Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Seeking God’s Heart – Counted Among the Great (Fairfax Fair)

This week’s post is more abbreviated than usual because it was Pastor Andy’s message during the Fairfax Fair.

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It takes everyone to make a community. But some people are more visible, and some are more well-known. The theme of the Fairfax Fair this year is that we all have a superhero inside us. I realize the premise of that statement, but the fact is that not everyone will be known as a superhero, but we all have a role to play. Today, I want to compare the life of David and Jesus to show that it isn’t only the well-known that make a difference. Indeed, all of us can if we simply are faithful to what God asks us to do.

Christianity is filled with a long history of great names. Certain apostles such as John, Peter, and Paul are considered among the greatest people in the Bible. Others such as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon, and Graham could be included on a list of great Christians. But what about Mary in the Bible? Which one you ask? That is exactly the point – a few Mary’s deserve consideration (Jesus’ mother, of Magdala, Martha’s sister). The Bible is filled with many “minor” characters whose contribution makes God’s story what it is. Their names may not seem as significant to us, and others are even unknown to us, but that does not mean that they were not faithful to God.

David’s song in 2 Samuel 22 is truly his testimony about God. However, another important part of his testimony includes all of those who accompanied David throughout his life – as family, friends, servants, and warriors. Chapter 23 provides an important look at those who supported David throughout much of his life.

The Three (2 Sam. 23:8-17)

Most everyone has a person or group of people they deeply trust. David had thirty-seven mighty men (v. 39), but three were extra special (most did not “attain to the three”, see verse 19). Although very little is known of these three men, their efforts brought about great victories with the help of the Lord. Jesus also had three who were privileged beyond the others.
  1. David had three who stood above the rest. (8, 9-10, 11-12, together – 13-17) 
  2. Jesus had three who saw more than the rest. (e.g. Mark 5:37 – the healing of the deceased girl, Matthew 17:1 – the transfiguration, etc.)

The Next Tier (2 Sam 23:18-23)

For David, a couple of other warriors were worthy of having a story told about them, but the rest of his mighty men are simply listed as a name (with their father and/or place of origin). Likewise, Jesus had a group of other close followers whom were named, but otherwise little is known about them. In both cases, however, these names represent close followers of their leader – men who were willing to die to serve their leader. Interestingly, a contrast exists between David’s men and Jesus’ followers.
  1. David’s list of selected men includes one he betrayed (Uriah, v. 39).
  2. Jesus’ list of selected men includes one who betrayed Him (Judas, Luke 6:16)

The Rest

In the stories of David and Jesus, a few people are named for their parts in the story. However, countless others are not. We may not know the exact role these individuals had, but we can be certain they contributed in small and in great ways to David and Jesus, respectively.

A king has others who serve the kingdom.
  1. David had counselors (e.g. Nathan), and friends (e.g. Hushai) to guide him
  2. Jesus sent 72 ahead of Him into towns where He would go (Luke 10:1)

A king has others to provide encouragement in the midst of challenges.
  1. David had priests (e.g. Ahimelech) and worship leaders (e.g. Asaph) who served the Lord through sacrifices and song.
  2. Jesus was comforted by Mary (John 12:1-8) and angels (in the wilderness and Gethsemane)

A king has subjects who serve without any recognition.
  1. Israel had thousands of people for David to lead. Certainly, not all of them appreciated David, but most did serve him because He served the Lord (cf. 1 Chronicles 29:6-9)
  2. Jesus sent the 72, but later appeared to over 500 men (1 Cor. 15:6), most all of whom are nameless.

CONCLUSION

Both David and Jesus impacted many people throughout their lives. Both also were positively impacted by many whether the help came from those in their inner circles, their close friends, or others who were nameless to most, but important to them. The truth is that whether our story is known by others or not, God knows it, and will use us for His glory, if we are committed to Him.

The choice often comes down to whether we would rather be known by man or by God. God may make a name for us if we are focused on bringing Him glory. But when our focus is on our own glory, we fail God, and ultimately fail ourselves. Therefore, we must each answer the question: Do you want to be known by men or by God?

So, whether or not a superhero is inside of all of us, we can all be great if we are faithful to our true leader – Jesus. That greatness may find us in a prominent place in the community or simply loved deeply by our families. But whatever greatness we may achieve, our success must always be measured by our faithfulness to God.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Seeking God’s Heart – Choosing A Response

Imagine you have just lost your job because you have been betrayed by someone you trusted. As you leave your place of employment you are confronted by one of the employees who reported to you. He is a swindler who seeks to manipulate you one last time (although you do not know you are being manipulated). What do you do? Then, as you make your way to the parking lot, a disgruntled customer starts cussing you out and throwing things at you. How do you respond?

Meanwhile, having lost your job, you find yourself in need – not just for yourself, but for those who are with you as well. Someone you may not know well has respected you from afar. This person offers to provide your meals for an extended time. You later discover this man is wealthy and can afford the gesture, but a simple “Thank you” seems insufficient. How do you respond?

Some time later, the one who betrayed you has died. You agree to take your job back despite the fact you cared about this person a great deal. Immediately, you are confronted with an opportunity to get even with the customer who berated you. Then, you find out you were manipulated and have the authority to make matters right. How do you respond?

These scenarios are not random ideas, they are directly from the story of David. In reviewing this story, and examining the response of David in each situation, we can learn more about David, about ourselves, and most importantly about God. Ultimtely, what we will discover is that our response does not have to come from our circumstances. Our response to circumstances should come from who we are.

After Absalom’s death, David rightfully resumes his role as king. While he was deposed, David certainly encountered various individuals who greeted him in a variety of ways. The Bible records an unfavorable encounter with Shemei as well as a favorable one with Barzillai. Another interaction David expected was from Mephibosheth, but he had not joined the king when he left Jerusalem. With David back on the throne, each of these men has a new encounter with David. It is David’s encounters with these individuals that will be our focus today.

David Responds with Justice

All who were loyal to David left Jerusalem with him except for two distinct people – Hushai, who would act as a spy for David (2 Sam. 15:32-37) and Mephibosheth, whom David had earlier shown extreme kindness (2 Sam 9). Although David was deceived about the reason Mephibosheth remained, his solution to not strip Ziba of everything is consistent with a king not revoking a decree.
  • David was deceived by Ziba who said Mephibosheth remained to become king. (2 Sam. 16:1-4)
  • David’s Initial Response: Give Ziba what belonged to Mephibosheth. (v. 4)
  • David’s Final Response: Continue to show kindness to Mephibosheth. After returning as king, David approaches Mephibosheth, and hearing the truth, David restores land to him. (2 Samuel 19:24-30) Although Mephibosheth may be well-cared for due to David’s return, his response (v. 30) is one of true appreciation for the king.

We are not told why David made the decision he did, but he made the decision quickly and confidently. Because he was king, and because Ziba had deceived him, no one would have thought twice if David had taken everything from Ziba. While we are not told why David responded as he did, the question is how would you respond to Mephibosheth? To the story about Ziba? Having been restored to his rightful place, David wanted to move on to what was important. He put the past behind him and now it was time to see what God was ready to do next – another example of being a man after God’s own heart.

David Responds with Mercy

As David travelled further from Jerusalem, he was met by a man named Shimei, a member of King Saul’s household. Shimei’s hostility towards a warrior like David is foolish, but David’s response shows he considered the bigger picture of what was happening.
  • Shimei cursed and threw rocks at David and others because David was unworthy to be king. (2 Sam. 16.5-8)
  • David’s Initial Response: David considered that many were against him and that may mean the Lord was allowing the events to transpire. (2 Sam. 16.9-14)
  • David’s Final Response: David made an oath that Shimei would not die. Ultimately, David realized that his place as king was secure and his restoration was cause for celebration, not punishment. (2 Sam 19:16-23)

In this instance, the issue was more than mental (deception). This person actually physically assaulted David. Certainly David is much older now as he has grown children capable of being king. But, this is still David of whom was sang, “David killed his tens of thousands” (1 Sam 18.7). Even if some think this is an exaggeration, David is the commander of the army and one would be pretty stupid to attack him. But Shimei did attack and even though he has pleaded with David, notice that the army was waiting for the order to strike (2 Sam 19.21). Yet, when it came time for payback, David relented – and did so with a promise. David may have been a warrior, but his heart sought God and thus he showed mercy.

David Responds with Thanksgiving

As the king, David would have had many who were faithful to him in Israel. Certainly, some of these people would be willing to help David with any of his needs. One of the men who helped as David fled from Jerusalem was named Barzillai, whom David later seeks to reward by bringing him back to Jerusalem.
  • Barzillai provided food and a place of rest for David and all who travelled with him. (2 Sam. 17:27-29)
  • David’s Initial Response: Rest his troops for battle to defeat Absalom’s army (2 Sam 18:1-6)
  • David’s Final Response: In appreciation for the hospitality received, David extended an offer of hospitality for Barzillai to come to Jerusalem to live. Barzillai declined due to his age, but sent a servant to be with David instead. (2 Sam. 19.31-40)

Many times leaders will forget their place and expect people to provide for them and be dutiful without question. But David was not such a leader. Of course, as the king, he expected loyalty from his troops which could be easily manipulated as we saw in the story of Uriah. But when David was right with God, he was thankful for what he had. We saw that in verse 22 when he pardoned Shimei, and here he does it with Barzillai. Yes, Barzillai declined David’s offer, but it is David’s response that deserves to be highlighted here.

CONCLUSION

David’s initial response to each of these men was not rash. Even giving the property to Ziba was quite reasonable due to the details he was provided and the duress he was facing. However, David’s final response to each of these men was made due to the humility of a king. It must not be overlooked that each of the final responses was made in the midst of grieving the loss of his son (sorrow), not to mention preparing to re-establish himself as king (joy).

The truth is that we cannot control the circumstances around us, but we do have the ability to control our responses. The question is: Will you be defined by a response or will you define your response?

Remember the scenario with which I began. You have just lost your job having been betrayed by someone you trusted (for David, his son). You are manipulated as you are trying to leave (for David, by Ziba), and as you finally begin to get away you are physically harassed (for David, by Shimei). How do you respond? Maybe you can handle the job part. Then maybe you are able to put aside the manipulation. But eventually most will say, “Enough is enough!” and begin to lash out. Not David. Why? Because He trusted God. Why? Because He was a man after God’s own heart. David was not a perfect man, but he was a man who continually turned back to God.

And that is what we need to do. When we succeed, we need to express thanksgiving to God. When we fail, we need to repent and turn back to God. Life is full of choices and many of those choices are a response to what someone else has done/will do for us.

What is interesting is that both Mephibosheth (v30) and Barzillai (v 34-37) reject the offer made by the king. The problem is that too many people do that today. See, our King has made us an offer – the offer of life. Maybe we are like Barzillai and offer excuses as to why we cannot except the offer – we are too old, we are too young, we have too much to do, we have done such bad things, etc. But that is letting the situation define us rather than accepting what Jesus is offering. Jesus knows you better than you know yourself. So, if he is offering, the offer is good in spite of yourself. We need to be more like Mephibosheth, who turns down the offer of stuff, because He is simply thankful to be with the king.

So, how do you respond to the offer of THE King – King Jesus? The offer of salvation. The offer of abundant life. The offer to be blessed as you are poor in spirit, as you mourn, as you hunger and seek righteousness, etc. The offer to have God’s kingdom come, to experience love and joy everlasting, etc., etc., etc.

JOURNEY

The JOURNEY letter for today is: RREVERE.

Choosing the right response becomes easier as we follow Jesus more closely. The Bible says that David was a man after God’s own heart which means He revered God because He sought to be more like Him. Again, like us, David was not perfect, not even close. But to REVERE God does not mean that we are perfect, but that we desire to worship Him for who He is – and He is perfect!

NEXT STEP(S): LEARN

I will repeat the primary question once more and explain it. “Will you be defined by a response or will you define your response?”

When we react, we are defined by our response. For instance, we can all remember a time when someone did something to someone else and beforehand said, “Watch this.” The watching was not just for what was to be done, but was also because the reaction of the person was known before the act happened. Why? Because the response defined the person – that is, the person reacts the same way every time.

But if we are proactive (instead of reactive), we have defined the response. We will not be perfect at this in every occasion, but David must have already considered the possibility of being ridiculed by someone or his reaction would likely to have been to have Shimei killed after the first rock was thrown.

So, take time to think how God would respond. Then seek to do the same. That is why this week’s step is LEARN. We must first begin to understand how we typically respond. Then we seek to know how God responds. And then we make whatever changes are necessary. So, LEARN your response. LEARN God’s response. Then LEARN how to better emulate God.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Hub Sunday – “Sent”

Today is the launch for a new emphasis we will call Hub Sunday. The idea for these times of worship each month will be to celebrate what we are doing as a church relating to fulfilling our mission.

Why Missions’ Hub?

First, let me tell you about the origins of the name. The name comes from a couple of conversations where Roger and I were both present. One of the conversations was a one-on-one conversation while driving and the other was part of a discussion with the deacons. In the latter meeting with the deacons, Roger used the words “missions’ hub” to describe an aspect of our church and the name resonated strongly with me. So, for the last month, I have been considering how to celebrate everything we are doing as a church year-round. Thus, the idea for a regular service to celebrate was born. But beyond being a celebration, Hub Sunday will also be meant to challenge and inspire us.

Today, as we begin our first Hub Sunday, I want to share three ideas with you and then leave us with a couple of considerations. First, I want to share the “Why” of missions. That is, why should we be engaged in servings others? Second, I want to break down a fallacy regarding missions. Third, I want to briefly make a comment about the nature of a worship service. After I have mentioned each of these items, I will provide our challenge for the remaining months of 2018 and beyond.

Why Missions?

The main reason for us to be involved in missions is because Jesus commanded us to make disciples. And as part of that process, He said we are to “go.” Read Matthew 28.19-20. Thus, if Jesus tells us to go, then we are sent, but our sending is with a purpose. When talking about our purpose as Christians, we often mention the idea of being called. And that is true. Jesus called for the disciples to “Follow Me” (Matthew 4.19) and the Greek word from which we get the English “church” is ekklessia which means “called out ones.” So, we are indeed called, but our calling is so that we can be sent.

Consider some of the major characters of the Bible. Abraham was sent out from his homeland. Moses was sent to Pharaoh. The Israelites were sent to the Promised Land. David was sent to the front lines where he would face Goliath. Ezra was sent to Jerusalem to help get the temple rebuilt. Nehemiah was sent to help rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. God sent His Son that whoever believes will have eternal life. The apostles were told they would be sent from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Paul was sent to the Gentiles. Etc. So, the idea of being sent is prominent throughout Scripture.

The idea is not just for great people for none of the people mentioned (except His Son) were considered great until they obeyed their call to be sent. Again, we are sent by Jesus as He commands us to make disciples as we “go.” (Matthew 28.19). And we do not go in order to become great; rather we go in order that His Name will be made great (Matthew 5.16). Of course, some refuse the call to be sent (even if only for a while) like Jonah. However, the book of Jonah shows obedience of God’s sending throughout that short book. Consider that God sent Jonah (who initially disobeyed, but later obeyed), but God also sent a great wind and storm (Jonah 1.4),  a big fish (1.17), a plant (4.6), a worm (4.7), and a scorching wind (4.8). So, again, listening to Jesus requires us to “Go!” because like God sent Him, He sends us.

But being sent is not just about going abroad, it can mean going across the street or across the town. And that will be the next part of the message.

Being Missional

One of the primary reasons behind Hub Sunday is to help correct a misunderstanding of missions. Since late August of 2016, and particularly since late January of this year, you have heard a great deal about Kenya. And in previous years, you have heard about various mission trips to Panama, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, as well as various places within the United States. It is particularly important for a church to hear what God is doing when the church is sending people out to far away locations. The church at Antioch sent Paul (and Barnabas) out (Acts 13.1-3), and Paul regularly returned to Antioch to give reports of his missionary endeavors (e.g. Acts 14.26-28; 18.22-23).

But the emphasis in the Great Commission is not the word “go.” The emphasis is to make disciples. In fact, the verb is “to make” and the terms “go,” “baptize,” and “teach,” are all participles which explain how “to make.” So, the important part is to make disciples and that can be done “as we go.” That is, as we go about our regular business we are to make disciples.

Therefore, the idea is not necessarily about going on a mission trip. Rather, it is living a life that is “on mission” or being “missional” as is often said today. The difference is staggering. Going to and from Kenya costs between $1100-$1500 just for the airfare and costs a great deal of time (airport to airport is nearly 24 hours, for instance). Going across the street costs nothing monetarily, and perhaps five minutes of time at a minimum. But both can have eternal impact if we are mission-minded.

Every interaction we have with another person could be a difference maker in their eternity. That statement is why Matthew 5.16 is the verse for our Vision statement. We do our good works to that others will give God the glory. Being missional is more than merely setting a good example, it is about being a positive influence and leading others into a deeper relationship with God. We do this by being salt and light wherever we are and whatever we are doing – whether it is one-half way around the world or talking to our neighbor in the front yard.

So, we must break the mindset of thinking that missions as something that happens over there. Missions is about being missional and that process begins in the heart and in the brain. For, as Jesus reminded us, we are to “love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength” (Mark 12.30-31). The heart and mind set the tone for our soul to be engaged and thus we use our strength to serve God by loving and serving others as well.

Service as Worship

One last important aspect of Hub Sundays, at least future Hub Sundays, is to get more people involved in the worship service. Think about those two words. We come to worship God and part of that is done by some of the common elements we do every week. But the bulk of the time is spent with the focus on three or four people. Certainly, the time of worship should have direction (God is not a God of confusion, i.e. order is important – 1 Cor 14.33), and leaders help provide that direction. And the congregation can actively sing and actively give, but much of what is done is passive (i.e. listening). So, what if on one Sunday each month, the bulk of the congregation got more involved? That is, what if, instead of sitting and listening, the congregation contributed by sharing how they have served and then encourages others to do the same? If this is done, then the time of worship truly becomes a time of serving during worship – or a service of worship, which gives credence to the concept of a worship service.

If we think of the Old Testament priests, their responsibility was to serve at the tabernacle and later the temple. And, one of the distinctives that was rebirthed during the Reformation was that we are all priests – designed to serve God (1 Peter 2.5). Of course, we are to serve outside the walls of this building because the building is not the church, we are! But, we can also serve within the church and can do so by sharing how God is using us to fulfill His purposes in a corporate setting.

Furthermore, our service is truly an act of worship. Just as we may sing as worship, so can we serve as worship (and pray, study, etc.). Colossians 3.17 reminds us of this – whatever we do, in word or action, we do it in the name of Jesus, giving thanks (i.e. praising/worshipping) to God as we do. And, again, as we serve in this way, others will rejoice and give glory the Father in heaven (Matthew 5.16). Said succinctly, we serve as an act of worship, and others worship as we serve.

So, let us embrace the possibilities to share how God is using us. We do not do this to brag or receive human praise; rather, we share because God has chosen to use us and in our obedience the world is changed, and He is glorified. If you recall our key verse from earlier this year, Habakkuk 2.14 says, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” That will began to happen as we serve more out there and celebrate that service more in here.

Our JOURNEY

Our strategy is comprised of the acrostic JOURNEY. Each week, I share a letter that fits with the message and provides some clarity for how the message and our church’s purpose intersect. But our JOURNEY begins as individuals. We begin our lives apart from Christ and for those that choose Jesus, we eventually take that fork in the road that leads us to Christ, but we always still have further to go. That distance to travel to be complete in Him (Col. 1.28) is our growth which is captured by the idea of a JOURNEY. More will be said about this connection in our upcoming series on the church, but for now, let me briefly share a couple of areas of service that some people have embraced related to being missional.

Again, Kenya gets a lot of attention and many contribute money to that each month through the piki offering. Other larger donations have been made recently and we are now almost able to repair the well at Lesurwa so they can have fresh water. But remember missions is not just about “over there,” it is about when and wherever.

This summer we have had people serve in VBS. Maybe it was helping serve meals, or maybe it was donating food. That can be a simple donation, or with the right mindset, that can be missional.

We have recently concluded No Hunger Summer. In all honestly, we did not help as many children and families as we had hoped, but 33 different children (and a total of 39 different individuals) consumed 190 meals (not counting VBS week). Our church had a part in that.

Each Tuesday, someone from our church delivers Meals on Wheels to various individuals around Fairfax. Serving in this way is an element of missions.

Each Monday, a group of ladies and a couple of men help convert plastic sacks into bed mats. But to do that, we need sacks. And some may simply drop off the sacks, but with the right mindset dropping off plastic sacks can be missional.

Being missional can also include bringing supplies for the food pantry or the youth group or cooking a meal for someone or making a visit to the hospital or calling someone who was missing from church or Sunday School or sending my abbreviated sermon notes to someone who is homebound. Again, all of these ideas, and more, can just be something we do, or they can be missional. It is about our mindset and our heartset.

What’s Next? The Challenge

Moving forward I want us to consider how we can fulfill two major initiatives. I am certain some may disregard one or both of these ideas, but if we are going to be a large church in a small town, we need to extend our influence (which is the essence of the word “large” in the vision).

So, first, our next Hub Sunday will be scheduled for the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. But that week we will only meet here briefly. Instead for everyone who is able, we will honor the name of that weekend by finding some way to labor for the Lord on that Sunday morning. We will call it, Labor for the Son Day.” I realize that not everyone will be able to labor physically, so I invite you to this building to pray for those who are out serving in some way. The prayer is an important part of the service – praying for opportunities to serve, opportunities to proclaim Jesus, and even for the safety of those serving. To accomplish this, we need to have our eyes and ears open to possibilities. As you see a need or hear of someone who needs some assistance, make a note and let me know. We will compile a list and then meet here that morning to “go” and be servants within our community. We will celebrate these and other opportunities during Hub Sunday at the end of September.

The second challenge will wait until the end of September before we seek to engage. This town has two entities that keep this town afloat from an economic perspective – the hospital and the school. We can seek how to serve the hospital at a later point, but while our church is very active in VBS and is the host of God Squad each year, if we want to make a difference in the lives of the families in this community, we need to be engaged with the school. Two of the last three years, the president of the school board has been a member of our church. The current superintendent is a professing Christian. Can God make a partnership out of this? Absolutely. But the question is, if we are sent in this direction, will we go? We will have the opportunity to make that decision at the end of September.  But, in some way, we must respond to our being sent.

If we truly Exalt the Savior, we will go.
If we truly seek to Equip the Saint, we will go.
If we truly desire to Evangelize the Sinner, we will go.

So, the question isn’t if we are sent. The question isn’t if we should go? The question is when are where is God calling us to go? And within the us, how do you fit into that call?