Thursday, November 20, 2008

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Being an Answer to Prayer!

From Time Magazine, Monday, Aug. 09, 1971

"There are few human dramas quite as compelling as the search for a lost child. When 9-year-old Kevin Dye wandered away from a picnic on rugged Casper Mountain in east central Wyoming, there was an extra edge of urgency and fear for his survival: Kevin is brain damaged and requires constant medication to prevent epileptic seizures.

Have you ever lost a child (when you weren't trying to)? Maybe in a grocery store? At the park? In the mall? You just turned away for a moment and they were gone. Do you remember the emotions? Your mind starts reeling. Something immediately starts churning and pulling in the pit of your stomach - and only intensifies as the search continues. The longer the search the more raw your emotions become. Any help you can find...anyone willing to join you in the search is a welcome partner. Remember how you felt as you read the following story from Jesus' life.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:35-38

When Jesus saw the crowds he had compassion on them. The word "compassion" is an anatomical word. It referred to the part of the anatomy between the navel and the groin. It became a word used to describe the churning and pulling you feel in the pit of your stomach when you are deeply moved by what you are seeing or experiencing. It's the same feeling you had when you lost your child. That's what the word "compassion" means.

Jesus saw people who were broken by life, struggling to get by, far from God and in the dark spiritually and it tore him up inside. Moved, as a parent during a long search, he pleads with His followers to pray that God would send more searchers - because there aren't many. There aren't many people moved by the lostness of others. Not many who lose sleep because others are far from God. There aren't many who are willing to set aside their own comfort in order to bring them aid or bring them home.

The article continues: More than 3,000 volunteers searched for eleven days until he was found—dehydrated and 25 Ibs. lighter than when his ordeal began, but otherwise in excellent condition. Kevin's vulnerability provoked special reactions to his plight. Volunteers from as far away as Philadelphia and East St. Louis came to help in the search; the National Guard was called in to trek through the dense forest at night with infrared spotting devices. The owners of a restaurant on Casper Mountain turned their establishment over to the searchers for use as a headquarters. Residents of the area brought food and coffee to the volunteers, who spent wearying hours in the mountain wilderness."

Kevin's vulnerability moved people to action. These searchers, many of whom were not God-followers, were moved to action by the same impulse that moved Jesus. Compassion for the vulnerable.

One truth about being in church is that it often distances us from lost people. Studies show that the longer a person is a Christian, the fewer non-Christian people they have in their lives. Isn't that ironic. Isn't that exactly the opposite of what Jesus asked us to pray for? Shouldn't it be the other way around? Jesus had people far from God around Him all the time. He said: "There are lost people everywhere" (i.e., the harvest is plentiful). He had so many around him that He often didn't have time to eat or rest. It just seems odd that the longer we're in church the fewer of those folks we have in our lives. Could it be that doing church and following Jesus are two very different approaches to life?

At Community, we don't want to just be "doing church." We are committed to following Jesus so closely that our lives are changing to be like His. We want to be an answer to Jesus' prayer for more workers. It is interesting that after Jesus calls His followers to pray for more workers, He sends them out to minister to the very people that were on His heart (Matthew 10:1, 5). They were the answer to that prayer. Will we be?

The hard truth is this: If we do not have people in our lives who are far from God...we are not as close to God as we think.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Heart of Jesus

Last night we had an incredible leaders meeting. We spent some time talking about our vision to be an externally-focused church. It concerned some leaders that they have heard statements from some members like: “I don’t think I want our church to grow, I don’t know everyone now”; or “why make all these changes to reach new people, we liked things the way they were;” or “what makes reaching new people more important than taking care of those we already have?” or “We were here first. This is our church.” These sentiments are by no means wide-spread but they are difficult to hear none-the-less. One leader observed that these sentiments are exactly what Sean talked about Sunday morning. Even in the church there is a temptation to focus on ourselves to the exclusion of the well-being (or salvation) of others.

All this begs the question: why would a church choose to focus on outsiders? Why even bother with those outside our walls at all? My answer is: because of God’s heart. It has always been my understanding that we are striving to reflect the heart of Jesus, regardless of the inconvenience or cost. We’ve said that spiritual maturity is having the things that matter to God matter to us. It is interesting to think about who was on Jesus’ mind during His last hours on this earth. Where was His focus?

In John 17 Jesus prayed for His disciples, as well as all those who would come to believe in Him through their words (John 17:20-23). That’s US. He prayed that His people would be unified. But that unity was not an end in itself. He wanted us to be unified “so that the world might believe.” Outsiders would be making decisions about a relationship with God based on how they saw His people treating one another. Jesus’ gaze was set on outsiders and he wanted to make sure that our behavior drew them to Him and didn’t push them away.

At the end of the Book of Matthew there is a passage we call the Great Commission. It is the climax of Matthew’s Gospel. In that passage Jesus says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” I have underlined the Greek verbs in this passage: go, make, baptize and teach. Which do you think is the primary verb in that sentence? It is the word “make.” The other verbs describe how we make disciples. We go find them, we baptize them and we teach them. Our primary mission is to make disciples of all nations. As long as there is one person in our neighborhood or in a remote corner of the globe that does not know Jesus, our work is not done. We, like the Shepherd, would leave the ninety-nine to find the one lost sheep (Luke 15). Jesus’ focus was on those who were lost and dying without Him. His aim was to reach people and mature them to the point that they would go bring more and more people to God.

In Acts 1:8-9 Jesus gives his disciples their marching orders. These words represent His last words to His followers. He says: You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. The word “witnesses” is the word “martus” a word from which we get our English word “martyr.” It is a missionary word. It speaks of one who can and will proclaim Jesus to those who do not know Him, even at the risk of their own lives. Jesus’ charge to his disciples was that they be witnesses to outsiders from here to the ends of the earth.

When the early church kept this focus it did well. This small band of disciples, through their witnessing, went from 120 to 3,120 literally overnight. I doubt they were concerned that they didn’t know everyone. It was exciting. They were on the front lines of God's work. People were being added to their number daily and the church very quickly grew to 5,000 men (not counting women and children). Conservative estimates are that within one year of Jesus’ final words, the number of His followers had grown from 120 to 20,000 people. And that was just the beginning.

It was when church members began to focus on themselves that the problems began. Paul's letter to the church in Corinth was written to a congregation that had lost its outward focus. That church had incredible problems. When churches turn inward they begin to fuss, fragment and die. We will have an eternity to praise our God and bask in the glow of our relationship with Him. What must matter to us now is bringing as many people with us as possible.

I have a few questions. Which do you think Jesus cares more about: me getting to worship in a style I like on Sunday morning or His church intentionally reaching out to those who will go to hell without Him? Is He more interested in me “knowing everyone” or with His church bringing more and more people to hear His life-changing Word? Is He more interested in my comfort or another person’s salvation?

The apostle Paul made it his mission to “win as many as possible.” When you hear me talk about being “on mission” that is what I mean. The leaders of our church from our elders, to our staff, to our ministry leaders have come together around this calling. We want the things that matter most to Jesus to matter most to us. As parents, it makes us proud when our children mature to the point that they put the needs of others ahead of their own. We believe God shares this emotion.

As leaders we face many difficult decisions. We lead a diverse church. It is impossible to please everyone. In our discussions we have identified two over-riding choices. We can either be member-driven or mission-driven. Member-driven churches work hard to keep all of their members happy. They focus on those they already have. They don’t rock the boat or introduce change. Their decisions are driven by what would make their members comfortable and happy. Most member-driven churches are withering and dying. The comfort of our members is too small a thing to dedicate our lives to. Leaders of mission-driven churches ask their members to join them in reaching the world for Jesus. They acknowledge the work will be hard. It will require sacrifice. Everybody will be uncomfortable. Yet, these leaders know that the mission of God drove Jesus’ life and it must drive ours as well.

I shared some of this article with Sean this morning. He shared a story of a man who came and spoke at their chapel service at Lincoln Christian College. After he preached one Sunday a woman came to him and said: “I just don’t think I want this church to grow any larger. I can’t go to a church that gets so big that I won’t know everybody’s name. I just don’t want to attend a church like that.” The old preacher said: “Ok, I understand, but I need you to help me with something.” That lady looked puzzled, but said: “OK, what?” He continued: “I need you to help me make a sign to put in front of our church for those who are passing by; a sign that says ‘we don’t give a rip if you are going to hell, there’s no room for you here.’” Ouch!

We long to reflect the heart of Jesus. Our vision is to be a mission-driven church. As leaders we pray that you will join us in the most difficult, exhilarating enterprise on the planet.

Bill Easum writes: “God will give you everything you ever need and more, if you will just make it about His kingdom and not about you!”

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Slowed Economy - Sean

Things happen in our lives that are totally out of our control and when they do it can be scary. We need to know that it’s necessary for us to experience this so that we can realize that we are not in control. I’ve been thinking about this a lot more lately because of the slowing state of our economy. People around the country have been losing jobs left and right and it has hit home right here in our community. I’ve been getting emails with prayer requests that seem to have a nervous tone about them because jobs are in jeopardy and the realization has set in that this is out of our control.

In my thinking about this stuff, randomly something hit me as a possibility. What if God Himself, has slowed down our economy on purpose? Maybe, it’s His way of telling us to stop chasing the dream of more. Ever since I have become a Christian I have heard messages about busyness, and this idea that we can’t be too busy to follow Jesus., and as time has gone on that message seems to be getting louder and louder.

I have personally experienced the slowing of the economy myself. About a year ago I got laid off from my job as a Community Life Minister. It was one of the toughest times in my life. Mentally I was spent everyday. Doing ordinary tasks seemed to become impossible to me. The days felt oddly short, yet filled with eternal boredom. I spent nine months unemployed and it financially wrecked me, but spiritually it brought me to places unknown. I experienced what it means that God alone holds us in His hands. I just want to share this message: it was worth the exchange!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Polar Opposite of Passion

Yesterday we talked about being passionate warriors for God. God placed us in our roles and we are called to fulfill our God-given assignments. The thing that most often gets in my way is... drum roll please... complacency.

To be complacent means to be "contented to a fault, self satisfied, especially when unaware of impending danger." The key words in this definition are contented, self-satisfied and unaware. Being complacent is being so proud of our own accomplishments, so satisfied with our life-situation that we are content to just enjoy the fruits of our labors. Complacent warriors aren't engaged in a battle - they view all of significant battles as being in the past - and now are content to enjoy the spoils of their own labor.

The story we studied yesterday began this way: "I Nebuchadnezzar, was at home in my palace contented and prosperous" (Dan. 4:4). What he had forgotten - which brought about the impending danger was that - leadership is a stewardship, it was temporary, and he was accountable.

As warriors for the cause of Christ, we don't get to just prop our feet up and enjoy the fruits of "our labor." Our war is on-going and battles must be fought every single day, so as long as we have breath we continue to fight. The greatest threat to our involvement God's work in this world is complacency.

Leaders don't wait for a crisis to answer the call. A leader doesn't wait for his wife to say she is leaving before getting concerned about his marriage. A leader does not wait for his son to develop and addiction before being concerned about the character of his friends. A real leader doesn't wait for a financial crisis at church to begin to reflect on where the resources God has poured into his life are really going. Leaders live their leadership every day, in light of God's purposes, because they know God has placed them in their roles, for this specific time, and they are accountable to Him.