Acts: New Beginnings – Part 6

Facing Our Adversary

Listen to the sermon from Sunday, August 13 for the message this blog relates to this week at http://www.gallowaychurch.org

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

We have an adversary. He is a spiritual being created by God who turned from God. He is a fallen archangel named, Lucifer (also called Satan, the devil, the evil one, the father of lies, the accuser, etc) who rose against God in pride and vanity. He was therefore, cast down from heaven with one third of the angels of heaven (which are now reffered to as demons, evil or unclean spirits, etc.). I cannot take time today to biblical document all this but scripture indicates that Jesus confronted such beings and that the Apostles did as well (see Acts of the Apostles 5:15-16; 8:6-8; 16:16-21; 19:11-12 for examples of the Apostles casting out demons). 

Consider how one could stand in the very presence of God and yet take such vanity to heart as to rise up to take God’s place. Now, cast down from his honored place, Jesus describes Satan as a thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Jesus says that this is in opposition to his purpose, which is to give us life that is abundant and full.

Satan would steal all the good that God would give you. Jesus said he gives peace to us like nothing in this world can (John 14:27).  Jesus said that he would give us overflowing joy (John 15:11). Jesus invited us to come to him, weary and burdened, and he would give us rest (Matt 11:28). Satan would steal every bit of it.

He would kill you or hurt you physically as he did to Job (Job 2:4-8) or as he afflicted the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12:7).

Satan would at destroy that which is vital to your life. What does Jesus say is most valued for us?  He said the two greatest commands, our two highest priority needs, are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt 22:36-40). These are not arbitrary rules that he presents. These are God’s select expression of that which is most vital to life and these are targets of Satan’s attacks. He will destroy your relationship with God and with other people. He will destroy your marriage, your family, your community, your walk with God, and your love, unity and ministry in the church.

Here are some questions for you to consider and discuss with friends.

  1. Do you struggle with an internal battle to do the right thing? Our desires draw us into temptation that leads to sin. (James 1:14-15) How do you discipline yourself to avoid or to resist temptations. What are the most challenging temptations you face?
  2. Do you ever find yourself saying of a thought or attitude, “I don’t know why thinking/feeling that, that’s not me?!” I tell you about experiences like that in the sermon. Where does it come from? The Apostle Paul describes an inner battle between the desire of our heart and mind to do the will of God and the desire to do the opposite.  He says that if his desire is to be do God’s will but he fails to follow through that this is not him but sin in him creating the failure. (Romans 7:14-25) What if that voice in your head is not you? What if it is the voice of the enemy? How would you know?
  3. How can the devil rob you of your peace, joy, and rest? Does that deceptive voice inside, lead you to worry, lose sleep, be discouraged from taking action? Does it encourage you to act selfishly, increase anger or doubt, steering you away from God or loved ones?
  4. How can you battle the enemy spiritually?
    So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.
    Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. 1 Peter 5:6-9 NLT 
    So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7 NLT
  5. Recognize that you have an spiritual enemy. Live in faithfulness to the Lord. Take on the victorious life Christ gives.  Romans 8:37 NLT ….despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
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Acts: New Beginnings – Part 5

Defining Our Strengths

Acts 12:24-25; 13:2-5; 15:13-41 NLT 
Meanwhile, the word of God continued to spread, and there were many new believers.
When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission to Jerusalem, they returned, taking John Mark with them….One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way.  So Barnabas and Saul were sent out by the Holy Spirit. They went down to the seaport of Seleucia and then sailed for the island of Cyprus. There, in the town of Salamis, they went to the Jewish synagogues and preached the word of God. John Mark went with them as their assistant….
Paul and his companions then left Paphos by ship for Pamphylia, landing at the port town of Perga. There John Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem. But Paul and Barnabas traveled inland to Antioch of Pisidia….
After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care. Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there.

 

As we look at the story of Paul (also known as Saul), Barnabas and John Mark outlined in Acts, we get a great insight into each one’s strengths and weaknesses.  The story emerges in these elements-Paul and Barnabas are sent forth on a mission venture which takes them to many different cities and towns to spread the Gospel where they experience a great many difficult challenges.  They had taken John Mark with them to assist them but he returned home part way through the trip.  Although this is mentioned without explanation in chapter 13, it is obvious in chapter 15 that Paul felt that John Mark had abandoned them.  This led to a dispute between Paul and Barnabas when they planned to set off on a second journey and ultimately caused them to split up and go in separate directions.

To better understand this conflict we need to add some background so we can see who each of these important leaders are.  Barnabas is actually a nickname that means Son of Encouragement (Acts 4:36).  He is described as a generous giver (Acts 4:37) but it is in relation to Paul that we first truly see him living our the character expressed in this epitaph.  Saul/Paul had been a zealous persecutor of Christians until he was radically converted to faith in Christ.  Even though he began to publicly preach his new found faith in Jesus, the Apostles distrusted him.  Barnabas took the risk and bridged that gap. He approached Paul and then introduced him to the Apostles so he could be accredited with them.  He was able to see the hand of God on Paul’s life and dare to have faith in him.  Thereafter, Paul and Barnabas are linked arm in arm in the ministry of Christ.  So for the two of them to split up and go in separate directions is serious.  How did this happen to Paul and Barnabas?  Does this indicate that one or the other is a bad leader or acts in bad character?

Paul is an apostle.  The word apostle means that one is sent on a mission, tasked to fulfill the purpose of the one who is sending them.  An apostle is focused on completing the mission, all else must be put aside in order to continue moving toward that goal.  The is demonstrated by the Apostles when they receive complaints about the care of widows. Their response is to immediately delegate the task so that they could remain focused on their mission to teach the word of God (Acts 6:1-7).  Paul is likewise focused and driven forward in the mission.  He views the departure of John Mark as a lack of readiness or a lack of commitment that creates a distraction he cannot allow for in their second journey.  Barnabas, on the other hand is the Son of Encouragement.  Just as he saw God’s hand on Paul and took a risk on him, he now is compelled to do the same with John Mark.  Thank God he did!

Who is John Mark and what happens after this critical turn of events? John Mark is first introduced to us as member of a faith filled home where prayer was fervently lifted up when Peter was arrested.  When Peter was delivered by an angel from prison, it was to the home of John Mark that he went first.  Under the mentorship of Barnabas, John Mark clearly grew and found productive roles in ministry for years to come.  We know John Mark mainly as simply Mark, the author of the Gospel of Mark!  Mark even becomes a valued coworker to the Apostle Paul who twice refers to him as such (Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11).

What we see here are the strengths of each of these leaders being applied.  Nothing in their actions need condemn any of these leaders as ineffective or unkind.  We can conclude four points from this:

  1. No one has all the strengths needed.
  2. Some people can’t work with some other people (it takes a Barnabas to work with certain people and situations).
  3. Some people are wrong for certain roles and tasks so each one needs to find a fitting place.
  4. For some, it is a matter of timing or a need for maturing.  So we should not write people off with a permanent marker.

Consider these questions and discuss them with your group of friends.

  1. Can you see yourself or any of your family and friends reflected in any of these individuals?  In other words, are you a Paul, a Barnabas or a Mark?
  2. How does Barnabas taking charge of Mark help both Paul and Mark to be more effective?
  3. Think about ministries you serve in, can you see people with these different strengths – a leader, a teacher, an encourager, someone who has potential but needs the time and help to grow?  Do you ever see conflicts similar to that of Paul, Barnabas and John Mark?
  4. Does seeing Barnabas fill in the gap with grace give you ideas of how you can serve to support others in the church, your family or work?

 

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.