A Living Witness-Apr. 28, 2013

A Living Witness-April 28, 2013

Acts 9:36-43

A living witness is one who has given their lives to give testimony to what the Lord has done.  There are some that have had a dramatic encounter like Saul of Tarsus and others like Simon Peter who have a much less dramatic conversion.  Both of these men have had encounters with Christ and are different because of those encounters.  It is these encounters that make them living witnesses for Christ as they bring testimony of His mercy, truth, power, love, and grace.

When we look at this passage of scripture we must consider it in a larger narrative of the chapter.  The beginning of chapter nine is the conversion of a persecutor of Christ followers named Saul of Tarsus.  Saul was on his way to Damascus with legal letters allowing him to round-up all the believers of The Way and have them brought in and eventually put to death.  Saul was stopped in his tracks by a blinding light and a revealing of the true Christ whom he had been persecuting.  Saul spends three days blind in the city when God directs another man to come and pray for Saul and heal him.  Through these dramatic events Saul of Tarsus become Paul the missionary to the Gentiles.  It is Paul who would author the majority of the New Testament.

Then there is Simon son of John who Christ would later call Peter.  Peter who would share primarily with the Jewish converts but also became convinced the message of Christ was for all, Jews and Greeks.  Peter would go to the congregations and strengthen them, encourage them, and help them to remain in the way.  As he was going about doing his work a man in Lydda had been bedridden for eight years, and Peter prays for him in Christ and the man is healed immediately.  Those living in Lydda and Sharon saw and turned to the Lord.  Many times a miracle is what it will take to convince people of the power of Christ.

It was because of this miracle and the word spreading that Peter is able to do an even greater work for Christ in nearby Joppa.   In Joppa was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated, is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor.  This wonderful lady was a living witness that lived out her testimony not just with words but in tangible ways with her actions.  The community was different because Dorcas was in it and lived out her belief in Christ.  What would happen if we and our churches lived out this same reality of Christ in our communities?  Would churches be full?  Maybe, but the communities would definitely know if the church was no longer apart of the community because it had an impact on their lives whether they were members or not.

Dorcas became sick and died.  What a devastating moment for the people of Joppa this champion of Christ was dead and her presence was deeply missed.  They washed her body and placed it in an upstairs room.  Lydda was near Joppa and when the disciples heard that Peter was nearby they sent two men to urge him to come at once to Joppa.  The disciples in Joppa had heard of the miracle done in Lydda and wanted to see if Peter could help.  One event led to the other and as Peter was doing what he would normally do he was faithful to the people God placed in His path.  These opportunities presented themselves as Peter was faithfully doing what God wanted him to do but also being aware of God’s divine appointments.

When Peter arrives at the home he was taken upstairs to the room.  All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.  Her presence had tangible results in Joppa and so it was evident that she would be greatly missed.  She was truly a living witness for Christ but now she was dead and the people knew that things would be different because she was no longer there.

Peter sends the people out of the room and prays then turns toward the dead woman calls her by name and commands her to get up.  Peter helped her to her feet and presents her to those around as alive.  The news of this miracle too began to spread all over Joppa and many more believed and Peter stayed there a while.

It may be evident that some believers have more dramatic testimony than others about their experiences with Christ.  Each of these witnesses is a valuable part of the great cloud of witnesses that share the gospel of Christ to the world.  The greatest work and most powerful miracle may not be the obvious things, but rather the grace given each one of us in Christ Jesus.  It is this grace that makes those of us who are dead in our sin, alive and living witnesses for Him.

Peter came to help and encourage the saints or believers of the churches, as he was doing so divine opportunities presented themselves to bring the living power of the risen Savior to people’s lives.  As these lives are changed and the word spreads so too are many other lives changed.  This is not an anomaly or an isolated occurrence but happened with some regularity both during Jesus’ life and ministry and during the time of the early church.  A healing or miracle would take place and people would see or hear and believe.

The greater miracle may be when a life is changed.  Saul of Tarsus stopped in his tracks on his way to kills Jesus’ followers, or a woman at a well in Samaria.  A woman who went to the well an empty bucket and a heart full of shame and returns with that same empty bucket and a heart overflowing as she runs to tell whoever would listen that her life is now different.  It is the power of these living witnesses that move others to believe and they are the evidence of the power of the grace of Christ to set hearts free to live for Him.

Perhaps the greatest miracles never get witnessed, not because we don’t have power like Jesus, Peter, and Paul but because that power is the transformation of our minds, hearts, souls, and lives to live for Him.  Is it risky?  Sure!  Will others think I’m crazy?  Quite possibly, but crazy wants company.  My friends what could be riskier than to live for ourselves and spend eternity apart from God?  Would it be crazier to resist the grace of God in an attempt to save our lives for ourselves only to lose it in the end?

A living witness to be able to share must be living in a community.  A community of faith and a larger community, it is how we live in the community of faith with one another that demonstrates the power of that living witness to the larger community.  The Great Cloud of Witnesses (the faithful) will encourage and spur one another on while looking for the divine opportunities to transform lives by the power of the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  What greater miracle is there than unmerited grace?  A living witness in the process of going about their lives will also draw people to that saving miraculous grace of Christ.

A living witness is one encourages and participates in the body both local and global. As they do so looking for opportunities to speak Christ into people’s lives. The miracle that results is sometimes physical, but the greatest miracle is a life transformed by grace. The faithful become living witnesses as their love for Christ and others becomes tangible in the lives of the people they have touched.

These gifts may be simple and short lasting, other times the gift will outlast the giver but the transformation of a life touched by grace will bring showers of blessing, floods of grace, that become great waves that pound the shores of eternity. A living witness is better than a dead one because that witness can change lives through the sharing of testimony. If we are not sharing, then we are already dead to the power of Christ in us. If Christ died for you, then be a living witness for Him.

 

Becoming A Healthier Church: Following a Different Set of Blueprints-Apr. 24, 2013

Becoming a Healthier Church:  Following a Different Set of Blueprints-April 24, 2013

1 Corinthians 12:18-21

When we think about what a church is supposed to look like we think about the physical structure many times before we think about its spiritual health and development.  As we talked about in the last lesson it is possible for there to be walls that are not physical at all.  So if the four-sided physical structure is not what we are talking about then how many walls should a church have?

It would seem that six walls of balance should shape the spiritual health of the church.  These walls are worship, fellowship, discipleship, evangelism, ministry, and mission.  Three have an inward component, worship, discipleship, and ministry, while the three others fellowship, evangelism, and mission have an outward component.  The as balanced is increased between the inner and outer components a church becomes more spiritually health.

The idea of maturing in Christ leads each of us to move towards greater commitment to Christ and His service.  Several years back in his book Purpose Driven Church Rick Warren included a diagram of concentric circles representing the whole but also a movement towards maturing in Christ requiring greater levels of commitment.  It is important to remember that there will always be people at different places in a church body.  The idea is that as a churches body of believers continues to grow in Christ then they too will begin to serve in unique ways helping others along the path to maturing and multiplying exponentially the effectiveness and witness of the church.

When a church gets to this point of health core lay leaders begin to also help with the six walls that build up the body of Christ.  I have altered this model of concentric circles of to look more like our first blueprint to be six-sided and have added lines to make it look more like a web.  This Web of Commitment demonstrates the permeable and fluid nature of a church.  In a web if you touch any one part that other parts also move react and adjust.  Touch a web at one point and the whole web will change some and in some way also experience that touch. The strength of the web is its connectedness to all the parts.  We are all connected to one another as a whole even though we may all be at different places.  Without the whole structure the integrity is compromised.

It takes everyone to make a whole or complete web and to make it strong and useful.  A web is transparent and can’t be seen well in dim light.  Transparency leads to trust which strengthens the whole.  In transparency we learn to trust one another, and as we trust one another more we become more spiritually health and efficient at uplifting Christ.  Christ said of Himself, “I am lifted up I will draw all men to myself.”  If we want to draw people to Him we must uplift Christ that He may draw all men to Himself.

 

The Great Divorce-Apr. 21, 2013

The Great Divorce-April 21, 2013

Scripture:  Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 2:4; John 13:31-35

The Church has been referred to in scripture as the Bride of Christ. But what happens when the Bride of Christ wants a divorce? This may sound crazy to some, but consider Jesus’ words to the Church of Ephesus in Revelation 2 after describing many things they are doing good, He says, but I have this against you. You have lost your first love. Do you remember when you first fell in love with Jesus? Do you remember the excitement of being in His presence in prayer, His word as our love letter, and with His family the body of Christ.

In the letter to the Ephesians that Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her as His bride, to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. Ephesians 5:25-27. Christ loved the church so much the He gave Himself up for her, that she on that day of presentation would not have to come with stain or blemish of sin, but radiant, without stain or blemish. Christ loves us and His bride the church and died to make us radiant, holy, pure, and beautiful. It doesn’t matter what came before but that we know that we are deeply loved.

Without having the love of Christ it would be impossible to think we could love like He did and desires of His bride. In John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

At first Jesus gives them a new command to love one another. He doesn’t let us figure out what He means, He tells us as He has loved, so me must love one another. Just like we read in Ephesians we must love in a way that gives ourselves away to another. We must love in a way that the gift of ourselves would be redemptive for those we share it with. That they too might become radiant for Him, and blameless on that day. Jesus tells us in John when we love people this way everyone will notice and also know that we are His because of our love. We love because He first loved us.

Does the Bride of Christ want a Divorce? I certainly hope not, but often times the Bride today is content to live in the same house (church building) ignoring the Husband (Christ) and His great love. It may not be divorce but in many ways the Bride (church) has lost its love a long time ago and it doing business as usually as if it doesn’t matter.

In Revelation Jesus reminded this same church that they were doing many things that were good, but they have lost their love. Passion is the word used for the death of Christ, have we forgotten our passion to live for Him? Are we doing things out of obligation or love? The Husband is still waiting will the Bride remember her first love and tell the whole world about it? She wont need to for they will see Her radiance. Do you know how much He loves each of us?

Love…the Reason for Service-Apr. 14, 2013

Love…The Reason for Service-Apr. 14, 2013

John 21:12-19; Galatians 5:13

In a few moments we will observe the Lord’s Supper, and it is a place of remembrance of sacrifice and love.  When we participate in this meal we are coming together in hope, peace, and unity, to then move out into the world to serve just as Christ Himself served others. Christ presents Himself to His Disciples after the resurrection by the Sea of Galilee.  He recreates previous miracles of a large catch of fish and then invites the disciples to a meal of blessing which includes bread and fish.  Bread and fish were the abundant provisions that fed the 5, 000.

Jesus provides a breakfast for His disciples and a miraculous catch of fish to remind the disciples of His identity and His great power.  In fact His very presence with them after the resurrection is also proof that Jesus was there with them in the flesh, raised from the dead.  He is confirming His resurrection, demonstrating His power, and calling them to serve.

Imagine if you will that you have a best friend who was under heavy persecution and was falsely accused.  Then stood trial and could have used your support, but then you fell away wondering if you might be accused of guilt by association.  The stakes were high because this was a death penalty case.  As if things could not get worse your friend has received the wrong verdict, guilty.  This type of execution was not something done in the back of the jail, but in public.  It was meant to deter others who might want to challenge the empire.

Your friend who just died had you on His mind in those last moments.  He also knew that you were not there for Him.  It would be understandable in your grief that the thought of friend’s disappointment would burden you the rest of your life.  What then if the miracle of all miracles happened and you had the chance to see your friend again.  What would you say?  What could you say?  Would you be afraid of your friend’s disappointment or worse the judgment of how you acted?  Unlike the false accusations laid on your friend this reality you know is true.

In perhaps the greatest show of love and friendship your friend told you that they loved you and forgave you.  In this great moment you find out that His death would mean that you would not have to know the fear of death.

Jesus has done that for His disciples and for us His friends.  John 3:17 states, that God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world but yet through Him the world might be saved.  Jesus did not judge them but rather died in their place and ours.  Seeing Him again and knowing He has forgiven sets the disciples free to live for Him.

What burdens or weight are you carrying around that the love of Christ can set you free from?  In that new freedom you can be free to serve others in love.  It is His love that sets us free to love and not judge, to love and not compare, to love and serve with our whole lives.  Love is the freedom to serve and in serving, we best understand God’s love for us and demonstrate that love to the world.

Jesus provides both physically and provides the way through His sacrifice, He blessed them through the meal that continues to bring them together, and He is with us always as we seek and serve Him by serving others. Faith in action is love demonstrated through service.

Becoming a Healthier Church: What are the Walls For?-Apr. 17, 2013

Becoming a Healthier Church:  What are the Walls For?-April 17, 2013

Matthew 5:13-16

Walls of a structure can be built to keep people out.  It is a sad truth that many churches have built walls to keep people out.  Which people might be kept out?  Perhaps as many walls are built to protect those within from those outside the walls.  This may be protecting, “our church” from “those people” or “sinners” you know who I mean.  They may be the very ones who really need to be there but what if we let them in?  We’ve got to get them a little more like us before we can let them in.  After all we have worked hard to get this church to where it is and I don’t want anyone or anything to change it.  It worked for me and my kids, the world just needs to figure out this is the way we do things.  It is the right way.

The walls can go up fast and often times can be lopsided or unstable.  These types of walls stunt the growth of unity in the body and demonstrate an unwillingness to move that is closer to spiritual immaturity rather than the maturity Christ is seeking in His body.  If you will remember most of the gospel accounts record times when Jesus was at odds with the Jewish leadership, the Pharisees.  Early in the ministry of Christ these conflict came because Jesus was not doing things the way the Jewish leadership said they had to be done.  One of the repeated criticisms was that He ate with and kept company with sinners.  Many times it was in their homes.  Later in His ministry it was Jesus revealing His identity as God’s Son which they considered blasphemy.

How many unbelievers do you know?  If pushed most of us could name a few, but how many of us spend regular time with unbelievers in a redemptive way.  Sure it’s easy to go sit at a softball game, or talk about the news, weather, or television show, but about Jesus and God most would rather not.  We do not make ourselves available for that.  What would they think if I were to come off too strong and what would my Christian friends think if they saw me with them?

The reality will then become that most will seek to preserve their protective church walls, and integrate a few into the fold here or there that seem to understand “how we do things around here.”  This is not the church that Christ loved so much that He died to redeem.  This is not what Christ intents for His body to be actively doing in the world today.  We are disciples by both teaching and imitation and so we should do as Christ did and reach out in a redemptive way to the world around us.

It is during this time that the walls can be built for a different purpose.  Have you ever noticed how many Christian churches have a steeple?  How many of those churches also have at the top of that same steeple a cross?  Christ is what the church stands for He is their reason for being.  He should be at the center of all we are saying and doing.  That cross on a steeple would not be lifted up for so many to see if the physical walls were built lopsided or were too inward leaning or outward leaning.

The same is true for the spiritual walls of the church we must first remember that our foundation if it is to be solid, biblical, and Christian starts with Christ as the head of the church.  Secondly, we must get past the fears that seek to paralyze the body of Christ into inactivity.  In this there is life in a sense but very little activity.  Now we must build up strong sturdy walls that can withstand difficulties that seek to destroy the church both from the outside as well as the inside.  We will need to come together in unity of purpose and spirit, not for the purpose of preservation but becoming healthy and mature in Christ building up His body.  This means not only studying His word but following His example.

There must be balance to build up the body into health.  It would look foolish to see a body builder who only worked out his arms but not his legs, or a ballet dancer who worked only on her strength and not her flexibility.  In the same way the body of Christ must be built in a balanced way to receive strength from within and grace and courage to move out and be His presence in the world today.

When the spiritual walls are build up then the cross of Christ is lifted up as well.  In His sacrifice, death, and resurrection we find grace, life, and freedom to live for Him in these dark and hopeless times.  Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount describes who we are to be in the world.  We are to be salt and light, in a world that has grown dark and tasteless.  The unbelieving world needs to see that in these difficult days we will not rush to judge, ridicule, or become overwhelmed but that we will be that light on a hill.  This is why we are being built up to be a light on a hill.

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deeds, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  Matthew 5:16

Remember my dear friends that light does not have a voice, but its brilliance and warmth speaks hope in times of darkness, and comfort in times of despair, and brings peace in unsettling times.  The world needs to see the light of His glory and grace.  The church is being built up to be that light on a hill and then to go and be His presence in the world.

As You Go Let Your Light Shine!!

 

Let Your Light Shine

The news reports came pouring in “two explosions have happened at the finish line to the Boston Marathon,” and we as a country are faced with yet another national tragedy, and as believers we are trying to live our hope and peace in times of despair and violence.  We struggle to understand what happened and why.  We feel sorrow for those hurting and injured and for the families of those that lost loved ones.  This terrible act of violence was done in a calculated and impersonal way.  However, it has very personal and real consequences for the lives of people who are now shaped by this event.

We observed yesterday another “senseless” act of violence, and then we ask why as if to attempt to make sense of it all.  In labeling these acts as senseless it would imply that we will not be able to make sense of them.  Yet we are left with this yearning to make “sense” of the “senseless” act.  Our hearts long for the innocence and peace we took for granted a few moments before.  Is there really such a thing as a safe place?  If we live daily in fear we are not really living, and we are dying a much slower death as our ideals collapse under the weight of reality.  Under that type of weight we cannot hold up.  We live in a world as it is and not as it should be, but as ideals begin to struggle under this weight of reality our faith can stand firm.

How then should we live in a world so broken?  We learn to live in this reality, as damaged as it is, as the presence of Christ.  Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace and can bring peace into the violence of our lives and world.  Broken bodies can heal even if the scars remain but broken hearts many will carry for a lifetime.  How do we then live in a time of tragedy as people of faith?  We live as Christ’s fleshed presence in the world today.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus begins by pronouncing blessing into our broken world.  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted,” and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”  These two Beatitudes stand because one is a blessing for those that mourn and the second because as sons and daughters of God we are to be peacemakers.  Peacemaking is different from peacekeeping.  Peace keeping is generally about changing an outward reality, where peacemaking works from the inside out.  Peace making  is a much harder work, it is a lifelong work, and it is God’s work for His sons and daughters.  We may never be able to physically keep the peace, but will we allow the peace of Christ to overwhelm our hearts and circumstances and then live as peace makers to those that so desperately need peace.

Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount also describes who we are to be in the world.  We are to be salt and light, in a world that has grown dark and tasteless.  We can’t control what others may or may not do.  We certainly cannot prevent every “senseless” act of violence.  We can in the darkest of times shine a light and be peacemakers in times of unrest.  We can put our faith in Jesus Christ that His presence can bring peace in our hearts even when there is violence at our doorsteps.

When days seem dark we can be a light of hope in dark times.  In these difficult days let us not rush to judge, ridicule, or become overwhelmed by these events.

“Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good deeds, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”  Matthew 5:16

Remember my dear friends that light does not have a voice, but its brilliance and warmth speaks hope in times of darkness, and comfort in times of despair, and brings peace in unsettling times.

Let Your Light Shine!!

Becoming a Healthy Church: Begins by Clearing the Fear-Apr. 10, 2013

Becoming a Healthy Church:  Begins by Clearing the Fear-Apr. 10, 2013

What are some obstacles to building a healthy church?  There may be several but I believe one of the greatest is fear.  Fear can manifest itself in many ways.  Fear of uncertain times ahead can lead us to looking to the past for the comfort of times gone by.  There is also a fear of repeated unpleasant actions of the past, such as hurt feelings or mistrust.  Fear can also occur when there is a perceived loss of control, such as this will no long my church.  Fear of considering the new or different seems to some to dishonor the past.  Perhaps the ultimate fear is the eventual loss of or death of the church.  This manifests itself in a survivalist or maintaining mentality waiting for things to get better, rather than preparing for the times ahead.

Fear can paralyze both in our individual lives as well as the body of Christ.  When fear settles in and takes root it begins to overtake and paralyze many facets of life.  Fear can keep a church looking backwards, second-guessing, and distrusting one another, and maybe even God.  The concerns then become more about us and what we think and on whether we are at the center of God’s will for our lives as individuals and as the body of Christ.

12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)

This is a spiritual battle that we too often try to fight in a physical way.  The fear that paralyzes can also compromise the very health and life of the church.  Fear can cause us to look around at each other for reasons why the church is struggling rather than looking to Christ to guide, provide, and build up into maturity.  It is at these critical moments that we need to be looking to, running to, and pursuing Christ with all we have.  Fervent prayers for His will to be done in our lives and in the life of the church, even if it is not what I want.  Remember Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane was that the will of God would be done and not His own.  Christ sacrifices all that we would be set free from sin and the fear of punishment to then live together for Him.  Scripture states that man’s ways are not God’s ways and if we don’t follow the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we will not find that abundant life He promised.  The abundance is found in Him, and He is our Master, Lord, and Savior and we are His bride.  We must trust Jesus for all of life.

Fear is most destructive to the relationships of the members of the body that God desires to work in unity towards maturity in Christ using the beautiful unique gifts given by God.  Love is the spiritual weapon the builds up the body of Christ in unity.  This is spiritual warfare after all.

18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love[a] because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters,[b] are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister[c] whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.  1 John 4:18-21 (NRSV)

Satan will try to get us distracted from what God would have us to do and His greatest weapon is fear.  Fear keeps us from doing what the Lord would want and short-circuit the will of God for the body of Christ.

Fear is…

F-False

E-Evidence

A-Appearing

R-Real

As we look to becoming a healthier church we must make Christ our foundation and get ready for the days ahead.  Trust Christ and trust our brothers and sister in love.  Seeking to cast aside the fear and pursue the kingdom of God together as a unified body.  Looking to what God has in store for His church.

Rejoice[a] in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.[b] Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved,[c] whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about[d] these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.  Philippians 4:4-9 (NRSV)

Let’s clear the fear in our lives and hearts and trust that God not only has a plan for our eternal life, but also our abundant lives now and in the days ahead.  If we can trust Him for our eternity we can certainly trust Him for daily living.  Draw close to God and one another that we may find peace and unity to grow toward maturity in Christ and our fulfillment as His body here on earth.

Then he said to me, “This is what the Lord says to Zerubbabel:  It is not by force, nor by strength, but by my Spirit says the Lord of Heavens Armies.”  Zechariah 4:6 (NLT)