Acts: New Beginnings – Part 4

Defining Our Method

On that day about 3,000 believed his message and were baptized. They spent their time learning from the apostles, and they were like family to each other. They also broke bread [footnote 2.42 broke bread: They ate together and celebrated the Lord’s Supper] and prayed together.
Everyone was amazed by the many miracles and wonders that the apostles worked. All the Lord’s followers often met together, and they shared everything they had. They would sell their property and possessions and give the money to whoever was in need. Day after day they met together in the temple. They broke bread together in different homes and shared their food happily and freely while praising God. Everyone liked them, and each day the Lord added to their group others who were being saved.
The past several weeks we’ve been looking into the new work that Christ has brought forth in the church in the book of Acts. We have been defining elements of this new work, beginning with a look at the meaning of church, our message and our mission. This week we are looking at what happens as things get rolling. Our scripture follows Peter’s message on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit first fell upon the believers. We are told that there were 3000 people who came to believe in Jesus as their savior that day. Now that is starting off with a bang! Now, what comes next? What do you do with new believers and what do we do that we would continue to grow and expand, so that God would add to our number those who are being saved on a day to day basis?
The first follow up to the day of Pentecost is that the believers dedicated themselves to the apostles teaching. For us today, this means a dedication to the word of God given to us in the Bible. What were they teaching, you may ask.
There was so much that the disciples did not understand about Jesus’s mission and teaching until after his resurrection. After the resurrection, Jesus spent the next month or so teaching them and making sense out of the promises of the Old Testament and the things he had been saying (Luke 24:25-27,44-49). So, the apostles passed on that teaching from the OT scripture.
Acts 4:33 tells us that the apostles testified about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead with great power. This past Easter, I emphasized that we do not believe in heaven and a day when we shall be resurrected to eternal life based on a myth or wishful thinking as non-Christians do. We believe in the resurrection of Jesus based on the eyewitness testimony of the apostles given now in the Bible and then on the testimony of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
The second thing that happened was the formation of a fellowship of believers. Most translations say that they were dedicated to the fellowship. I shared the CEV above for the expression it uses here, they were like family to each other. When it speaks of dedication to fellowship, it is a serious commitment that is intended. We are told that they were so dedicated to caring for each other that they would willingly sell property and possessions in order to share with each other (Acts 2:45; 4:32-37). Few of us could claim to have acted so sacrificially for the sake of others in the church.
They carried their love for one another past the superficial scale of contributing to a charitable program. They also met in each others homes and broke bread together. This represents a desire to know one another and share life together on a personal level. More than a large group that gather for common worship and programs, the church is to invest personally in people.
Finally, they prayed together. Before this summer and our time in the book of Acts is through, we have to look at prayer. There is power in prayer. In Acts there are dramatic responses to prayer, the place was shaken, missionaries sent out were empowered by God, an angel rescued apostles from prison, demons were cast out and the sick were healed. Oh that we would pray like that!
Now take a few moments and think of how this could apply in your life.  If this is what formed the focus of the life of the believers following that rich and marvelous day of Pentecost, shouldn’t it inform our life as well? Let’s check ourselves to see if we are following the methods of the first church.
  1. How are you dedicating yourself to the apostles’ teaching (the Bible)? Do you read and study on your own or wait until Sunday for someone else to offer it to you?
  2. Do you believe the Bible is powerful to affect the reader? Do you encourage others to read God’s word? There are so many stories of people who came to faith simply because they found and read a Gideon Bible in a motel or hospital room. Have you ever helped someone seek to know God by beginning to read the Bible?
  3. Do you participate in any kind of small group for spiritual growth that meets outside of Sunday morning?
  4. How long has it been since you invited someone from church to come to your home for a meal? Taken someone out for a meal or coffee for the express purpose of knowing them better as a fellow Christian?
  5. Have you ever given to the support of the church or a fellow Christian in need with extreme sacrifice?
  6. What role does prayer play in your life? If you added up the time you spend in pray in a year, would it add up to much of a vacation or barely a day off?
  7. If you fail to spend time in prayer and reading the Bible, would it seem off or strange, or would you not even notice?

Acts: New Beginnings – Part 3

Defining Our Mission

Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” He replied, “The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Acts 1:4-8 NIV

What is our mission? In a word, we are to multiply. We are disciples making disciples.

I’ve asked that question in many different groups, and have gotten many different answers.  A common answer suggests that it is to hold worship services each Sunday. Some people in rather desperate circumstances describe their mission as “keeping the doors open”.  If we were speaking in business or marketing terms, we would say that our product or our service we offer is that we hold a weekly worship gathering that we invite people to attend.  But I want to challenge this idea. Worship is core to who we are as Christians but it is not our mission.  What’s the difference? If holding worship is our mission, then getting someone to start attending church is the completion of our mission. But, this is simply not the truth.  In Matthew 23:15 Jesus criticized the religious leaders for going to great lengths to win over a convert but then made them twice as much a child of hell as they are. How do you do that? By getting someone to come to church, teach them how to act Christian and be religious but without leading them to repentance and faith in Christ and Jesus.

Two weeks ago, when we looked at defining church.  We summed it up with the prayer that Jesus prayed in John 17:20-24. Jesus made it clear that the fundamental element that defines the church is an intimate spiritual connection with Jesus Christ. This relationship is founded on repentance and faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord and allows God to give us the gift of his Holy Spirit. From this, a close bond with other believers extends from our relationship in Christ. Lastly, Jesus said that these would make us multiply because others would see Jesus in our lives and relationships and be drawn to him.

Our life, our identity, is formed in relationship with Jesus and each other through the Holy Spirit. Our mission flows from that, our mission is to multiply!

Who are we meant to reach as we multiply? Do we have a target population?

I have heard it said that the hour of “church” on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week.  If one considers the make up of most churches, they are all quite homogeneous in makeup.  The people tend to be of the same racial, ethnic, and social/economic status. When visiting a church, most people are looking for a place where they feel that they fit in. It is natural for us to be drawn to people who are “like” us. This was never more true than at the very beginning of the church. When the church began on Pentecost in Jerusalem is was made up exclusively of Jewish people. They had been taught that their ethnic group was uniquely identified as God’s people.  Even though Jesus said that they should be his witnesses in, “Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”, would they only look for the Jewish people scattered throughout those places?

God answered for  that question for the apostles by demonstrating in different places and with different people groups that the Holy Spirit would be given to anyone from anywhere who trusted in the gospel of Jesus. In Samaria (Acts 8:1-17), in the house of Cornelius with non-Jews, with followers of John the baptist (Acts 19:1-7), and more (Acts 11;19-26).  God pushed the apostles out past all the boundaries and out of their comfortable sensibilities to reach all peoples.  God even used persecution as a means to push them out and scatter them into many places.

We must remember that we live in a dark world, darkened by evil. So many are so broken by sin that they cannot rise out of the messes they are in, as they lack any sense of direction and power to overcome. We are sent as a light into the darkness to give hope and guide those still lost in sin to find their way home to Jesus.

 

Consider and discuss these questions.

  1. How does defining our mission help us to do the will of God?
  2. Does the mission to multiply shape what you do and what your church does?
  3. Are their things that get in the way, for you or for the church, to complete this mission?
  4. Are you being stretched beyond your comfort zone in reaching out to others?
  5. What is holding you back from completing the mission?

New Beginnings: Part 2

Defining Our Message

On Pentecost, after Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the believers.  They came forth giving praise to God in tongues, that is in new languages.  It all created such an uproar that a crowd gathered. Many declared that although the Apostles were all from Galilee, they were hearing them proclaim the glory of God in their own native tongue.  However, some thought the Apostles were merely drunk.  Then Peter stepped forth to preach the very first sermon in the name of Jesus!

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “ ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (Joel 2:28-32)
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, that is, Gentiles put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him:
“ ‘I saw the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest in hope, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’ (Psalm 16:8-11)
“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” ’ (Psalm 110:1)
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
When we look at Peter’s first sermon and other sermons preached throughout the book of Acts, (3:12-26; 4:8-14; 5:17-32; 7:1-60; 8:30-38; 10:35-48; 13:15-43; 16:30-34; 17:1-4; 17:16-34) we find some common characteristics that we should learn from.
First, we see that the Apostles base their message in the scripture.  Peter explained the gift of the Holy Spirit from a passage in the Prophet Joel. He explained Jesus’s resurrection and ascension through the Psalms.  Some of the sermons in Acts build a very full description of God’s covenants with Abraham, Moses and King David.  They draw the connection between prophetic scriptures and the events of Jesus’s life and ministry.  These lay the basis for understanding who Jesus is and what he has done for us in his death and resurrection.  It explains that Jesus fulfills the prophetic testimony and is God’s unique, Christ/Messiah (anointed/chosen) means of salvation. Where as the Apostles had only the Old Testament Scriptures we have the addition of the New Testament, which primarily gives us the testimony of the Apostles.
Second, we find that sermons are based on scripture and are brought to life by the testimony of the Apostles.  They declare as Peter does here, that they have met Jesus and he is alive.  It is easy to recognize the significance of the testimony of those, who like Peter, walked with Jesus, participated in his ministry, saw him crucified, buried and resurrected from the dead. What then could be the importance of the testimony of those who did not see his crucifixion and resurrection?  To answer that, we need only look to the Apostle Paul.  Though he did not see those events, he nonetheless declares that he met the risen savior on the road to Damascus. (Acts 22:1-23) He can describe the power of Christ in that encounter and in his life that was changed. (Acts 26:20)
We too, share our testimony just as the old Easter hymn voiced it:
I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today
I know that He is living, whatever men may say
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer
And just the time I need Him He’s always near
He lives (He lives), He lives (He lives), Christ Jesus lives today
He walks with me and talks with me
Along life’s narrow way
He lives (He lives), He lives (He lives), Salvation to impart
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart
Third, the gift of the Holy Spirit comes with the gift of salvation.  Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would give the power to be witnesses of Jesus to his disciples. That means the Holy Spirit in us gives us something to tell.  It is through the Holy Spirit that we personally know Jesus and experience his life giving power that transforms our lives.  This is what we give witness to, guided and motivated by the Holy Spirit.
Fourth is the multiplying effect.  The purpose of these sermons is to invite others to faith in Christ. Sermons end with an invitation to the listeners to repent of sin and profess their faith in Jesus by being baptized, then they too would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. On the day of Pentecost alone, about 3000 became believers in Jesus.

Acts: New Beginnings – Part I

Defining Church

This summer we are going to begin a series based on the growth of the Church in the Biblical book of Acts.  Acts picks up where the Gospels left off and tells the story of God’s new movement in the Church.  Today we are going to look at the way Jesus defines “church“.  Quite honestly, I’m sure that we define church in ways that have little to do with the way Jesus defines church.

As a side note: Galloway Church has had an interesting history that has been marked by a series of building projects.  The first was a church built of reclaimed lumber on route 417.  That home was abandoned for the brick church on the corner of Cherry Tree and Seysler Road, put into service in 1962.  Growth of the congregation led to two further building additions. We have been worshiping in the present worship center for ten and a half years.  It is a good time to reflect on our mission and future goals.  Sometimes it helps me to wrestle with questions like that by asking what we would do if we were starting from scratch in an empty room.  I invite you to do the same as we begin.

How do we define church?  If we look at the way people view membership in a church we might get insight into what we really think church is about.

Years ago, an elderly couple reached out to confirm that they were listed as members of a church I pastored.  Their concern centered on the desire to be able to have that membership acknowledged in their obituary when they died.  Scarcely anyone in the church knew or remembered these people as they had not participated in the church in a very long time.  What does this tell us about our view of membership and the meaning of church?

Another experience left an indelible mark on me regarding church membership.  In another church that I pastored, we were recognizing people who had been long term members.  We’re talking people who had been members of that church for more than 40 and 50 years!  As we were situating the group of honorees for a picture, one of the elderly women struggled to her feet to move to another seat in order to avoid sitting next to another woman.  Members together in the same church for 50 years and yet they could not be seated next to each other for a picture!  What does that say about membership and the meaning of church?

Some churches and individuals treat membership like an exclusive access to certain privileges and services, like a club membership.  One of the most grievous examples of this I have seen is in churches were ministries like VBS are exclusively for their members.  I’ve heard churches and individuals declare that they did not want kids whose families don’t attend and more importantly, don’t support the church and its programming financially.  I’m so glad that here at Galloway, our VBS, Mega Sports camp is intentionally shared with kids and families who don’t go to church.  We know that our resources are given to the mission to offer others the gift of Jesus.  But what does it say if membership means that we are now in the club?

Now, let’s look at how Jesus defines church.  We can look to a number of different scriptures to help us.

Matt 16:18 NLT Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. (note that I named the wrong chapter and verse in the sermon)

Jesus says that he will build his church, which is not a building but a group of people, based on the faith declaration Peter had demonstrated in Jesus.  He declares that these people with have power to overcome the powers of hell.

Matt 28:18-20 NLT Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations. baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Here Jesus again described the church as a group of people, his disciples, whom he empowered to go and make disciples.

Acts 1:4-8 NLT Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”….But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus more specifically tells us that the power that he gives will come from the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is so important for his power to be in them that the disciples are told to wait until they had it before trying to do anything.  This emphasizes the importance of Pentecost as the launch of the church for that day is the day the Holy Spirit was first poured out.

Peter replied, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, to your children, and to people far in the future—all who have been called by the Lord our God.”

In his sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter again emphasized the importance of the gift of the Holy Spirit for all Christians.  He declares that being a Christian begins with repentance of sin and faith in Jesus Christ.  Peter declares that all who repent and declare their faith (in baptism) in Jesus will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This reminds us of Jesus conversation with Nicodemus (John 3:3-7) where he explained that we are born again (begin a new life) through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The gift of the Holy Spirit in the believer is so defining that when Paul met some students of John the baptist and wanted to clarify their identity as Christians, he asked if they had received the Holy Spirit.  (Acts 19:2)

With all that these scriptures offer, perhaps the best summery of Jesus’ plan and purpose for the church is found in a prayer he offers in John 17:20-24 NLT:

I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.

Jesus prays for you and me to have an intimate spiritual connection with him that in turn produces a close bond with other Christians that then multiplies to others.  These are the three things that define church:

  1. An intimate spiritual connection with Jesus. Through the Holy Spirit, Christ deals in us just as he prayed.  How is your connection with the Savior.  Does the Holy Spirit guide and motivate you when you pray? Do you gain insight and inspiration for life in God’s word? Do you love Jesus with all your heart? Are you living in faithful obedience and sacrificial service to Christ?
  2. A close bond with other Christians.  Do you love people in the church and love sharing life with them?  Are you rooting for others in the church and helping them to grow in faith and love? Is there anyone in the church that you can’t sit beside for a picture? Are you deeply committed to the mission and ministry of the church? Are you more than a group of people who show up at the same time and same place for a program on Sunday?
  3. Multiplying to others. Are you passionate about others getting to know Jesus or do you think that is someone else’s thing? Do you seek to share you faith with others? Are you investing in anyone-in prayer, in service, in friendship-to lead them to encounter Jesus?

This week as the Holy Spirit searches your heart, begin to pray Jesus’s prayer.  Ask the Lord to fulfill his prayer in you.  Pray each of the three aims and meditate on how God can make that happen in you.

Happy Father’s Day!

This Father’s Day as always, I want to acknowledge that the day is not the same for everyone.  For some it is a celebration of a good dad or grand dad with whom you were blessed or it is the celebration of the gift of being a dad or grand dad.  But for others it is mixed with grief by the loss of that special person in their life.  For others it is a day that reminds them that they never had a dad or were in some way abandoned.

So today I have two main emphases.  First, is that all of us have a Father in heaven and that all of us may celebrate that this Father’s Day.  Second, is the importance of the influence of dads in kids lives.  Paired with this is the tremendous opportunity every man, whether a natural father or not, has to fill some aspect of that role in other people’s lives.

So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children.  Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. Romans 8:15-16 NLT

God has not identified himself as “the man upstairs” but God has identified the father – child relationship as a primary image for us to engage with God.  Although some people have difficulty with this because of the broken image of fatherhood they have experienced, it does not invalidate that image.  It does tell us that many people need to gain a fresh understanding of fatherhood as God expresses it.  This is an image that is meant to give us permission to approach God in a manner that only a child can, open hearted, with simplicity and trust.

Fathers are spoken to explicitly about the influential role they can have in their children’s lives in Ephesians 6:1-4 NLT:  Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them.  Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.  Often we try to turn this into a general statement to parents, but on this Father’s Day, I feel it is important to allow the focus to remain on dads.  In fact, I want to emphasize that fathers do have a distinct and important impact on kids lives. Numerous studies have been done in the last half century concerning the effect of fathers being absent from children’s lives.  These indicate that the impact of a father is so important that the absence of a father can be devastating.  One such study enumerates nine devastating effects of absent fathers:

1. 5 times the average suicide rate:
2. Dramatically increased rates of depression and anxiety:
3. 32 time the average rate of incarceration:
4. Decreased education levels and increased drop-out rates:
5. Consistently lower average income levels:
6. Lower job security:
7. Increased rates of divorce and relationship issues:
8. Substantially increased rates of substance abuse: and
9. Increases in social and mental behavioural issues:

(https://thefathercode.com/the-9-devastating-effects-of-the-absent-father/)

I would add to this list one more, that is, that it makes it difficult for a person to believe in God as a good father.

How should we apply this call to fathers to treat their children in a way that does not merely exasperate them and ultimately turn them away?  Let’s go back to the source of fatherhood.  Psalm 103:8-18 describes the character of God invested in us like a child of his own.  God is slow to get angry and quick to get over it, not harsh or accusing but forgiving.  God is invested in a way that extends loving purpose to generations beyond. This is God’s model of fatherhood for all men to follow.  I say all men because even if you are not a dad, you can be a man of influence and fill in gaps for those who are missing a dad in their lives.  You can give them a someone who will help them to believe in God and a model of faith they can grow into.

This Father’s Day, I received the one of the best gifts ever from my little sister!  Her husband walked out on her and her two daughters many years ago when my nieces were just preteen.  I lived next to them.  We all gathered around as a family to fill in the gaps.  This Father’s Day my sister sent me (and my brother-in-law, married to our older sister) a thank you for being there for them through the years.  YOU can be a man of influence for many people in your life!

Reflect on these ways you can put this into action.

  1. Be present.  Even if you have gone through a divorce or other life changes, be present.  Make time for your kids, talk to them, listen to them, and be there.
  2. Be engaged.  The article referenced above indicates that fathers who are emotionally disengaged have the same negative effects as fathers who physically walk away.  In Deuteronomy 6:4-9, describes the instructive role of parents as something that requires continual involvement in all phases of life.
  3. Be Demonstrative.  Psalm 103 describes God’s character as demonstrated by both positive actions and restraint of negative actions.  Many years ago I was inspired by the loving expressions I saw between another dad and his daughter.  I realized I had stopped saying, “I love you” and showing affection with hugs and kisses to my young daughters.  I changed that.  According to Gary Chapman there are five love languages: affection/touch, words of affirmation, quality time, gift giving, and acts of service.  Use them, show your love.
  4. Be a model of faith.  The greatest challenge and the greatest calling any of us has is to be a model of faithful living that gives a kid someone they would want to grow up to be.  Be that kind of inspiring mentor.

Gideon’s Army

Gideon’s story is found in the 6-8th chapters of the book of Judges in the Bible.  Gideon is one of a series of people raised up by God to lead the people of Israel during a period when they did not have a king.  The need for their leadership frequently arose out of the people’s departure from the direction of God.  The people often began integrating with the culture around them, adopting their gods and ethical practices.  God would leave them to their own designs without his protection and care until problems overwhelmed them. Then, like many of us, when troubles overwhelmed them, they would call on God for help.  This is what happened that gave rise to Gideon’s call to battle.  The Midianites along with others had been perennially raiding and pillaging the Israelites.  At last they called out to God for help.  God sent an angel to call on Gideon.

The coolest thing about Gideon is that he is not cool.  He didn’t come from an important family or place.  Even within the ranks of his own family, he was the low man on the totem pole. When the angel came to Gideon, Gideon could not imagine that he was being asked to do anything important because he felt powerless.  The mess that the people were in further discouraged him from believing that God could work miraculously.  Even so, God was able to call Gideon to trust him. In fact, Gideon became a vessel through which God led his people to trust him again.

When God sent Gideon into battle, he started with an army of over 30,000.  God said it was too many because if they won with that many, the people would believe it was their own doing.  They needed to know that they could absolutely trust in God.  So God took them into battle with just 300 men.  They had to trust and follow God into battle with a plan that, well, was not militarily sound.  There was no doubt in the end that God gave them the victory!

What an incredible story of God’s deliverance!  We need to apply this in our lives right now.

Here at Galloway we have gone through a lot of transitions that have given us lots of ups and downs.  When I arrived the church was going through a crisis, loss of members and money.  Since I began here as pastor we have had a fairly stable attendance averaging @ 275 or more. Then fall, our attendance never rebounded from our summer lull.  So our attendance if averaging more like 250 per Sunday.  That can be very discouraging.  That was a time when we experienced a change in leadership in our children’s ministry.  That led to cancellation of our Wednesday night children’s ministry.  Perhaps we lost momentum as a result.  Perhaps people felt that we were no longer focused on kids as in the past.  This morning it occurred to me that another change at that time was the creation of our volunteer covenant for kids and youth ministry volunteers. In it we defined certain sexual relationships that conflict with our Biblical view of marriage, family, and morality.  These actions would disqualify someone from working in those ministries.  Perhaps some people found those too restrictive and did not want to accept them as standards for their own lives.  I don’t know, but I know that is when it changed and those are things that changed at that time.  That is helpful to a degree but it doesn’t remove the discouragement of lower attendance.

Yet, at the same time, I see God moving among us.  I hear people talking about our future with anticipation.  That’s when God hit me with it.  We are Gideon’s Army.  Now every Sunday, I am claiming the promise of this scripture.  Every week I am looking out and refusing to be discouraged.  Instead I look out and see Gideon’s army.  Smaller for the moment, preparing to follow God for his glory.

I just heard a speaker say that there are times that God must stop our forward moment, even take us backward, before we can go forward.  Why? If we experience nothing but unstoppable forward progress, we can begin to believe in our own forward moment to carry us along. What if God brings us to a complete halt and forces us to reset our focus of faith. What if we have nothing but God to trust, then God moves!

Take some time to reflect on these points and discuss them with someone else.

  1. How have you experienced set backs in life?
  2. Has a set back ever helped you reset your focus of faith, and set you up for God to move in your life?
  3. In the church, is God moving?  Listen it is undeniable that we have experience some declines in attendance, I’m not just trying to put a positive spin on a negative.  I said in my message that it would be easy to say that if we don’t grow this year I will go next year.  It’s possible that practical issues could call for that, but I can’t live this year packing my bags. God has given me a positive sense of him moving in the church that anchors my hope.  What about you?  Are you seeing God move? Does that motivate you to trust God? Does it motivate you to look ahead to what God is doing?

 

Love Overcomes

This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.  There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:17-18 NIV

God’s Spirit doesn’t make us slaves who are afraid of him. Instead, we become his children and call him our Father.  God’s Spirit makes us sure that we are his children.  His Spirit lets us know that together with Christ we will be given what God has promised. We will also share in the glory of Christ, because we have suffered with him….In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us.  I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love—not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!  Romans 8:15-17, 37-39 CEV

This week we celebrated Communion and Pentecost Sunday.  Pentecost is a Jewish holy day.  What makes it important to Christians is that it was on that day that the Holy Spirit was first poured out on the Church as the believers were gathered in an upper room in prayer and worship (see Acts 2).  Communion is celebrated every month in our church as the testimony of God’s love and forgiveness given to us in Jesus.  Romans 5:8 tells us that God proves his love for us by Christ dying for us on the cross.  Communion recounts that demonstration of God’s love for us over and over again.  But rather than leave us with only a remembrance that is merely symbolic tokens of bread and wine, God gives us his Holy Spirit to dwell in us.  What communion symbolizes is internalized to our lives by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Through the Holy Spirit we are able to know without a doubt that we belong to God as beloved children.  When the love of God and his forgiveness is real in us and we in turn love God…when those two things come together, it’s perfect and perfect love drives out fear!  

This sets the stage for God to work in our lives, inwardly and outwardly, in ways that are truly miraculous. I have pondered Romans 8:37 for many years trying to find a way to express what it means to be, “…more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (NIV) Recently, I heard the story of a funeral. How many of us have attended a funeral that was a family reunion of sorts? You see people you haven’t seen in years and haven’t spoken to for just as long. In some cases you haven’t spoken to those people on purpose. Conflict of some sort has separated you more than time and distance. Well, the story of this funeral was one I have heard before. In the context of a funeral, people came together in a way that bridged the gap.  No apology was made, no money was repaid, no one was vindicated for being right or punished for being wrong but they simply came back together. In the context of a funeral, life’s petty issues were suddenly overcome and the value of the relationship of family and friend was brought front and center.  You may wonder if this is fair or just. No, it is grace. What if you win the argument and you are right? What if you push and push until you win, but lose the closeness of a friendship or make your spouse feel beaten down by the pressure to concede victory to you. What if you are paid back the money you were owed but then still have no relationship, what do you truly own? What if you finally force an apology from someone flawed and at fault, but still have no peace? These, I must acknowledge, are not completely universal statements.  There are times when debts must be collected and apologies need to be made but there is a point to be made.

Jesus wants to make sure that we get the bigger victories in life that that only grace and the love of Jesus can accomplish.  In the context of a funeral, family members faced wth death, realized that a relationship with each other was more valuable than winning arguments or getting paid back. They simply stepped past all those obstacles, covering over a multitude of sins, and embraced each other. What if in the presence of Jesus, we can do the same.  What if being more than a conqueror means simply that in the grace and love of Jesus he doesn’t want us limited to the lesser wins.  Rather than just winning arguments and paybacks, if there is more? Jesus asked what it would profit a person to win the whole world and yet lose their own soul. Many have lost their soul in bitterness, unforgiveness and never healing woundedness. Jesus arranges everything needed to make us more than minor victors. He has made it possible for us to be connected to the love of God in a way that nothing in all of creation can separate us from. That allows us to go on to these greater victories without actually losing anything.

Take time to reflect and discuss these thoughts with someone this week.

  1. Have ever experienced a reunion like the one I described?  One women told me about her sons who had not spoken for years.  Then, suddenly, one became ill and his brother came to his aid and they were once again, brothers.  Have you ever experienced something like that?
  2. Have you ever found yourself the winner of an argument but the loser of a friend? Has you spouse ever complained that you always have to win? Are you winning the argument at the expense of something more valuable?
  3. Is there someone in your life that you are estranged from?  Is it your fault or theirs? Do you even remember? What would it be worth to be reconciled?
  4. The starting point for all of this is in Jesus Christ who loves you and died for you.  Jesus died for you because you are a sinner, not because you were good.  Have you opened yourself to surrender to Jesus? Do you have the inner peace of the Holy Spirit letting you know that you belong to God as a forgiven and beloved child?