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Showing posts with label Church. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Church. Show all posts

Monday, July 6, 2020

Jesus’ Power Helps Us Be Good Friends


Today, I'll finish studying the themes and passages from each day of VBS. 
So far, we’ve learned:  
Jesus Power Helps Us Do Hard Things.
Jesus Power Gives Us Hope.
Jesus Power Helps Us Live Forever.  
Today, we learn:  Jesus Power Helps Us Be Good Friends.

John 15:12 says, “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.

Jesus also said that everyone would know we are Christians by our love.  He didn't say they would know we are Christians by the way we dress or how we speak or where we go to church or even by the stances we take on political issues.  He said, they will know we are Christians by the way we love each other.

It is essential that Christians love each other and stick together.  You cannot live out your faith in  People were created to be together.  One of the hardest things during this pandemic is the isolation.  We were not meant to be stuck at home all by ourselves.  We were not meant to be unable to hug or even shake hands. (That's why it is so awkward when we get together and we don't know whether we should or not.  We need some form of social greeting that doesn't require physical contact, but we also need physical contact.)  God designed us to be together.
Jesus all by yourself.

Think about it.  When Jesus came as the Son of God, filled with the power of God, he didn't need any help to fix the problems of the world.  He could have snapped his fingers and fixed them all by himself.  But he didn't.  Instead, he chose 12 disciples to work with him. It would have been easier to do it alone.  Why get 12 people together with all their problems and personality conflicts.  You know, James and John were brothers; you know how siblings can be.  One time I was driving with my two daughters when they were younger and the older one screams, "Dad!  She breathing!"  And I said, "Thank God!  That means she's alive!"  (What she meant was, she's breathing too loud and it's getting on my nerves!")  Don't you know James and John were probably always getting on each others nerves--not to mention the 10 other disciples.  Why would Jesus put himself through all that?  Why not save the world all by himself?  I guess it was essential for the work to be done together as a group effort.

Jesus established the Church to be a family of believers united to support one another with friendship as we tell the world about Jesus.  We see several pictures of the church working and living together in divine unity--especially in the book of Acts.   

Acts 2:42-47
42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.
43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

Acts 4:32-35
32 All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. 33 The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God’s great blessing was upon them all. 34 There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them 35 and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need.

Light in the Darkness
The early Christians were vastly outnumbered.  Most of the people around them did not believe in Jesus or even care to show love, kindness, or goodness.  This small group of Christians—only about 5,000 people in a city of over 200,000 was a bright light in a dark, dark world.  “This small band of believers needed to stick together and support each other.”[i]

Maybe it was easier for there earliest Christians to stick together than it is for us.  There wasn’t a pandemic on the loose.  Or was there?  COVID-19 isn't the first pandemic the world has faced.  There have been many plagues that have ravaged the world in former times--bubonic plague, the black death, and others that we can't even name.  Many of these were far deadlier to humanity than COVID-19.  I was watching a documentary the other day and they said the black death killed as much as 80-90% of many of the community it struck.  Can you imagine?  That would be horrible!

The early Christians had deal with these devastation.  They stuck together through them.  In fact, many scholars believe that the way they stuck together through the various plagues contributed to the rise of Christianity throughout the world.  It contributed in two ways.  First of all, Christians survived the plagues at higher rates than non-Christians.  Think about it. when everyone around you is dying and people were frightened, they would hide in their homes and abandon their friends and family.  Christians didn't abandon each other.  And because they cared for one another--even being willing to die for each other--they had a better chance of surviving sickness than others who had no on to care for them.  A second reason plagues helped Christianity become more prominent is because non-believers saw how the CHristians love one another, and even how they reached out to care for and love non-Christians.  In the face of death, when everyone was abandoning each other, Christians stuck together and even cared for others who were not Christians.  And this showed non-believers the Christians faith was authentic; and many non-believer began to believe.

Today, Christians have many more tools to help us stick together.  Even though we have been told to isolate ourselves, we have phones.  We can so easily call one another to check on each other.  We also have text and email.  In a few seconds, we can send a message to someone.  We have programs like Zoom, where we can all gather in a virtual room for a video conference where we can see and hear each other.  And this is not even mention social media and how it can be used to help us stay connected.

Are we using our technology to stay connected?  Is sticking together as the family of Christ a top priority in our lives?  What are you doing to stay connected?  What will you do in the days ahead?

Alone, Christians are vulnerable.  When Christians stick together, we are unbreakable.

Jesus’ Power Helps Us Be Good Friends
Since Jesus wants us to be good friends, His Holy Spirit helps us to be good friends.  If we are willing to follow the Spirit’s guidance, we can make friends, be friends, and bring our friends to Jesus.  Let me give you 5 simple tips about how to make good Christian friends.[ii]

First of all, pray about it.   Pray for God to show you who should be your friends.  Yo never know whom God may place in your path today who needs a friend.  And you never know how that friendship may grow and bless you.  Pray that God would send you people to befriend.  And also pray about the depth of the friendship. Not all friends are created equal.  Some will be more casual and some will be deeper relationships.  And you need to know the difference and know that it's alright to have different kind of friends.  Pray for the wisdom to know what kind of friends you have.  And of course, pray for your friends.  Pray God will bless them and care for them.  And pray that your friendship will grow.

Second, be honest. Don't try to pretend to be someone you are not.  Just be yourself.  Your true friends will accept you for who you are.  Be authentic and have integrity.  And tell your friends the truth, even if it is a hard truth.  They might not like it at first, but--if they are a true friend--they will appreciate your honesty and see that you offer it in love.  My friendship with my best friend began 24 years ago when we worked together in a youth program.  He was the youth director and I was a volunteer in the program.  He asked for feedback from all his volunteers about his job performance.  I thought he was doing a terrific job, but also saw a few things he could do better.  I praised him, but also offered my constructive criticism.  Eddie really appreciated my honesty and told me some time later that it showed him I was a true friend.  That friendship grew from that point on and has lasted through many good times and hard times until we are now more like brothers than friends.  Honesty is the foundation of the best friendships.

Third, be selfless.  It’s not about you. We tend to befriend people we enjoy being around, but it would be self-centered if that were the only thing that made up our friendship.  Ultimately, friendship is about selflessly giving to your friends.  Jesus said, "There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." (John 15:13)  Great friendships are build when both friends give selflessly expecting nothing in return.

Tip number four:  be vulnerable.  Vulnerability creates an instant connection. When we open up with our friends, we put ourselves in their hands and a true friend takes that responsibility seriously.  They appreciate that we have trusted them and they will also trust us.  Being vulnerable helps weave your life into your friend's life.  Now, it is important to remember tip number one when you begin to open up to your friends.  Remember, friendships come in different levels.  Friends must earn each other's trust to go to deeper levels of vulnerability.  Pray to know your friendships.  Don't be completely vulnerable with someone who hasn't earned your trust.  That isn't wise.  But then only way to earn trust is to be given a chance. So, start opening up slowly and move to deeper levels as a friend earns your rust.

Lastly, have fun!  Fun is more than entertainment.  We bond with our friends as we have fun together.  It helps to weave the chords of our lives together.  You don't have to be having fun all the time.  But having fund together has to be part of the equation.  It is something that makes friends truly friends.  That's one of the reasons why it is so essential that church members get together regularly for fun and fellowship.  It's not just something extra we do--like being in a social club.  Fun and fellowship weaves together our lives and bonds us as one body--the body of Christ.

Make a Friend.  Be a Friend.  Bring a Friend to Christ.
Now when it comes to making friends,  you must both reach in and reach out.  I suggest that most of your friends should be people who have the same deep core values as you.  Therefore, if you are a Christian, seek strong Christian friends; they will help encourage you to follow Christ and grow in His love (and you will do this for them too).  Your Christian friends will be the people you can count on the most.

However, we should also reach outward to non-believers.  Jesus gave us a mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  We can only do this as we reach out to be friends to non-Christians.  When we have a solid foundation of Christians friends to keep us strong and on the right path, we can be confident to be friends to even those who don't share our same values.  In doing so, we can grow and learn and we can help our new non-believing friend grow and learn too.  And perhaps our friends may see the special faith we have and desire to pursue it as well.  Then they will grow to a deeper level of friendship as they learn to share our faith.

So, make a friend. Be a friend.  And bring a friend to Christ.  How will you be a friend this week?




Monday, June 1, 2020

Ekklesia 3 - Called out of the World


Introduction
I’ve felt like an outsider almost my whole life.  I never had any resentment about it—it was just the reality for our family when I was a kid.  My parents were both born in Georgia but met and married in Maryland.  So, I began my life as an outsider in Maryland, a child of two outsiders from Georgia.  Eventually, we moved away from Maryland back to Georgia.  In Georgia, I felt even more like an outsider.  In Maryland, kids teased me because I had a southern accent.  (I guess I picked it up from my parents.)  When we moved to Georgia, kids at school said I talked like a Yankee.  Some of the kids in my school in Macon had such thick southern accents, I couldn’t understand what they were saying! 

In all, I attended five different elementary schools and, each time, it reinforced the fact that I was an outsider—the new kid on the outside of a circle of friends.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining.  It was just the way it was and I didn’t know any better and didn’t resent it.
 
Then, after high school, I moved to Marietta to attend college.  Metro Atlanta was very different from Macon, and again, I felt like an outsider among people who had lived in the Atlanta area their whole lives.  They would talk about the different towns and roads and places assuming everyone knew where they were—and most everyone did (accept me, the outsider).  But that was OK, because by then I knew how to make it as an outsider—a stranger in a foreign land, as they say. 

After college, I worked for a small textile mill in Griffin—a small town where everybody knew everybody and everyone in the mill knew everybody else, and probably had for their whole life.  Except for me, of course; I was the outsider—that new college kid who thought he was smarter than everyone else. (That was their opinion, not mine, by the way.  I deeply respected their vast experience and just wanted to learn from them. I didn’t think I was better than anyone, but some perceived me that way simply because I had a college degree.)

And then I answered the call to ministry as a United Methodist minister.  And guess what?  United Methodist ministers are reappointed to new churches every so many years (the average is about 5 years in each congregation)!  So all together, I’ve lived in twelve different homes in my life and I have attended 10 different churches.

Now, the more I have matured in my Christian faith, the more I see the benefit of my life as an outsider, because one of the great truths is Jesus came to call Christians to be “outsiders” in this world.

John 15:18-19
18 “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. 19 The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.

Called Out of this World
As we think about the purpose of Church, we have to remember that Christians are a “called out” people.  The Greek word for Church in the New Testament is Ekklesia, which literally means “the called out people”.  The Church is not a building.  The Church is a group of people who have been called out of something old into something new--called out of darkness into light, out of shame into nobility, called out of the world into the Kingdom of God.

Perhaps it has been easier for me than for most to accept that Christians are outsiders in this world because I have never felt “at home” in this world.  My faith in Christ has assured me that feeling is OK because this world is not our home. 

Philippians 3:20 says, “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.”

You see, being a Christian isn’t a sentence to be an outsider forever.  It only means being an outsider in this world.  But it means being an insider in God’s Kingdom.  Hebrews 13:14 – “For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.”

But many Christians struggle with being “outsiders in this world.”  There are too many things we like about this world.  Hank Williams Jr. once sang a song, “If Heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I don’t want to go.  If Heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I’d just as soon stay home.”  How about you?  If Heaven ain’t a lot like the place you call home, would you still want to go?  Are you more a part of this world or of God’s Kingdom?  These are critical questions to consider.  Remember, all the things of this world will soon melt away, but the Kingdom of God will stand forever (see 2 Peter 3:10-12).

The Purpose of the Church
It’s important to always keep in mind that Christians are not just called out of, but we are also called into.  We are called out of the world, but we are called into God’s Kingdom.  And this reveals one of the essential purposes of the Church.  The Church is the place Christians gather together into a community--a community of faith, God's Kingdom on earth.  Right now, it's just an outpost of God's Kingdom.  One day, it will be God's full Kingdom on earth when Jesus comes to reign in power and might.  Until then, we need a place where the faithful can gather.  The Church is that place.

No one can make it in this world completely alone.  We’re not made that way.  It doesn’t matter how much of a loner you are, you cannot live in complete isolation from other people.  Everyone (and I mean everyone) needs to be part of a group of people.

Christians do not live out our faith alone.  We need each other.  Jesus, the Son of the living God, called together a group of 12 people.  Don’t you think Jesus, God in the flesh, imbued with all the power in the universe, could have saved the world all by himself?  He didn’t need the help of 12 flawed, feeble mortals to do His work.  However, he chose these broken men to be together because being together is essential to the Christian life.

Part of the purpose of Church is for us to be together.  Because if we are called out of the world and we don’t gather together, then we’re just alone; and being alone is a death sentence to your spiritual life.  I want everyone reading this to understand me clearly.  If you are trying to live as a Christian all alone, all bv yourself without a group of other Christians, you will die spiritually.

Now, don’t get me wrong, gathering as a “church” doesn’t have to look like it has traditionally looked in America.  Obviously, we’ve been learning a new way to do “church” through online worship for over two months.  Church could also be a group of men gathering for lunch at a restaurant for encouragement, accountability, and cooperation in the mission of the Church.  Church could also be gathering in your living room or outdoors at a campground.  But it’s not just gathering; it’s not the same as getting together with your family or friends for a cookout.  We gather for some specific reasons.  What are they?

The Church Gathers for Important Reasons
Here are some of essential reasons we must gather.  Now, I’m still praying about this and studying.  I don't know that I have this all worked out and organized.  A lot of this is me just thinking out loud.  But here’s what I think are some of the essential reasons Christians must gather together.

Worship.  Obviously, we can worship privately as individuals.  We can also worship online as we are doing in many churches during the COVID 19 pandemic.  Some people may prefer to worship online as we are today.  For others, being together in one room worship God with other people enhances the worship experience. We feel God presence more compellingly when we are in a group.

Learning and growing.  There is a certain amount of learning and growing that can be accomplished online.  We are learning that we might actually be more effective in some ways when we teach online.  The jury is still out.  If online learning is as effective as onsite learning, then why have we not yet abolished school classrooms and gone completely to online learning for public education as well as college courses.  Right now, these are options, but most students and teachers still believe being physically present in a classroom is essential for proper education.  I mean, do you want to be operated on by a surgeon who only took online classes in medical school?  I believe onsite learning in small groups, Sunday school classes, and Bible studies is essential in the church.  We are learning, however, that the right combination of online and onsite learning may be better than either one alone.

The Sacraments of Holy Communion and Baptism.  Jesus commanded the Church to perform two sacred ceremonies—Baptism and Holy Communion.  These can only be celebrated when a community of Christian believers are gathered together in person.  Some are celebrating online/virtual communions and I don't fault them; Christians long to celebrate Holy Communion and this is something many are trying to get by during a global pandemic.  However, I would say it's not really true Communion.  It is a stand in.  True Holy Communion must be celebrated as we gather in person. 

Cooperation for the sake of the mission.  Together, as a church, we are a team.  Christians are more effective when we work together.  We can do more as a group than we can do individually.  I’m good at some things, but not everything.  You are better at some things than I am.  When we get together, I add the things I'm good at your good things and the good things of everyone else in the church and it adds up to great things.  When we all pool together our time, our talents, our perspectives, and our resources for the sake of the Christ’s mission, we can accomplish greater things than we could ever accomplish alone.

Finally, there is fellowship.  And this is huge.  Sometimes, fellowship doesn't get the respect it's due.  Cynics may say a church that focuses on fellowship is just a social club.  That's not fair.  Fellowship is vital to the Christian faith.  People who don’t meet together regularly to fellowship in person will grow apart.  And if a church is going to work together as a team, weathering trials and tribulations, we have to know each other, trust each other, and long for each other.  We have to be one as a family—brothers and sisters in Christ.  I just don’t see how a Church can go to the depths of relationship building, working together on our great mission, and being the community of faith Jesus calls us to be if we don’t get together regularly in person all in the same space.  We can manage it for a time, but eventually we would grow apart.  Over the long term, we have to be together to be one in Christ to do the things the Church is called out of the world and into the Kingdom to God to do.  Fellowship is essential.

Closing
I want everyone reading this to seriously contemplate how you are called to be part of the Church.  Over the next month, we will slowly begin to resume onsite gatherings at my church, Pleasant Grove.  Is God calling you to be here. If you don’t live close enough, is God calling you to be in a church near you?  Please understand, that doesn't necessarily mean you need to worship in a traditional church building.  You could worship online at my church on Facebook on Sunday and then meet with a solid group of Christian friends for coffee on Monday morning and get the "in person" portion of Christian relationships you need.  Is God calling you to do that?

Jesus came to call you out of darkness into light, to call you out of shame into a noble purpose.  He came to call you out of a broken world of sin into God’s glorious Kingdom of eternal life.  Won’t you hear His voice today and start to follow Him?

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Ekklesia 2 - Called Out of Shame


Introduction
It has been 10-11 weeks since we had a regular, onsite worship service at Pleasant Grove.  In fact, all over the world, it has been months since congregations have gathered in the sanctuaries for worship.  Does this mean we are no longer the Church?  Absolutely not!

In fact, during these crazy times, the Church may be more active doing God’s work than ever before.  I have been busier than ever doing Zoom meetings, making phone calls, and learning new technology.  I’ve had to become a medical expert, media expert, Bible expert, statistical expert, sociological expert… (not really, but I've been learning about and using tools in all of these categories and more…) I've been doing a daily devotion every morning on Facebook Live for almost 2 months.

I’ve been very busy!  In fact, I’ve hardly taken a real day off since his all began.  Even on my days off, I’ve been emailing, fielding texts and phone calls, and just thinking about ministry stuff.   One day soon, for my own personal health and well-being, I’m going to have to take some time off to just unplug from everything.  I’ll be turning my phone off, my computer off, everything off and you won’t be able to get hold of me.

Believe it or not, you’ve been busy too.  It may not feel like it, but you have.  Have you been staying at home? Doing nothing? Your sacrifice is for your own safety and the safety of others. That’s sacrificial love and it’s work. I’ve talked with people this week who haven’t left their homes in over 2 months! Wow!  That takes a toll.  Have you been living by faith? We like to know what the future holds and what our schedules will be.  However, we are living in a time when everything that used to be considered stable is up in the air.  The school calendar, sports schedules, vacations, camps are all being postponed and we don't know when they will be "normal" again.  Faith is the bedrock of the Christian faith and we're having to live by a lot of faith right now.  And it's tiring.

Others are considered “essential workers” who must bravely go out--sometimes to the very places everyone else is asked to avoid.  I know you're tired.

The New Testament Church dealt with and worked around plagues and persecutions.  They couldn't always meet in their usual ways or the ways they wanted because to do so might get them arrested and tortured or killed.  They had to be creative with Church, just as we are having to be creative during this COVID 19 pandemic.  We could learn a lot from their experience.

Today, I want to continue our message series “Ekklesia” about the purpose of the Church.  What is the Church?  What is our purpose?  The Greek word for Church used in the New Testament is Ekklesia.  It roughly translates “the called out ones.”  The Church that Jesus established is composed of people who are called out of darkness into the light, called out of shame into nobility, called out of a fallen world into God’s Kingdom.  Now, when we talk use the word "church" today, we think of a building.  Driving down the road, we might say, "Oh!  Look at that pretty church!" (Meaning the building).  But when the New Testament uses the word Church, it is referring to the congregation.  So as I am talking about Church in these messages, I am trying my best to use Church to refer to the people gathered in a Christian congregation.

The Church is a group of people who’ve been called out of something old into something new, something ugly into something beautiful, something shameful into something noble.  I want to read from God’s Word.  In this passage, I want you to imagine that you are a Gentile (because unless you were born a Jew, you are a Gentile.)

Ephesians 2:11-22
11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. 
[How does it feel good to be called an outsider?]
You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 
[How does it feel to be called a heathen (an uncivilized person who lacks morals, and enemy of God)?] 
12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. [How does it feel to be hopeless?]
13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.
14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.
17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.
19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

Where Does God Live?
Throughout the ages, people have built temples for their gods.  They wanted to control them…

The One True Living God the Bible tells us about, cannot be control and He does not need a building.  Acts 7:48 says, “The Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands.”  And Isaiah 66:1 says, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.  Could you build me a temple as good as that?  Could you build me such a resting place?”

And yet, when God liberated the Jews from slavery in Egypt, they lived in tents as they traveled toward their new homeland.  And so, the God of the Universe, who made Heaven and Earth, humbled Himself and lived in a tent among His people.  God’s tent was called the Tabernacle.  The Tabernacle was where the people worshiped God and where God ministered to a guided His people.  God appeared in the Tabernacle as a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night.  Whenever the Spirit of God moved, the Israelites packed up the Tabernacle Tent and moved with God.

When the Israelites settled down in their new homeland in Israel, they built houses.  And God continued to live among His people in a Temple made of stone—like the way His people lived.  People revere their Temple. It was the most impressive building in their city.  People traveled from all over the world to worship in the Temple.

But because people are full of sin, no one could come completely into God’s presence, whether in the Tabernacle or the Temple.  Gentiles, sinners, and women were not allowed to enter either place of worship.  People with any kind of illness or deformity were also not allowed.  Only Jewish men in good standing were allowed inside, close to God.  And of those men, only those who were priests were allowed into the Holy of Holies close to God.  And of those priests, only the high priest was allowed into the Holiest Place in the presence of God—and that was only once a year on the Dy of Atonement after strenuous preparation and purification. 

These exclusions were not because God didn’t want to be near His people.  To the contrary, the fact that the God of the universe would choose to live in a building at all is proof that God did want to be near His people.  However, sin separates us from God.  The presence of God consumes sin like a blazing hot fire consumes dry leaves.  It was mercy that caused God to keep people at arm’s length; it was for their own safety!

But then an amazing thing happened!  God took on human form and came into the world as Jesus Christ—the Son of God!  And God lived among His people as a man! And 1 Peter 3:18 says, “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.”  Now, through faith in Jesus Christ, we can be completely absolved of all sin!  So, there is now absolutely nothing at all that can separate us from God.  As Romans 8:38-39 says, “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The Church – The Temple of God
So as we consider the purpose of the Church, we understand that the Church is where God lives.  The Church is where we meet with God, commune with God, worship and adore God, and receive God's guidance.  The Church is the Temple of God.  However, we must also understand, the Church is not a physical building.  The Church is the people.  Which people?  The Church is those people who have faith that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God (Matthew 16:16).  Remember, in my message last week, we read Matthew 16:17 where Jesus said to Peter, “and upon this rock [i.e. the rock of this faith] I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”


And now is Ephesians 2:20-21, the Scripture says, “Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.”

And 1 Peter 2:5 says, “And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God.”

Once again, we are not talking about this building—this physical building or any physical structure.  If the church building in your community no longer existed, there would still be a Church as long as Christians gathered for the Lord's purposes.  The purpose of a physical building is simply to provide a convenient space to do the things the Church is called to do.  At my church, Pleasant Grove, they started out in the early 1800s meeting under the shade of a pleasant grove of trees (that's where the name Pleasant Grove comes from.)  As time went on, the congregation decided it would be easier to have church if the built a roof to shelter them from rain.  And as time went on, their building structures evolved to meet the church's ministry needs.  However, it was always about the peoplee and ministry, not the buildings.  Church is the people, bot the building.  Actually, if the physical building ever hinders us from being the Church God calls us to be, we should abandon the building.  

Jesus actually said as much about the holy Temple in Jerusalem in his day.  In Matthew 24, we find Jesus and his disciples walking through Jerusalem and the twelve disciples are admiring the beautiful buildings with sentimental hearts and Jesus says, "A day is coming soon when not one stone of all these wonderful buildings will be left upon another."  And he was blasted by his enemies because he said, "Tear down this Temple and I will rebuild it again in three days."  Now, it had taken decades to build the Temple.  There was no way one man could rebuild the Temple in only three days.  What did Jesus mean?  Well, Jesus was crucified and buried for three days and then he rose from the grave and established the Church--the new Temple of God.   It is not a physical building; it is a people who believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

Closing
We will look more at the purpose of the church next week.  But I want to close for now.  And as I close, I want to invite everyone to truly consider:  Are you the Church? Do you believe Jesus is the Messiah (the Chosen One), the Son of the Living God? (You can’t be the Church without this faith.) 

You have been called out of shame, but you have to start walking (by faith) out of that shame into the noble life God has for you—a life where you are the living stones of God’s Holy Temple and you are His holy priest. Do you want to leave shame behind? I pray you do and I'm praying you will.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Ekklesia 1 - Rediscovering Church

Introduction
I’m so very proud of the graduating class of 2020. Our church recognizes graduating students every year and we are always proud of each one.  But I can honestly say, we have never had a year like this one.  Each graduating class is unique and has its own struggles, but your class—2020—has faced a pandemic that has shut down the entire world.  Humanity has faced plagues before—some far deadlier than COVID 19.  However, nothing has ever shutdown the entire globe, all at the same time—from Asia to Europe to Africa to America.  Class of 2020, your year will go down in history as one of the most challenging of all times.  Perhaps one day, when you are old and gray, you will take your grandchildren of great grandchildren in your arms and you will say, “I was in the graduating class of 2020.  They canceled the last 2 months of school, along with proms and sports and all our extracurricular activities.  But we endured and we graduated.”  And I hope, after having some time to reflect upon your experience,  you will also be able to say, “We learned more during that crazy time about what really matters in life than we could have ever learned in our classrooms.”

I hope we have all been reflecting and learning a lot more these day—about life, about death, about the meaning of it all and what’s really important.  I know many pastors and Christians have been reflecting on what church is all about.  It has now been nine weeks since we had a regular onsite worship service at Pleasant Grove.  All our services since March 15th have been “online only”.  In fact, the graduates and their families that joined us for worship in the sanctuary on May 17 (about 60 people spread out for social distancing) were the first “congregation” we’ve had on site in over two months (other than a small worship team that’s helped us lead our LIVE stream service on Facebook).

And so, many pastors and Christians have been pausing to reflect on what “Church” is really all about.  What is the purpose of Church?  If we can’t meet in person, are we really still a church?  Pleasant Grove Methodist is a very active church; our calendar is normally full of activities.  But for the last two months, all of those activities have been canceled.  We've tried to limit our work to only what we've felt had to be done--online worship, managing essential administrative tasks, and some vital mission work that needed tp be done.

High school seniors from this year’s class know what it’s like to have activities canceled.  Your senior year is supposed to be full of special activities.  Yet many of those activities have been canceled.  Does that mean you are not a senior?  Does that mean you won’t be a graduate?  Does the cancellation of these extracurricular activities nullify all the work you’ve done for over a decade in your academic career?  No.  Of course not.  They will still graduate.

Here’s why.  It all goes back to the purpose of your education.  I’m not an expert in public education so I don’t know if I can perfectly distill down the essence of public education.  However, I’m certain what is most central to a high school education is not marching band or football games or prom or baseball or even the graduation ceremony itself.  All of these (and more) have become beloved traditions of high school education and it hurts your heart when they are taken away.  But the cancellation of all these activities does not nullify in any way whatsoever the fact that you are high school educated graduates. 

Therefore, the purpose of a high school education must be something greater than our beloved traditions—something that you have attained.  Again, I’m not a public educator, but I would speculate that the core purposes of a high school education is to teach you the knowledge you need to succeed in life.  To this you might add, the skills you need to succeed in life.  Perhaps, even more important, maybe, is that a proper education teaches you to be a good person who will be a good citizen. (That’s something that’s important to all of us, because the last thing we need is a bunch of smart, skillful people running around doing evil things!)

As I said, I’m not an educator.  I’m a pastor.  So the big questions on my mind through all this craziness has been: “What is essential about church?”  It’s a question I’ve thought about many times over the years throughout my ministry—it’s not totally new.  However, this question—what is essential about Church—has become especially pressing for me during this time when so many of the traditional things the American Church does have been called off.  Does that make sense?

So today, I’m beginning a new series titled “Ekklesia,” because Ekklesia is the Greek word Bible originally used for “church”.  My purpose today is not to give answers.  Today, I want to give questions. I will spend more time in the next two Sundays sharing some answers about the essence of the Church from Scripture.  But today, I want to get everyone asking the question.  And maybe, as part of that, the graduates of the class of 2020 can ask some deep questions about their own lives as well.  Maybe we can all ask ourselves some core questions that get to the heart of our individual lives.

Jesus always had a way of asking the right questions.

Matthew 16:13-18
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
14 “Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”
15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 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.

Important Information
Jesus reveals some very important information in this short conversation.  First of all, he reveals that he is the Messiah (Chosen One), the Son of the living God.  These were actually Simon (Peter's) words, but Jesus did not dispute them.  Jesus affirms Peter's statement.  Everyone has an opinion about the identity of Jesus--both today and in Jesus day.  Some say he is a prophet, a religious leader, a revolutionary, or even a fiction character.  But Jesus asks, who do you say I am and Peter replies he is the Chosen One, the Son of the Living God.

Jesus also reveals that God inspired Peter to believe this.  Peter didn't get that idea from any person, but directly from God.  It was divinely inspired.  We ought to pay careful attention to this revelation then.

Lastly, Jesus reveals that the Church (Ekklesia) will be founded on Peter’s kind of faith in Jesus.  This is huge.  For any church to stand and remain legitimate, it must be built upon the affirmation that Jesus is the Chosen One, the Son of the Living God.  Otherwise, it is not really a church and will crumble.

Foundations are Critical
The foundation is the most important part of any structure.  Last Saturday morning, a group of men from my church went to another member's house to help build a porch.  We worked for about 8 hours, but nearly half that time was spent laying the foundation.  We needed to take our time and make sure everything in the foundation was right.  Was it level?  Was it square?  Was it firm?  It was very important to make sure the foundation was firm, because otherwise the structure--no matter how pretty--would not last or be reliable.  Once the foundation was laid, we moved very quickly and the rest of the porch was assembled very fast because it was built on a firm foundation.

Foundations are not just for buildings.  Your high school education  is the foundation you need to succeed in life.  It is only a foundation.  You still need more.  Maybe you  go on to get a college education or job training or you  go to work.  But you wouldn’t be prepared to begin those things without the foundation you built over the first 18 or so years of your life.  And a faulty foundation will give you trouble with everything else you try to build in your life as an adult.

What’s Your Purpose?
Your foundation is built from far more than just your education.  Here’s where the questions come in.  Who are you?  What is your essence?  Remember, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?”  Well, who do people say you are?

What you family and closest friends say may be some indication as to what’s most essential about you.  They know you well and may see things you don't  However, if you really want to know the core of who you are, I would recommend looking to God.  God is the One who designed and created you.  He is the One who brought you into this world and has been guiding you all along the way (even if you didn’t know it).  He was there all along.

This is a message especially applicable to graduates as you enter a new phase in life (but it’s also a message we all need to consider during this time when our normal lives have been turned upside down).  Who are you?  What is your purpose?  What kind of life do you want to build?  I would think this is the time for schools and educators to be asking the same things.  What is school all about?  What is the purpose of eduaction?  Now that all the extra stuff has had to be canceled, what is it about school that is essential and cannot be canceled?

Graduates, as you start a new phase of life, you have so much potential and a great amount of freedom to build whatever kind of life you want.  What do you want to build?  More importantly, What do you think God wants you to build?  Because, here’s the thing, what God wants you to build will be so much more fulfilling than anything else.  Believe it or not, God knows you better than you have ever known yourself and His way will always be the better way.

This is a message for everyone, not just graduates.  The COVID 19 pandemic has been awful, but it has given us all a unique opportunity.  Since our normal lives have been so severely disrupted, don’t miss the opportunity to take a good, hard look at what’s most essential in your life.  Now that so much of the fluff is stripped away, ask the question:  Who are you?  What’s your purpose?  What kind of life do you want to build going forward?  Many of us in so many ways will be building something new in our lives in the coming days.  What will it be?

I pray you won’t just opt for the easy, comfortable thing, which is to just go back to the way things were before COVID. (That may not even be possible.  The world has changed.)

I am looking at my own life.  I am also looking at the Church to see what needs to change.  I think that’s what God wants us all to do.  After all, I believe this life is not my own anyway—it belongs to God.  And this church is not ours either—it belongs to God.  So, I want both my life and our church to be what God wants it to be.  How about you?

I invite you all to meditate on the questions God has put on your heart.