.  Soccer is my favorite sport, so while I’m disappointed the US men’s team didn’t qualify, the women’s team looks to make a gold medal run, and I’ll be cheering them on!  In honor of that quest, I thought I’d show you this picture of a Jesus figurine doing a bicycle kick, one of the most acrobatic and impressive ways to shoot a soccer ball.  In particular, notice the caption, which is meant to be humorous.  As fun as it would be to imagine how good Jesus might be at soccer, this picture raises a question.  Obviously Jesus did not teach someone how to do a bicycle kick.  But he did teach a lot of other things, and there is misinformation about what he taught!  We Christians can do a lot of things thinking that Jesus taught us to do them, when in reality he didn’t.

As the title of the post suggests, what comes to your mind when you think about the possible two things that Jesus did not tell us to do, but that we do…a lot?

A few years ago, I read the book Jim & Casper Go To Church, and in the book the question regularly comes up “Did Jesus really tell you to do that?”  The book is the true story of Jim Henderson, an evangelical Christian, and Matt Casper, an atheist, who travel around the United States, dropping in on worship services at twelve churches of varying stripes, shapes and sizes.  Jim and Matt spend time discussing what they experience, and numerous times, in response to what he has seen at a particular worship service, Matt asks Jim “Did Jesus really tell you to do that?”

Most often Matt asks that question in critique of churches that have placed great emphasis on buildings and highly-produced worship experiences.  Matt’s is a penetrating question.  I ask you to think about it because the answer is very easy to come by.  Just take a few hours and read through the four Gospels and you will find the answer.  I would suggest that there are two things in particular that we Christians do a lot of that Jesus did not teach us to do.

What are those two things?  While Jesus spent a lot of time talking about the Kingdom of God, and teaching and leading his disciples, he did not instruct them to build buildings so that they could hold worship services.

First, let’s take a look a the practice of building buildings.  On one particular occasion while the group of them were walking near the temple grounds, the disciples remarked how amazing the temple building was.  Jesus’ response went in a surprising direction.  No doubt the temple grounds were actually an astounding work of ancient architecture.  Beautiful and majestic.

If you look at some of the models recreating what the temple mount probably looked like, even the small-scale models are impressive.  The temple mount was the pride of the city of Jerusalem, the nation and the people of Israel.  But Jesus had other thoughts.  He said to the disciples “it will all be destroyed.”

Jesus was saying “Hey guys, don’t put all your eggs in that basket.  God’s doing a new thing, and it doesn’t involve a building.”  Those early Christians took Jesus’ words to heart.  For the first few hundred years of the church’s existence there is absolutely no record of Christians building buildings.  They met in homes.  Building places of worship was not the mission of God’s Kingdom.

Did Jesus tell us to build buildings?  No.  He did not.  And yet, we have, haven’t we?  Lots of them, all over the world.  Is it wrong for Christians to build meeting places?  No.  Jesus did not prohibit the building of meeting places.

But here’s where it gets murky, and where we need to be exceedingly cautious when we Christians purchase property and put up buildings.  Jesus’ comments about the destruction of the temple suggested to the disciples that they not become enthralled by buildings.  Though God had made a building, the temple, to be a central element of his interaction with the nation of Israel in the past, God was now doing a new thing.  God was relating to people through a new means, and Jesus himself was paving the way for that new relationship with God.  After Jesus’ death and resurrection defeated sin, death and the devil, making it possible for our sins to be forgiven and for us to have a restored relationship with God, the temple was unnecessary.  It was at the temple where sacrifices for sin were made, atonement for the nation.  But through Jesus’ sacrifice, the old system of sacrifice and the temple that housed it became obsolete.  In fact, one of Jesus’ earliest followers, Paul, would go on to write that we, Jesus’ followers, are the temple of God.  Amazingly, wonderfully, God lives in and with those people who give their lives to become his disciples.  We no longer go to a building to meet God, he is always with us.  So when we endeavor to build a building for gathering, we should be very sober-minded about it.  It is all-too-easy for that building to dominate the life and ministry of our church family.

Very much related to building buildings, there is a second practice that Jesus did not tell us to do.  He did not teach his disciples to have worship services.  Again, read through the four Gospels and you won’t find a shred of teaching about having worship services or what they should include.  For as much energy and money and personnel as we Christians put into our Sunday gatherings, you’d think there would be at least a little bit of teaching from Jesus about it.  There is none.

But once again, I ask, just because Jesus doesn’t mention it, does that mean it is wrong to have worship services?  No.  While Jesus’ disciples and the other writers of the New Testament mention nothing about building buildings, they do mention worship gatherings quite a bit.  In fact, we read in Acts that the early church did gather regularly, and perhaps, in order to commemorate Jesus’ resurrection, carved out time for a worship gathering on Sundays, which in their culture would have been the first day of the work week.  It would be like us worshiping each week on Monday nights.  Early in the second century AD, before the church was even 100 years old, there is also clear evidence, through the writings of Justin Martyr, who was discipled by John the Apostle, that Christian worship gatherings had standardized orders.  None of this is wrong.  In fact, like the building of buildings, a regular day of the week for worship, and orders of worship services, can be used for good.  But to answer Casper’s question, Jesus did not teach us to do this.  And if we are honest, we have placed an enormous emphasis on it.

At one particular church worship gathering that featured a large building, smoke machines, video screens, and a highly produced service of worship, Casper was particularly incredulous.  “Really?,” he asked Jim, “Did Jesus ask you guys to do this?”  But we need not focus on a spectacle like that.  The reality is that even tiny churches that cannot afford an expensive production can still invest a lot of time, energy and money into their worship gathering.  I would guess that tiny churches invest probably a very similar percentage of their resources into the Sunday worship service as a megachurch.  I do not know this for a fact.  I simply suspect it is probable.  Consider the salary the staff makes, and how much of their time is directed to Sunday morning.  Consider the infrastructure of buildings, utilities, equipment, and upkeep.  Consider the volunteers and all the hours they put into meeting, planning, lessons, practice.  Add that all together, and let us humbly remember that Jesus did not tell us to do any of it.

What remains, then, is to ask, “What did Jesus tell us to do?”

Join us Sunday, August 7, 2016, at Faith Church at 9:30am to find out.

How to rehab a relationship

1 Aug

Do you have relationships that need rehab?  There is help!  Fellowship!

In the very first account of how the earliest Christians interacted with one another, Acts 2:42-47, we read that they devoted themselves to the fellowship?  What is fellowship?

That word “fellowship” in verse 42 is defined by Louw & Nida as “an association involving close mutual relations and involvement.”

This passage describes how these first Christians practiced fellowship.  They clearly had close mutual relations and involvement.  Their relationships went far beyond just seeing people for an hour or so on a Sunday morning at church.  They didn’t have Sunday morning church.  They had no church building. Instead we read that they were together often, meeting in the temple in Jerusalem (presumably for larger group gatherings), and then sharing meals in homes.  Everyday.

When you read the whole description, they were sharing not just meals, but their whole lives.

Jump ahead a few chapters to Acts 4:32-37, and here we see more information about how the first Christians shared life together.  People would sell off property in order to raise cash to help those in need!  They saw none of their possessions as exclusively theirs, but as capital they liquidate if needed to help the suffering.

From Acts 2 to Acts 4 our best estimates are that only a few months have gone by from the very first day of the church.  That means Jesus was still very, very close in their hearts and minds.  And what are these first Christians doing? They are following his teaching.  We’ve seen how they are interacting with one another.  Why did they do this?  Jesus taught them to! What did he teach them?

In the final hours before he was arrested, put on trial and killed, John 13:34-35 tells us about the last teaching that Jesus gave his disciples: “A new command I give you: love one another as I have loved you.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.”

Relationships in the church, Jesus taught, should be clearly known by love.  Can it be said of you that you are loving the people in your church?  How do we practice this love?

In Romans 12:9-21 Paul says “weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn.”  We need to walk with people through the difficult aspects life.  We need to be there for them to talk, we need to listen, we need to allow them to face sorrow knowing that people who love them are right by their side.

In that same passage Paul also says “rejoice with those who rejoice.”  Loving relationships include celebration. Lots of celebrations happen for married people (bridal and baby showers, etc). But what about celebrating people and events that would be considered unconventional in our culture?  The church needs to celebrate singles as well, when you get jobs, new houses, or achieve accomplishments.  We also need to spectate at your hobbies, your sports, your extracirriculars.  We churches should throw more parties!

We can also look to deepen relationships.  Like the early church, one excellent way to deepen relationships is to have people over to your homes.  Get to know them.   Start with the people in your Sunday School class.  Invite them to your home!  Maybe then move on to the people in your small group.  Who are you doing life with?  Who are you caring for in ways that push your comfort zone a little bit?  Call them, text them, email them, go out for coffee.  Take the initiative to care for them.  Fellowship has to go beyond the structured programs.

Certainly not all people and all personalities aren’t going to be best of friends.  Some personalities connect more easily with others.  For example, Jesus, though he had hundreds of followers, focused on twelve.  Within that 12, he focused on his inner circle of three: Peter, James and John.  And even within that three, there was one who was called his Beloved, his best friend, John.  But Jesus was certainly focusing on others, doing life with them, sharing meals, talking through real life issues, and he did that for more than 1 or 2 hours a week.

Are you doing life together with people like the early church did, like Jesus did?

In this Growth Process sermon series, I said in the last sermon that Jesus doesn’t just want Sunday morning worshipers, he wants people to worship with their entire lives.  That means moving on to Fellowship.

But Fellowship isn’t just hanging out with people on a Sunday morning for 15 minutes, or even going to the church picnic or Family Night.  The kind of Fellowship that Jesus desires for his followers must be marked by “love one another”.

I’m not saying that you have to be best friends with everyone in your church family.  That’s not possible, even for a congregation that is less than 50 people.  But it is possible to get really close to a smaller group.

So have you moved beyond being a Sunday morning worshiper to becoming a fellowshipper?

How does a disciple of Jesus move beyond just Sunday morning fellowship into “love one another” and “life together”?

Examine your life and your relationships.  Pour your life into one other.  Love and reach out to those who are more difficult for your personality to love.  And to those who you are already in relationship with, seek to go deeper, interact more. Pray for and encourage one another on a new level.

Listen to the whole sermon here.

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