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?