Wednesday, August 9, 2017

“How Big Is God?” (Rick Sons)

Voyager 1 is a space probe launched by NASA on September 5, 1977. Part of the Voyager program was to study the outer Solar System, Voyager 1 launched 16 days after its twin, Voyager 2. Having operated for 39 years, 11 months and 1 day (as of August 6, 2017), the spacecraft still communicates with the Deep Space Network to receive routine commands and return data.

Voyager 1

Voyager 1 is the first spacecraft to reach interstellar space. The spacecraft officially entered interstellar space in August 2012, almost 35 years after its voyage began. The discovery wasn’t made official until 2013. The spacecraft’s next big encounter will take place in 40,000 years, when Voyager 1 comes within 1.7 light-years of the star AC +79 3888. (The star itself is roughly 17.5 light-years from Earth.) However, Voyager 1’s falling power supply means it will stop transmitting data by about 2025, meaning no data will flow back from that distant location. 

As big as the universe is it is not bigger than God.
As vast as the universe is, it was still created by God. 

Genesis Chapter 1 begins “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’ And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.”

Now if this is too big a scale to grasp. Consider that 70 percent of the earth is ocean. The ocean is the lifeblood of Earth, covering more than 70 percent of the planet’s surface, driving weather, regulating temperature, and ultimately supporting all living organisms. Throughout history, the ocean has been a vital source of sustenance, transport, commerce, growth, and inspiration. Yet for all of our reliance on the ocean, 95 percent of this realm remains unexplored, unseen by human eyes. The Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench is the deepest known point in Earth’s oceans. In 2010 the United States Center for Coastal & Ocean Mapping measured the depth of the Challenger Deep at 10,994 meters (36,070 feet) below sea level. If Mount Everest, the highest mountain on Earth, were placed at this location it would be covered by over one mile of water. As big as the ocean is it is not bigger than God.

Again, from Genesis we read (1:9). “God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry ground ‘land,’ and the gathered waters he called ‘seas.’ And God saw that it was good.:”

How Big Is God?

I want to talk to you today on this subject, HOW BIG IS GOD? Now when I ask the question, how big is God, don’t think that I’m going to try to answer that question because I can’t answer that question. The question is unanswerable, because God is immeasurable. God is infinite. God is limitless. For instance, when we speak of God’s peace we speak of the peace of God, that passes understanding. So, I want to tell you from the beginning you will never fathom God but you can find God. You can never fathom God because of his greatness but you can find God because of his grace.

Song titles try to tell us how big God is. Kids learn songs such as “God is Big”:
God is big God is big, God is very, very, very, very big God is big God is big God is very, very, very, very Very, very big! God is bigger than a lion stretched out from head to tail.

Or from Veggie Tales, Bob and Larry taught kids that “God is Bigger than the Boogie Man”:
God is bigger than the boogie man.
He’s bigger than Godzilla,
or the monsters on TV.
Oh, God is bigger than the boogie man.
And He’s watching out for you and me.

And many children have learned the song “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” which has many verses as they are listed here.
He’s got the whole world in His hands,
He’s got the whole world in His hands.
He’s got the sun and the rain in His hands,
He’s got the moon and the stars in His hands,
He’s got the wind and the clouds in His hands,
He’s got the whole world in His hands.

“How Big is God?” Another song writer, Doris Akers, asked and then attempted to answer that question in a song. Akers compared God’s bigness to the mightiest ocean, the tallest of trees, the broadest of rivers, the deepest of seas, and the highest of mountains. But it falls far short of telling how big God is.

How big was Israel’s God?

Israel thought they knew something about the bigness of God. They tried to make His bigness known by the names they used to speak of Him.

a. Yahweh (Jehovah) is the name they used for Him and like all Old Testament names, it has a meaning. It means: “He who is at one with the limitless, unbounded universe because He has created it.” This is the name that God gave to Moses when he said “I am who I am.”

b. One of the most beautiful names Israel used for God is ELSHADDAH; the literal meaning of which is simply “ALMIGHTY GOD.” Made from the two words EL, meaning the strong and mighty one and SHADDAH, or the breasted one. Clearly, to the mind of every Israelite God was a big God.

It is my belief that every person who came in contact with God in the Old Testament. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah and so on must have felt that they were in the presence of a very big God. To these men God was very big.

But what I really want to ask you is, “How big is your God?”

How big is your God?

1. The real answer to that may lie in how big a role God plays in your life minute by minute, hour by hour, and day by day.

a. No matter whom you are, relationships are critical to your existence as human beings. Humans are social creatures. In our correctional system the death penalty is not the cruelest form of punishment, solitary confinement is – to be absent of all human contact. (Remember Tom Hanks in Cast Away” and Wilson.) God created you to have relationships with others, and him. He wants to be connected to you through his Son Jesus. A relationship with your creator is to be known by God himself.

b. God wants us to know him.
The Bible says God is at work in everyone’s life. “So that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:27)

2. If you can see God as big enough to make a universe, Surely He is also big enough to be worth offering Him your body as a living sacrifice.

a. Romans 12:1, Paul says, “I beseech you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, pleasing to God, which is your reasonable service.” Paul’s words to the believers in Rome were to sacrifice themselves to God, not as a sacrifice on the altar, as the Mosaic Law required the sacrifice of animals, but as a living sacrifice. The dictionary defines sacrifice as “anything consecrated and offered to God.” As believers, how do we consecrate and offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice?

b. What does a living sacrifice look like in the practical sense? The following verse (Romans 12:2) helps us to understand. We are a living sacrifice for God by not being conformed to this world. The world is defined for us in 1 John 2:15-16 as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.

3. If you can see God as big enough to put the stars in place, is he not also big enough to save your lost loved ones?

a. There isn’t a person reading this post that doesn’t have someone who they love that is lost. It may be a spouse, a child, a parent, a sibling, or it may be a friend or some other relative, but there is someone you care deeply about that would be in Hell if they were to die today.

b. The Bible was given to man for the express purpose of revealing God to man. That is why I say that the Bible is proof positive that God has made efforts in the past to save those you love. Do you not owe it to God, to help see that others are saved?

4. If you can see God as big enough to lead Israel out of Egypt’s bondage, is He not also big enough to set you free from whatever it is that binds you and saps your victory?

a. We are Victors not Victims!  All too often we walk around with the poor me attitude. God way did he or she get that I am a better person than they are. (Who has not said this at least once in our life) 

b. Romans 12:2 says, “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” In Romans 4:17 we read “the God who gives life to the dead calls things into being which do not yet exist” Finally, in Romans 4:20- 21 we see the example of Abraham; “Yet with respect to the promises of God he did not waver in unbelief, but grew strong in faith giving God the Glory, being fully assured that what God had promised He was able also to perform.” Be encouraged!

5. If you can see God as big enough to fill you with the Holy Spirit then can you not also see Him as big enough to work His spiritual gifts through you?

a. The Bible says, “As the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

b. Only the Holy Spirit has the power to make the changes God wants to make in our lives. The Bible says, “God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him.” (Philippians 2:13) We see many people claiming to be Christians, walking around with religion but without the spirit.

6. If God is big enough to hear and accept the vows you made when he saved you and you joined His church; is he not also big enough to expect you to keep your vow?

a. There are about 30 biblical references to vows, most of which are from the Old Testament. The books of Leviticus and Numbers have several references to vows in relation to offerings and sacrifices. There were consequences for the Israelites who made and broke vows, especially vows to God.

b. The story of Jephthah illustrates the foolishness of making vows without understanding the consequences. Before leading the Israelites into battle against the Ammonites, Jephthah—described as a mighty man of valor—made a rash vow that he would give to the Lord whoever first came out of doors to meet him if he returned home as the victor. When the Lord granted him victory, the one who came out to meet him was his daughter. (Judges 11:29-40)

c. Perhaps this is why Jesus gave a new commandment concerning vows. “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No ,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:33-37).

So How Big is God?

The book of Isaiah chapter 40 says:

1.    The Greatness of God’s Hands (v. 12). Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?”

He can hold the entire oceans in His hand. (Recent estimates put the volume of the Earth’s oceans at 1.332 cubic kilometers. This is equivalent to around, or 352 quintillion, gallons of water.) (A Quintillion is a 1 followed by eighteen zeros)  God can measure the universe with the “span” (the distance between your thumb and the end of your middle finger) of His mighty hand.

As if that was not enough, he can measure all the dust of the earth and weigh all of earth’s mountains and hills on His scale of balance.

2.    The Greatness of God’s Spirit (v. 13-14). “Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?”

The Holy Spirit has never needed advice, counsel, or teaching. He was the one who moved all the forces of nature forward to commence creation.

His intelligence is complete. There is no book to read or course He needs to take. He wrote the book on everything, period. That includes the Bible.

3.    The Greatness of God’s Perspective (v. 15-17). “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust. Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering. All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.”

The nations are like a “drop in the bucket” and like a few grains of dust on a scale. The nations are not just “nothing” but “less than nothing” before Him. Over history we have seen many nations claim to be the greatest. According to a recent study the top ten nations of the world were Italy, United Kingdom, United States, China, Greece, Egypt, Iraq, India, Iran, and Chad. Some of us may have a different order but to God the greatness of each is still not important.

The inhabitants of earth are like grasshoppers to Him. The universe is merely His “tent.” Now that may refer to the universe and earth being round, or “circular” in shape. However it is important to understand that this is not the main meaning or purpose of these kinds of verses, but rather to again show the incredible greatness and glory of God.

4.    The Greatness of God’s Care (v. 26). “Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name; by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing.”

He numbers and calls every star by name. Research says, there are a “septillion” number of stars in the universe. This is a 1 with 24 zeroes behind it!  No computer needed, just His infinite care.

He checks on every one to be sure they are not missing. If He cares about a single star billions of light years from here, why would He not notice you or your needs?

5.    The Greatness of God’s Strength (v. 29-31). “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

He never grows tired, weary, or faint. He will give that power to anyone who “waits” on Him. This word “wait” in Hebrew is not like waiting for a bus. It is actively seeking Him like a “waiter” in a restaurant. Yes you have to do some of the work. We have all gone out to eat someplace what do you look for in a great waiter.

Faith insures a participation in His incredible strength. He will “renew” our strength. This words means to “change clothes.”  We have a new outfit of God’s power for every challenge we face! Each time we see circumstance or adversity he will give us new and fresh armor to face it. Gods Armor as we read in Ephesians chapter 6. As a history major, I have had the opportunity to study warriors and armies of the world. One thing I have seen is that how an army appears to the enemy is often part of the battle. This is why you see the clean sharp well-kept uniforms. God will see that you go into battle with a clean new uniform not an old a tattered one.

Larry Stockstill, teacher, speaker, and pastor of Bethany Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, asked: How big is your God? Are you looking at God through your circumstances or looking at your circumstances through God?

When we write, we use big G God for the Almighty God Jehovah the true living God, and little g god for all the other gods. When we are faced with circumstances and trial how often do we make our big G God into a little g god?

How big is your God? Big enough to intervene, Big enough to be trusted, Big enough to be held in awe and ultimate respect, Big enough to erase your worries and replace them with peace?

The more you know God, the bigger He becomes.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

A New Day (Series Conclusion)

Last week I began with the idea of a sunset. The sunset represents the end of the day, and from our life’s perspective, the end of our lives. It is at that time that we truly reflect if we have lived life well or if we have wasted opportunities and wind up in despair.

However, if you recall, I said that one truth about the sunset is that while one story ends a new one awaits tomorrow. Someday tomorrow will not come, but so far it has come every day since the second day of Creation. Some people fear their tomorrows due to grief and anxiety, but others find hope in every tomorrow. It is like the coach of a baseball team that comforts his players by saying, “Don’t worry about it boys, we will get ‘em tomorrow.”

Because of tomorrows, we can endure. Because of who holds tomorrow, we can overcome. But to do so we must consider our future – tomorrow, more than our past – yesterday. And, as we do, we cannot overlook the moment in which we live because now is all we are guaranteed. As Bill Keane is noted for saying, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.” – Bill Keane

Although yesterday is history and cannot be changed, we can learn from it. In fact, that is what we must do. And, if you recall, the word disciple means “learner” or “one who learns” so a good disciple will learn from the past in order to be prepared for the future. And the truth is that we all have much our life and experiences have taught us. All of us have fallen far short of where we should be. As I have mentioned several times over the past several months, good intentions mean nothing. It is action that counts.

We see that in our text for today. The story here is not recorded in Mark or we would have seen it earlier this year during that series. But this story occurs in the midst of Jesus being challenged on the Tuesday before His death. Let me briefly discuss these verses and then we will look at how they fit into the scope of this series.

It is only too late to start when the day is done.

Perhaps you can relate to the following. You go to bed one night knowing that tomorrow is a day with many things to accomplish. When you wake up, you fully expect to knock several items off of your list, but one particular task will take hours and you need the light of day to get the job done. But, it is early, and the sun will be up for hours. Later in the day you realize that you have done a few unimportant tasks, but the big one is still before you. You worked through lunch and are hungry so you decide to get a bite to eat before tackling the task. After you eat, you sit down to relax for a minute and fall asleep. And the next thing you know, it is too late to do the task today and you will not have a large enough block of time for another week or more.

The story we have in the Bible is not the same as the one I described here. However, one important part is the same – a certain bit of work must be done today. Notice the father specifically asks the son to go to the vineyard – today. Originally, the first son said no, but later went. The other said yes (maybe because of good intentions), but did not go.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “Andy, you just talked about the significance of tomorrow, and now your first point is that the work must start today.” And, my response, “Yes. You are correct. What seems to be the trouble?”

Ok, I know the trouble, so let me explain, particularly as it relates to making disciples. The work in a vineyard is repetitive. Cutting, pruning, checking for insects, etc. And these things must be done each day. The father likely asks these sons to do work in the vineyard six days per week. And for what? To not taste the fruit for some 180 days. That is a long time of doing the same thing day after day with little to nothing to show for it. But if we do not do the work today, it is more difficult tomorrow. And if we wait until the day after that, we find the work even more difficult.

Thus, we can wait until tomorrow or, perhaps, a little later today, to get started. After all, that is what the first son did. He waited a bit, but then showed his obedience by actually doing what was asked. For some in here, perhaps you have waited to get started on being a disciple or making disciples of others. Perhaps you have said, like the first son, “I will not” but realize that your answer is an affront to God. Well, then this day is not done. What will you do today? Are you willing to do it tomorrow? And the next day? And for six months even if you still think nothing is changing. I assure you, if you commit to obeying Christ at a new, or a next level, changes will happen to you whether you notice them or not.

People recognize truth, but do not act upon it.

Jesus point in this parable are that the first son (the one with all the rights in the ancient world) is not first because of birth order, but because of obedience. The people of Israel who eventually obey – even the tax collectors and prostitutes – will gather the inheritance of God, while the people of Israel who should know better - the scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees – will not receive anything – that is, they are not worthy of God’s Kingdom (Matthew 21.31). The group surrounding Jesus knows the right answer – the obedient son was correct, but they cannot see that their lack of obedience, to a truth that is known, will ultimately be their downfall.

Are we any different? Certainly, we fail when it comes to spiritual truths, but most of us fail at the practical, every day realities as well. How about our health? I am generally careful about caring for my back, but I do not do all that I could. Or what about exercise? Or what I eat? Or drink? Most of you know how much I like Pepsi, and some of you have witnessed how much I can drink. But when the doctor says, “Stop!” will I? I have been given a casual warning, but not an ultimatum – yet. I must admit that health-wise I do better now than I used to, but I still lack in certain areas. Like this group before Jesus, I know the truth, but do not act upon it. And I am sure the same is true for some of you – actually probably for everyone in some manner.

As disciples that should not be the case. Remember, a disciple is one who learns, and in Christian terms, s/he is one who learns to follow Jesus. So, what good does it do to learn to follow if we do not actually follow. Remember, James warned his readers they are deceived if they only hear and do not do (James 1.22) while those who act will be blessed (v. 25).

But not only are we to be a disciple, we are to make disciples. In the second message of this series, I gave five marks of a true disciple. Notice that all of the words are active in nature. That is, we must learn how about each step, but then we must do each step.

Responding to the Call of Jesus, the true disciple must:

  • Learn, following the Savior by making a Great Commitment (Matthew 4.19; Mark 1.17).
  • Live, knowing the truth of the Great Confession (Matthew 16.16).
  • Love, striving to obey the Great Commandment (Mark 12.29-31).
  • Lead, seeking to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28.19-20; Acts 1.8).
  • Leave, hearing our Master give the Great Commendation (Matthew 25.21, 23).

Of course, these steps represent the steps within our process we call GPS. Let’s take a moment to review our Vision, Mission, Strategy, and Steps one more time as we prepare to complete this series.

To be A large church in a small town. (Matthew 5.13-16)

Exalt the Savior (John 12.32).
Equip the Saint (Ephesians 4.11-13).
Evangelize the Sinner (Acts 1.8).

Jesus (Matt 16.18-19) – The One worth following.
Observe (Colossians 1.28-29) – Following the commands of Jesus.
Unite (1 Cor 1.10) – Being one in fellowship with other believers.
Revere (John 12.32) – Worshipping God in all aspects of our lives.
Nurture (Eph 4.12-13) – Building up others for the work of ministry.
Engage (Acts 1.8) – Stirring the hearts of all people with the Gospel.
You (Matt. 15.15-16) – The one who decides to follow.

Learn With Each Other (Acts 17.10-12)
Live For Each Other (Rom 15.1-2)
Love God and All Others (Matt 22.37-39)
Lead One Another (to Follow Jesus) (2 Tim 2.2)
(Leave) When Called by the One True Other (Acts 13.1-3)

Disciple-Making Church require disciple-making people. Throughout this series, we have looked at the characteristics (and problems) of several New Testament churches (you can find the list here).

Within these challenges faced by the various first century churches, you will find some reason that either prevents you from making disciples or challenges you to do it consistently. Maybe, like the people of Rome you would rather argue about petty matters instead of discussing various topics and potentially learning from someone else. Maybe you prefer to keep much of your life secret rather than exposing it to the light of the gospel as Paul exhorted the church at Ephesus to do. If so, God already knows, you are only fooling yourself. Or maybe like the church at Philippi, you need to be reminded to let the past be the past, and to focus on the future. Remember, Paul said that his focus was on forgetting the past in order to strive for what was before Him.

Paul knew that he had to live for today. And he knew that if tomorrow came, he would live that day as well. We may not be able to change what is in the past, but again, as we learn from it, we can make tomorrow better – for ourselves and for others.

Throughout this series, I have shared reasons why people and churches do not make disciples. Let me merely mention these here, and then I will come back to these in the Next Step(s) below.

We don’t understand Jesus – Making disciples was not just for the 1st Century believers.
We don’t believe God – We will face difficulty, but God is greater than any challenge we will face.
We don’t love Jesus – Simply put, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.”
We don’t know how – We have not been shown or have not allowed ourselves to be shown.

Again, these four reasons may seem valid, but only when talking between ourselves. What will we do when we stand face-to-face with our Creator and He asks why we didn’t make disciples? We must realize now that whatever excuse we may give will not be valid. Why? Because we are making excuses to not follow Jesus – who had plenty of reasons not to go to the cross for us, but did so anyway. Why? Because He loved us and thus obeyed His Father. Yes, Jesus showed His love for us through obedience to the Father, just as we show our love to others, and to God, through our obedience to Him.

Really, our decision to be like the obedient son we discussed earlier boils down to how we view God. To read the words of Jesus and to make them a part of the fabric of our lives means we truly understand our sinful nature and have begun to grasp the “But God” kind of God He is.

On the other hand, if we dismiss the commands of Jesus, we really do not have a high-view of God. In fact maybe our we have made a little “g” god for ourselves. That way we do not have to be held accountable when we say “but god.”

That is the essence of this series. Will we be disciple-making people? Will we be known as a disciple-making church? Will we rise up and celebrate our great God whose grace and mercy have raised us to say “But God?” Or will we complain and make excuses by whining, “but god?”

JOURNEY:  R – Revere

Again, our love for Jesus is known when we are obedient to Him. Obedience requires a sense of reverence. Are you making disciples? Will you make disciples? Do you revere God?

Our next steps this week has two parts and multiple options.

First, over the course of this next week, examine the ideas in the related post. Look to see what ideas are listed that may be preventing you from making disciples. As you identify a few of these items, ask God to help you to overcome each challenge and to prepare you to become a disciple maker.

Second, let me return one last time to our four reasons (excuses) for not making disciples. Take time this week to determine which Step you need to take - then take it. Don’t settle for good intentions, let today be a new day and act upon whatever Step you need to do.

Reason 1:  We don’t understand Jesus.  Take time to Learn what a disciple is and what s/he is to do.

Reason 2:  We don’t believe God.  Ask God to increase your faith so you may Live and make disciples as you do.

Reason 3:  We don’t love Jesus.  Prove your Love for Jesus by making disciples for Him.

Reason 4:  We don’t know how.  Find someone to train you as a disciple so you may later Lead others.

What is in the past, is in the past. Maybe you have known what to do, but have not responded yet. While this is true in many area of life, let it be true of making disciples. Let today be that day. It is a new day and disciples are waiting to grow. Start with one today. Then continue tomorrow. Then repeat every day until that disciple is ready to make other disciples. Let us rise to the challenge of being a disciple-making church. Let us put Satan on notice that we are ready to be a “But God” kind of church!

Disciple-Making Churches Series - Sermon Points

The following are the sermon points for each sermon in the Disciple-Making Church series beginning with the third sermon and continuing through the tenth. If you want to review the entire sermon click on sermon title above the set of points and you will be directed to that blog post for the week.

1 Corinthians – In __________ We Trust
  • A Disciple-Making Church is United in Christ (1.10-11)
  • A Disciple-Making Church Trusts One Another (1.12-16)
  • A Disciple-Making Church Emphasizes the Gospel (1.17)

Philippians – Wants vs Wills and Why it Matters
  • A Disciple-Making Church Is Focused on Christ (3.1-11)
  • A Disciple-Making Church Is Focused on the Future (3.12-14)
  • A Disciple-Making Church Is Focused on Setting an Example (3.15-17)

2 Corinthians – A Commendable Initiative
  • A Disciple-Making Church Is Equipped for Battle (10.1-6)
  • A Disciple-Making Church Embraces God’s Standards (10.7-12)
  • A Disciple-Making Church Expands Its Influence (10.15-17)

Ephesians – The Greatest Challenge
  • A disciple-making church walks in love (5.1-2).
  • A disciple-making church walks in light (5.3-14).
  • A disciple-making church walks in wisdom (5.15-21).

Galatians – Mistaken Identity
  • Disciple-making churches live freely because of Christ. (5.1-6)
  • Disciple-making churches live obediently to Christ. (5.7-12)
  • Disciple-making church live in love for Christ. (5.13-15)

Colossians – A Call to Intimacy
  • Disciple-making churches become intimate when worldly vices are abolished. (3.5-9a) 
  • Disciple-making churches become intimate when heavenly virtues are apparent. (3.9b-14)
  • Disciple-making churches become intimate when the living Word becomes our all. (3.15-17)

Romans – Welcome…In Honor of the Lord
  • Disciple-making churches welcome others who may disagree with them. (14.1-12)
  • Disciple-making churches welcome others to strengthen their faith. (14.13-23)
  • Disciple-making churches welcome others because the Lord has welcomed us. (15.1-13)

Antioch (Acts), Sardis (Revelation), and Paul (2 Timothy) – Following the Way?
  • Disciple-making churches find integrity when involving others in making disciples. (Acts 11.19-30)
  • Disciple-making churches find despair when living in pretense rather than making disciples. (Revelation 3.1-6)
  • Disciple-making churches find their ministry complete when focused on making disciples. (2 Timothy 4.6-8)

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Following The Way?

My bride really likes Star Trek. I wouldn’t call her a Trekkie, but she definitely likes Star Trek. (She likes Star Wars too.) When time allows, we will often watch an episode or two late in the evening. Recently, we watched an episode of The Next Generation in which three of the main characters played out a scene from the old west in the holodeck. At the conclusion of the episode, the camera showed a view from space of the Enterprise turning and then heading off into the sunset. Now, my wife is not a big fan of westerns, but she appreciated that.

And isn’t that true of many people? My initial guess was that most casual fans would consider they might see three things in any western – a saloon, a gunfight, and the hero riding into the sunset. To test my hypothesis, I conducted a little poll (non-scientific) on Facebook these past few days to see what others thought.  The poll revealed the following:

True Fans:
  • John Wayne (11 references) – other actors were mentioned, but none were as prevalent as the “Duke”
  • Knowing Good Guys from Bad Guys (7) – whether cowboys and Indians or otherwise – the lines of good and bad were clearly defined
  • Gunsmoke/Bonanza (5) – several shows and movies were mentioned, but Gunsmoke was most common
Other thoughts were – saloons, jail cells with large key rings, sharpshooters, etc.

Casual Fans:
  • Family – grandfathers, uncles, etc. (5) – other comments included related items like televisions, chairs, noise, etc.
  • John Wayne/horses (3) – tie
  • Characters over actors; events – Doc Holliday , Wyatt Earp and the OK Corral

The poll did not prove my hypothesis, at least regarding sunsets. However, if we think about the proverbial sunset, two ideas should come to mind.
  1. Most stories show that people began to make plans for the night before the sun has fallen. That is, in the wilderness, many dangers are unknown and unseen, so it is best to have a base camp established before nightfall. But the hero in the western forgoes this logic and heads out (often alone).
  2. After the sun sets, the sun will rise again. That is, one story may end, but more stories will soon begin. We may be ready to put one part of our life behind us, but in doing so, we must also ask, “What’s next?” And if you are alive today, there is a next. The question is how will you approach whatever is next?

Today, we are going to briefly review three passages of Scripture – from which we can ask of each – “What happened next?” Before we do that, let me remind us of the development theory that has guided this series on various issues churches must address. Again, the theory is a human development theory developed in the 1950s by Erik Erikson, but because the church is addressed as a singular entity in Scripture (e.g. Bride, Body – both of Christ), we can consider how we as a church fit these various stages.

Today, I am discussing the eighth, and final step Erikson’s original. Previously, we:
  • have moved through trust by looking at how different groups opposed one another in 1 Corinthians.
  • discussed the idea of autonomy and Paul’s life as he shared his ambition in Philippians.
  • we observed that we must take the proper initiative to accomplish what God has for us in 2 Corinthians.
  • saw our need to be industrious by imitating God from Ephesians.
  • saw our need to understand our identity is in Christ because it is He who made us free (Galatians).
  • discussed the need for intimacy within the body of Christ as found in Colossians).
  • were challenged on whether or not to allow certain matters to keep us from being generative (Romans).

Today, we look back on our lives to see how we have lived. This stage, which reflects senior adults, is called Integrity vs Despair. As people begin to see the sunset of their lives, they begin to reflect on whether they have lived a good life. Of course, the true answer to this depends on whose standards are used, but if we answer that our life has been good and productive then we have lived a life of Integrity – and are ready to die peaceably. If we have many regrets, then we find ourselves in despair wishing we had more chances and are particularly fearful of the end of life.

Throughout this series, I have provided (originally three, now) four overarching reasons people and churches do not make disciples. I have changed the diagram today a bit to show how these reasons would look differently regarding integrity vs despair.

We don’t understand Jesus   
  • Integrity: we seek to understand, and are eventually glad we did
  • Despair: we will do nothing and stand in regret at the end of our lives

We don’t believe God  
  • Integrity: we pray for a faith that allow us to trust Him more
  • Despair: we live life thinking we are ok until we find out we represent the man with one talent

We don’t love Jesus 
  • Integrity: we obey, even when we don’t want to, and over time realize a deeper love for Jesus
  • Despair: argue that “I really love Jesus, and I don’t need to listen to this” – only realizing at the end that Scripture doesn’t lie

We don’t know how
  • Integrity: we realize the command is for “me” and figure out how even if no one else will
  • Despair: we blame others for not showing us only to later realize God gives us all responsibility

Because we are looking at passages from different books of the New Testament today, I am not going to give an outline at this point as I have been. Instead, here is our GPS to review once again.

  • To be A large church in a small town. (Matthew 5.13-16)

  • Exalt the Savior (John 12.32). 
  • Equip the Saint (Ephesians 4.11-13). 
  • Evangelize the Sinner (Acts 1.8).

  • Jesus (Matt 16.18-19) – The One worth following.
  • Observe (Colossians 1.28-29) – Following the commands of Jesus.
  • Unite (1 Cor 1.10) – Being one in fellowship with other believers.
  • Revere (John 12.32) – Worshipping God in all aspects of our lives.
  • Nurture (Eph 4.12-13) – Building up others for the work of ministry.
  • Engage (Acts 1.8) – Stirring the hearts of all people with the Gospel.
  • You (Matt. 15.15-16) – The one who decides to follow.

  • Learn With Each Other (Acts 17.10-12)
  • Live For Each Other (Rom 15.1-2)
  • Love God and All Others (Matt 22.37-39)
  • Lead One Another (to Follow Jesus) (2 Tim 2.2)
  • (Leave) When Called by the One True Other (Acts 13.1-3)

Over the last nine weeks now, you have heard a different perspective on each item related to our Strategy, our Mission, and now the Vision. If you missed any of these or almost any other Teaching Moment or Sermon, you can check out the church’s blog. Go to the church’s website and click on the link to the blog. They are (almost) all there.

For now, let us move into our first passage – a passage that relates to a church on the rise.

Disciple-making churches find integrity when involving others in making disciples. (Acts 11.19-30)

By Acts 11, the church has begun to spread to regions well beyond Jerusalem. The first seven chapters take place in Jerusalem. Chapter 8 extends further, and in Chapter 10 Peter is in Caesarea Maritima. In chapter 11, we have an account of the gospel spreading well northward and someone had to go to see if the reports were true. The apostles select Barnabas for the duty.

Barnabas arrived and was able to confirm what had been said. Many others were added to the Lord. (Verse 24). So many were coming to the Lord that Barnabas could not train them all. So, Barnabas went and found Paul who then helped in Antioch to lead others to better know and serve Christ. Barnabas involved Paul which taught Paul how to involve others. Barnabas is only directly linked with a couple of others in Scripture, but Paul is directly linked with over 30. But where did Paul learn? He learned to be a disciple-maker from Barnabas, and a good deal of that was in Antioch.

Were they effective? Verse 26 says it was in Antioch where the disciples of Jesus – known as Followers of the Way – were first called Christians. The people of Antioch knew who the Jews were. They knew who the Gentiles were. But this new group need a way to be identified. And the disciples so resembled the person of Jesus that the town created a new name – Christian – or “little Christ” which was originally meant to be a negative term.

But the people of Antioch had integrity as a church. In chapter 13, it was this church that was called to set aside Barnabas and Paul and commission them for their first missionary journey. It was this church to which Paul returned to give a report of their work (end of Acts 14). But the church was not without conflict, for it was the church at Antioch that was the cause of the Jerusalem Council as covered in Acts 15. Yet, this church, from what we know remained faithful to their calling to make disciples who make disciples.

Fairfax Baptist Church, are we fulfilling our call to make disciples who make disciples? Do we, in general, see making disciples as a task of the preacher or do we take the responsibility to make disciples ourselves? In your mind, do you see it as my job to stand here and preach or to involve others to lead others in becoming better followers of Jesus? I have a long way to go in my goal of making disciples here, but I cannot and should not do it alone (according to the Bible). Will we be a church of integrity knowing each of us is involved somehow in making disciples for our Lord?

Disciple-making churches find despair when living in pretense rather than making disciples. (Revelation 3.1-6)

One of the biggest challenges for any person or any church is to avoid comparisons with others. Many self-righteous Christians believe they are always better than the next person. “Can you believe so-and-so...?” This approach is similar to the mindset of the Pharisees.
On the other hand, many wonderful Christians are too modest and believe that they are not worthy of some responsibility or ministry opportunity. “Well, I just don’t think I am capable of....” despite that everyone else around them knows something to be true. And besides, most of us have heard, “God qualifies the called, He doesn’t necessary call those who are qualified.”

But instead of comparing ourselves to others, what if we listened to God? That is one of the benefits that Revelation 2 and 3 provide – a look into Jesus thoughts on the church. Jesus gave His critique to seven different churches in what is now, primarily, the country of Turkey. Five of the seven churches had serious issues to correct and the church of Sardis was one of those five. Jesus said they were living off of a false reputation. People on the outside thought the church was fine, but on the inside it was nearly dead (v 2). The church needed to repent or die (v 3). Of course, not every individual in the church was responsible for its pending death, but for those that were, their salvation was in question too. That is, were they really saved, or like the church, were they just pretending to be something they were not – maybe having convinced themselves they were ok.

Can you imagine a church getting this message from Jesus? It would be one thing if a pastor said it; he could be fired and the church simply moves on. But if Jesus said it? What would the reaction be? What should it be? The truth is that the church of Sardis was stagnant, and the people would soon be in despair that they did not follow the way that was prescribed for them. The choice was theirs, but how would they respond?

Fairfax Baptist Church, are we pretending to be something we are not? Are we pretending to be better than we are? Are we fooling ourselves that we are a church better than we are and God is smiling as He looks down on all we do? If Jesus was to walk in the door right now, what critique would he have of us – individually and collectively? Specifically, as it relates to His command to make disciples – are we doing our part or do we need to “remember, then, what you have seen and heard” (v. 3)?

Disciple-making churches find their ministry complete when focused on making disciples. (2 Timothy 4.6-8)

This passage is not about a church, it is about Paul. It is an autobiographical statement that many know well. It is one that has been read or preached at many funerals. But the principles that is true for the individual, can be extrapolated here for our purposes related to the church. As I mentioned earlier, Paul had direct involvement with over 30 individuals. He started many churches and encouraged both churches and individuals throughout his ministry, including his letters from which we still benefit today.

This letter is the last letter we have that Paul wrote. If he wrote any after this, they were lost shortly thereafter. But we know this letter was written from Rome and likely very shortly before his death. Paul uses two phrases to indicate he expects death. Being “poured out” is indicative of the blood that will be shed, and the word for departure reflects the idea of going home. Two primary uses in the first century were of soldiers breaking camp to return home or a ship lifting anchor to set sail for home. Paul realizes where that his true home awaits and he is ready to begin the final journey.

But Paul had a choice to make long before this. In Paul’s conversion experience, I want you to notice a subtle difference at the beginning of Acts 9. Please note that Paul was seeking to harm people of “the Way” (verse 2) because he was doing things “his way” (v. 3).

Verse 2 – “ that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
Verse 3 – “Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus,...”

Having made this choice years earlier, He is now prepared for his final journey because he knows he has accomplished what has been given unto him. Having fought the fight, finished the race, kept the faith, Paul encourages Timothy to do the same. (In fact, Paul is reminding Timothy of what has been written to him earlier – see 1 Tim 6.12 (fight the good fight), 1 Tim 6.14 (finish the race), and 2 Tim 1.5-6 to keep the faith.)

Having accomplished what he has, Paul knows he will soon face a trial before a human judge who will have him executed. But instead of despairing for his life, Paul has integrity knowing that the righteous judge – Jesus – has a crown of righteousness waiting for him when the Final Judgement takes place. But this crown of righteousness is not just for Paul but for all who forsake their own way in order to follow the Way.

Fairfax Baptist Church, will we focus on our thoughts, understandings, comforts, hopes and dreams or will we follow God’s? In other words, will Fairfax Baptist Church be known for following our way or following The Way? When our lives are through, will we die with dignity and integrity knowing we have successfully finished the tasks we have been given? Will our church continue knowing that the race of those in the future depends on how well we run the race now?

Like Paul, we have a choice to make. Frank Sinatra may have sang about doing it “My Way”, but as believers, we need to be followers of the Way.

I began this post with the idea of riding off into the sunset. As I mentioned, being able to ride off meant that one story was done. But what about the next story? That is, what happened next? In the Bible we see the great narrative of over several thousand years which pointed forward to Jesus from the Old Testament, and backwards to His death and resurrection in the New Testament. But what happened next?

For instance, what happened next to the church at Antioch? Did they continue being faithful to the gospel or did they lose their focus and eventually lose their influence as Christians and even close their doors as a church?

What happened next to the church at Sardis? Did they listen to Jesus and repent – turning back towards a healthy and vibrant church? Or did they think that their reputation could carry them through and eventually close their doors?

For Paul, we pretty well know what happened next. Whether days, weeks, or months, Paul’s life ended. It ended, but his message didn’t, because his message was the message of God. Therefore, his life serves as an example for all of us.

Fairfax Baptist Church, what happens to us next? Will we be faithful to God’s call upon us as a church? Will we work to see ourselves and others to become more like Christ – becoming the disciples He wants us to be? Will we keep focused on Jesus like Paul did or will we listen to the world’s advice to “follow your heart.”

None of us knows when we will walk towards our final sunset. But, as a church, we can postpone the final sunset if we heed the command of Jesus to make disciples and follow the Way He has set before us.

JOURNEY: JOURNEY:  This week, the letter is the entire word. We must focus on His Way throughout life’s journey if we are to remain faithful to our call.

NEXT STEP(S): Leave:  I usually don’t include this step, but one day we will all be gone (like Paul). What are you doing right now that will leave the church prepared for that day? That is, who are you not only discipling spiritually, but training practically, to carry on when God calls you home?