Our Church Has a Great Future (Matthew 16:13-20)

  • please open your Bibles to Matthew 16 this morning
  • the title of today's message is, "Our Church Has a Great Future"
  • you often hear people prophesying great things ahead, but you could say that they're at the very least wearing rose-colored glasses
  • sometimes they're trying to sell you something
  • this morning I'm not wearing rose-colored glasses, and I'm not trying to sell you anything
  • but I believe that our church has a great future
  • this is a rather audacious statement, so I want to tell you why I believe it's true
  • my reasons are all taken from this passage in Matthew 16:13-20, a pivotal passage in the New Testament
  • I want to present three reasons for believing that our church has a great future
  • MY FIRST REASON FOR BELIEVING THAT OUR CHURCH HAS A GREAT FUTURE IS BECAUSE GOD DELIGHTS IN USING IMPERFECT PEOPLE
  • when God builds a church, God always uses weak people
  • people that we probably wouldn't have chosen for the job
  • the apostle Peter was a weak person
  • he had what we call "foot in mouth disease"
  • he was always saying the wrong thing
  • and God chose to use him
  • let's read Matthew 16:13:
  • (Matthew 16:13) When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"
  • (Matthew 16:14) They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
  • (Matthew 16:15) "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
  • (Matthew 16:16) Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
  • and listen to what Jesus said in verses 17 to 18:
  • (Matthew 16:17) Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.
  • (Matthew 16:18) And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
  • Jesus renames him Peter, which means rock
  • we say, "yeah, what a rock!"
  • I don't know your interpretation of this passage, but I'll tell you what I believe to be the best one
  • some people believe that the rock upon which Jesus is building the church in this passage is Christ, or Peter's confession of Christ
  • I believe the best interpretation is this:
  • Jesus says, in essence, "Simon, I'm renaming you Peter, that is, Rock, and upon this rock, that is, on you, Peter, I will build my church"
  • Jesus, I believe, is promising Peter that he is going to build his church on him!
  • what an incredible statement!
  • the Bible tells us that the church is:
  • (Ephesians 2:20) built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
  • God chose to use Peter in his redeemed state, weak as he was, to build his church
  • in the first twelve chapters of Acts, the story of the establishment of the early church , Peter's name occurs more than 50 times
  • it is found everywhere except in chapters 6 and 7, which contain the story of Stephen
  • during that early period, before Paul comes to the fore, Peter was the most powerful and effective link between Jesus and the church
  • when God builds his church, he uses weak people
  • take a look at the person on your left
  • now take a look at the person on your right
  • now look up at me
  • would you choose these people to build this church?
  • God did
  • when God saved you, he gave you spiritual gifts and called you into the ministry
  • you are a minister serving Jesus Christ in this church
  • but God only wants weak, imperfect people
  • (2 Corinthians 4:7) But we have this treasure [the Gospel] in jars of clay [our frailty and unworthiness] to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us
  • in Paul's day it was customary to hide treasures in clay jars, which had little value or beauty in and of themselves
  • they did not attract attention to themselves
  • Hudson Taylor said, "All God's giants have been weak men"
  • the good news is, we don't have to be adequate in order to be used by God
  • in fact, God uses our strengths, but often God chooses to use us at the greatest area of our weakness
  • listen: while the church is a divine creation, it is made up of imperfect human beings
  • the church won't be perfect until the Lord's return
  • the good news is that the Lord chooses to work in our weaknesses to show his glory so that he gets the glory and we don't
  • that's why I'm confident that our church has a great future
  • we don't have to depend on our own strengths to build the church
  • we don't need a collection of superstars
  • we don't need unusual talent
  • we need normal, weak people AND the empowerment of the Holy Spirit
  • because God uses weak people
  • the second reason I'm confident that our church has a great future is this:
  • CHRIST IS BUILDING THE CHURCH
  • (Matthew 16:18) And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
  • when Jesus said that he will build the church, this is not simply a prediction and a promise
  • it was a constitutive declaration
  • it was the act by which Christ established the church
  • Jesus said, "I will build my church"
  • Jesus would handle the building process
  • Jesus is ensuring its rise
  • God chooses to use us as his instruments, but ultimately it is Jesus who is building his church
  • and it is HIS church, not our church
  • and our prospects are as bright as the prospects of Christ himself
  • Christ builds his church in challenging settings
  • the place Jesus chose for this retreat was interesting
  • Jesus took his disciples to Gentile territory, in the region of Caesarea Philippi
  • they were about two hundred kilometers from Jerusalem in the northern part of Palestine
  • he chose a place known for its pagan religions
  • it had been a center for Baal worship; one scholar counts 14 temples of Baal worship in the area
  • there was a hill with a cavern that contained a spring, which was the legendary birthplace of Pan, the Greek god of fertility and nature
  • as you approached the city, you would have seen a glistening white temple -- Caesar's temple
  • you would have been struck by the might and declared divinity of Rome
  • it was under the shadow of rival religions and Caesar's own temple that Jesus said, "I will build my church"
  • it takes a lot of pressure of us, doesn't it?
  • we don't build the church
  • we wouldn't know how to build a church if our lives depended on it
  • (Psalms 127:1) Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.
  • Jesus Christ builds the church
  • unless Jesus builds the church, we're all in trouble
  • and it's not our church, it's HIS church
  • I remember talking to an overzealous person once
  • I made the mistake of asking, "Where is your church?"
  • and he pompously replied, "It's not my church; it's Christ's church"
  • which made me really ticked
  • I knew the church didn't belong to him; it belongs to Christ
  • but don't we sometimes forget?
  • it's Jesus Christ's church and he is going to build it!
  • I'll never forget when Wayne Gretzky, John Candy, and Bruce McNall bought the Toronto Argonauts
  • at that point the Argos were pathetic
  • I thought to myself, "Things are going to happen now, because it's McNall's team, and he's going to build it"
  • one of the first things they did was they asked Adam Rita, "In your dreams, who would you like to play for you?"
  • he responded with the name Raghib (Rocket) Ismail, and they went out and hired Rocket
  • that year Charlene and I went to many games
  • they had promotions so that if the Argos lost they would compensate by giving you groceries
  • they had celebrities attending the games
  • they had the Blues Brothers and (someone who grew up in our Sunday School) Jeff Healey perform at the home opener
  • Gretzky and McNall and Candy were building their team, and I was a satisfied customer
  • Argos!
  • today, John Candy has passed on
  • Wayne Gretzky is deciding whether or not he should have gone to the hospital with his wife or not
  • and Bruce McNall is in jail
  • they are no longer building the Argos
  • but Christ is still building his church!
  • Candy, Gretzky, and McNall let us down
  • Jesus Christ will never let us down
  • Candy, Gretzky, and McNall won a Grey Cup but ultimately failed
  • Jesus Christ will never fail
  • Candy, Gretzky, and McNall did not prevail
  • but Jesus Christ is building his church and he will prevail!
  • and since the beginning of the church, he's been building it in tough places like Etobicoke, Ontario
  • the third reason I'm confident that our church has a great future is this:
  • THE GATES OF HELL WILL NOT PREVAIL AGAINST IT
  • (Matthew 16:18) And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
  • Jesus promised that he would always cause his people to triumph over Satan and his army
  • Satan leads a doomed army
  • you and I have no idea how much Satan fears a church that is empowered by the Spirit
  • you remember those game shows where the results were rigged
  • it looked like a game, but in reality the winner had been decided before the game even began
  • to the outside observer, the battle between the church and Satan might look like a close one
  • but listen: the winner has already been decided
  • the church will prevail
  • the victory has already been won!
  • I used to think this verse meant that the church was taking a defensive position, and that Jesus was promising that the gates of Hell will never defeat the church
  • I remember how shocked I was to realize one day that this verse was saying that in our attack against the gates of Hell, the church would be victorious
  • the church is not on the defensive, it's on the offensive, and the church is guaranteed victory!
  • Crowns and thorns may perish,
  • Kingdoms rise and wane,
  • But the Church of Jesus
  • Constant will remain;
  • Gates of hell can never
  • 'Gainst that Church prevail;
  • We have Christ's own promise,
  • And that cannot fail.
  • Christ is building a prevailing church
  • and he's invited you and I to be part of it
  • what an exciting time to be alive
  • we've been talking for eight weeks about the church we've always longed for
  • my energy has been renewed; my excitement has been rekindled
  • I can't think of anything I would rather be doing
  • our teams are working; our strategy is in place
  • and to top it off, Christ is building his church and has guaranteed success
  • I'm going to lead us in a prayer of commitment
  • I love this church
  • I'm so grateful that God has placed me here in 1997 in this community and this place
  • I'm so glad that Christ is building his church
  • and Park Lawn Baptist Church is a church with a great future
  • would you close with me in prayer?

Encountering God at Church (Acts 4:18-31)

  • I'd ask you to open your Bibles to Acts 4 this morning
  • these past few weeks, we've been talking about the church we've always longed for
  • when I look at the church, there is a long list of qualities I would love to be hers
  • who here wouldn't love the church to be a caring place that welcomes all people, empowers each individual, models integrity, and serves a broken world?

  • there's a danger, though
  • the danger is in thinking that we can ever expect a perfect church this side of heaven
  • sometimes we're so busy looking for these qualities in a church, we begin to expect perfection
  • but no church is perfect
  • one author writes:
  • "We hear tales of glitzy, enthusiastic churches and wonder what in the world we are doing wrong that our people don't turn out that way under our preaching. On close examination, though, it turns out that there are no wonderful congregations. Hang around long enough and sure enough there are gossips who won't shut up, furnaces that malfunction, sermons that misfire, disciples who quit, choirs that go flat - and worse. Every congregation is a congregation of sinners. As if that weren't bad enough, they all have sinners for pastors."

  • some people long for churches to be like the early church
  • which part of the early church would you like?
  • the false teaching? the drunkenness at the Lord's Table? the persecution? the sexual immorality? the factions and divisions in the church?
  • we're mistaken if we think the church has ever been perfect
  • it's always had problems!

  • if I came to church looking for a perfect pastor and a perfect people, and worship I liked and people who never upset me; if I came to church expecting perfection, I would be sorely disappointed
  • I would never find it
  • but to tell the truth, I don't come looking for those things
  • not really
  • it's nice if they're there, but there's something far more important
  • I come to church to encounter the living God
  • I don't come for the pastor or the people, or the music or even the sermon - I come because I plan to meet God

  • as we look at the early church in the book of Acts, we see a number of things that attract us
  • we see forgiven believers and powerful sermons
  • we notice the love, joy, and peace that characterized the lives of the early believers
  • we sense the excitement of the Kingdom of God advancing against the strongholds of Satan

  • but we also notice problems
  • somebody has said that the chief actor in the story of Acts 1 and 2 is the Holy Spirit, but it almost appears that the main character in Acts 3 to 6 seems to be Satan
  • his activity is obvious throughout
  • the disciples are arrested and jailed
  • two church members are caught lying to the church and are struck dead
  • persecution continues and one of their number, Stephen, is martyred

  • the early church was encountering Satan and all his forces
  • they withstood his onslaught
  • while we applaud their faithfulness, I don't think any of us wish to trade places with them as they face such persecution
  • what we do long for, however, is the real and undeniable sense of the presence of God in the early church
  • there is no doubt that they encountered the living God

  • I believe the church today is hungry for such encounters
  • we long to come to church and sense the manifest presence of the living God
  • Garrison Keillor, host of the popular radio series, "A Prairie Home Companion," grew up in an evangelical church, and he had something interesting to say about why people go to church:
  • "We don't go to church to hear lectures on ethical behavior, we go to look at the mysteries, and all the substitutes for communion with God are not worth anyone's time...If you can't go to church and, for at least a moment, be given transcendence; if you can't go to church and pass briefly from this life to the next; then I can't see why anyone should go. Just a brief moment of transcendence causes you to come out of church as a changed person."
  • we come to church seeking a supernatural encounter with God

  • please look with me at Acts 4
  • in verse 18 we read if the action of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court and administrative body of the Jews:
  • (Acts 4:18) Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.
  • if the Supreme Court of Canada ordered us not to preach about Jesus any more, what would our response be?
  • Peter and John answered boldly:
  • (Acts 4:19) But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God.
  • (Acts 4:20) For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."

  • verse 21 tells us that the Sanhedrin didn't react very well to Peter and John's boldness
  • they issued further threats, but really didn't know what else to do
  • so Peter and John were released
  • we've read this passage so much we're prone to overlook what happened next
  • what would you do if this happened to you?
  • what would your reaction be?
  • would you resign yourself and say, "I've done everything I could do"
  • would you shake your fists at the Sanhedrin and say, "In your face! I'm going to preach anyway!"
  • or would you do something else first?
  • let's read what Peter and John did:
  • (Acts 4:23) On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.
  • (Acts 4:24) When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God.
  • let's stop there and learn some lessons from their response

  • the first lesson we have to learn from their response is this:
  • WE ARE INVOLVED IN A SPIRITUAL BATTLE OF COSMIC PROPORTION
  • the early disciples had no hesitancy in realizing that they were involved in something way over their head
  • they were smart enough to realize that there battle really wasn't against the Sanhedrin or even other human beings
  • to take a stand for Christ and the truth of the Gospel made them a target of the Evil One
  • they knew that they were no match for Satan and his schemes
  • they were unashamedly dependent on God at every turn
  • and they got down on their knees

  • friends, the disciples couldn't have done anything if they hadn't already been filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit
  • they started out as a bunch of misfits
  • but they ended up "turning the world upside down"
  • their boldness before the Sanhedrin was a direct result of fact that they had been with Jesus, and that they had received the gift of the Holy Spirit days earlier at Pentecost
  • when the promise of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled in their lives, it turned them from petty, competitive, small-minded men to strong-hearted, incredibly confident and powerful servants of God
  • and it was through the power of the Holy Spirit
  • their first response was to turn to their friends at church and pray to God who was in their midst
  • they turned to their commander-in-chief for direction and power
  • they realized that the attack was not on them personally
  • they quoted from an Old Testament passage that spoke of the attacks made by earthly rulers on the Lord and Messiah, and they saw this fulfilled in the unholy conspiracy of Herod and Pilate, of Jews and Romans against Jesus
  • they knew that when the Sanhedrin persecuted them, they were simply continuing that assault, and they prayed for boldness:
  • (Acts 4:29) Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.
  • (Acts 4:30) Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus."

  • Ephesians 6:12 says:
  • (Ephesians 6:12) For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
  • we are involved in a spiritual warfare that requires spiritual weapons
  • the battle is real
  • the consequences are great
  • I don't want to minimize what happens in other arenas of struggle, but lets put it in perspective
  • if the Indians don't beat the Marlins in the World Series, it seems pretty severe, but all that's been lost is a game
  • if a business fails, it might seem the end of the world to some people, but all that's lost is some money
  • but if believers lose the fight - if they're not empowered by the Holy Spirit to do battle and stand boldly and proclaim the truth of the Gospel, lives are for stake, and for eternity
  • Satan wants us to believe that the World Series is more important or that businesses are more important, but listen:
  • we are involved in a spiritual battle of cosmic proportion
  • and that's why we need to encounter God at church
  • because in the battle we face, God's power is essential

  • many churches lose sight of the battle and therefore no longer need to be attentive to God's presence
  • we see spiritual warfare as something to be debated, not as a present-day reality
  • we have settled for a comfortable life in the suburbs, risking little for the kingdom of God
  • we don't sense God's presence because our circumstances don't require it
  • we've settled for comfort instead of victory
  • we are getting along quite well, thank you

  • someone has suggested that we ask ourselves, "What am I attempting for God that cannot be accomplished without the Holy Spirit?"
  • what is there about our lives as Christians that demands an explanation beyond the ordinary?
  • for Peter and John and the rest of the early church, the only explanation for their boldness and accomplishments was their radical dependence on God who was with them in the middle of the battle

  • another lesson I learn from these disciples is this:
  • THE BATTLE DROVE THEM TO THEIR KNEES
  • their response to the battle they faced was this: they prayed
  • we must learn to pray as if our lives and ministries depended on it, because they do
  • you notice that when they began to pray, they focused on praise rather than pity
  • their focus was not on themselves; it was on Christ
  • they worshiped God

  • but they did not hesitate to ask for God's help
  • they requested that God enable them to speak his word with boldness
  • prayer was central to their task

  • Dr. Richard Lovelace, church historian at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, concludes that the twentieth-century church is not as apt to pray first and act later
  • he wrote, "The place of prayer has become limited and almost vestigial. The proportion of horizontal communication that goes on in the church (in planning, arguing, and expounding) is overwhelmingly greater than that which is vertical (in worship, thanksgiving, confession, and intercession)"
  • he added, "Deficiency in prayer both reflects and reinforces inattention toward God"

  • Dr. Lovelace is right
  • the minimal prayer, given almost as a token, may indicate that what is undertaken is simply what we humans can accomplish by ourselves
  • we are reluctant to pray, either as individuals or as a church body

  • we stand at the threshold of implementing our Strategy for Ministry
  • for two or three years, we have been carefully laying the groundwork to move ahead as a church in the areas of fellowship, discipleship, service, and evangelism (bonding, growing, serving, winning)
  • teams are meeting right now to lay the groundwork for 1998
  • but might I say that the most important thing we can do as a church is to get on our knees
  • our strategy will be nothing unless it begins with, ends with, and is supported by prayer at every stage
  • we dare not move ahead on our own strength

  • we need to recover the biblical worldview that is displayed in the disciples' prayer to God
  • if we live as they lived, and if we learn to pray as they prayed, fully dependent upon the living God, then we too will experience God's presence and power in our own day
  • in a marvelous and mysterious way, the risen Christ is released to be at work in our lives and in the world when we pray, and often, not until we pray
  • the truth is that Jesus is real to those who pray and distant to those who do not

  • listen to what happened after they prayed:
  • (Acts 4:31) After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.
  • the effect of the prayer was remarkable
  • the room in which the disciples were gathered shook
  • this was a sign to them that God was present and would answer their prayer
  • we might not expect such tangible evidence that God hears our prayers, but God is always ready to fill us with his Spirit and empower us to boldly proclaim his Gospel

  • as I said earlier, the thing that matters most about this church is that it is a church where we encounter God
  • you could say many things about our church - that it's friendly, that they preaching is biblical and helpful
  • but the critical thing, really the only thing, is that God is here, working in us and empowering us
  • we can't transform lives
  • we can't convict people
  • we aren't very powerful
  • we don't have the abilities and the boldness necessary to turn the world upside down with the truth of the Gospel
  • but that's all right
  • because God delights in empowering his people
  • and God removes the obstacles and turns our small gifts into wonderful things that can be used to please him

  • would you pray with me that God would empower us?
  • (Ephesians 3:20) Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,
  • (Ephesians 3:21) to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Serving a Broken World (Luke 10:25-37)

  • I want you to imagine coming to church this morning
  • as you come, you glance at your watch and realize you're late
  • but as you get closer to church, you see something out of the corner of your eye
  • at first you think it's a discarded sleeping bag, but then you realize it's a homeless person
  • possibly drunk, possibly ill - but for sure a homeless person
  • what goes through your mind?
  • do you feel some sadness?
  • are you a bit worried about the person?
  • do you perhaps think it's best to leave that person alone, saying a silent prayer for them as you head to church?
  • now imagine if we got to church and began to discuss what we saw with others
  • it comes out at prayer time that quite a few of us had observed this sight
  • a few of us slowed down and tried to determine if the person was okay
  • but most of us thought that really, it was none of our business
  • what would you do?
  • it just so happens the message that morning is on loving others
  • we look at Jesus' response to a man's question, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"
  • the answer, in short, is "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind," and, "Love your neighbor as yourself"
  • we begin to discuss what it means to love God and love others
  • and, as always, the pastor preaches a great sermon!
  • as we leave church, we see some people gathered around the homeless man
  • right away, you think, "Those people should be in church!"
  • if they really loved God, that's where they would be instead of helping some homeless person
  • and you go home shaking your head
  • what's the world coming to, with homeless people right around the corner, and crowds of people who are standing outside instead of going to church?
  • they need to learn a thing or two about love
  • I wonder, what would you have done?
  • what would I have done?
  • we can talk about being a church that serves a broken world, but the question comes down to this one: what would you have done about the homeless person?
  • you're probably familiar with a story Jesus told like this
  • it was in response to a question from a lawyer -- right away you know there's going to be a problem!
  • the lawyer, the Scriptures say in Luke 10:29, was trying to justify himself, and so when Jesus told him to love his neighbor, he asked the classic question, "Who is my neighbor?"
  • the lawyer was no doubt aware of an ancient book of wisdom, Sirach 12:1-4, that tells its readers not to help a sinner
  • the lawyer is basically trying to create a distinction, that we really only have an obligation to love and help God's people, and not others
  • the scene Jesus described was the treacherous 17 mile journey from Jericho to Jerusalem, a route known for its danger
  • perhaps the equivalent would be the seedy parts of the inner city in the middle of the night
  • thieves sometimes lurked in the caves, jumping travelers as they passed
  • Jesus tells of a man who is ambushed and robbed, left for dead at the side of the road
  • you know the story
  • a priest and a Levite pass by
  • the wounded man could have thought, "Here comes help!"
  • but the religious men pass on the other side of the road and leave the victim lying there
  • and then along comes a Samaritan - a half-breed despised by the Jews
  • we call this man "the good Samaritan," but this would have been an oxymoron back then
  • a good Samaritan?
  • that's like saying "Good grief!" or "executive decision"
  • the words just don't belong together!
  • but Jesus describes his actions
  • he goes to him; bandages him; pours oil on his wounds; puts him on a donkey; carries him to the inn; and takes care of him, even leaving money so the man has two weeks to recover
  • in addition, he tells the innkeeper to keep a running tab, so he can pay any cost overruns when he returns
  • now that's ministry!
  • somebody has said:
  • to the expert in the law, the wounded man was a subject to discuss
  • to the robbers, the wounded man was someone to use and exploit
  • to the religious men, the wounded man was a problem to be avoided
  • to the innkeeper, the wounded man was a customer to serve for a fee
  • to the Samaritan, the wounded man was a human being worth being cared for and loved
  • every day we pass by wounded people
  • there is no country, no city, no postal code without them
  • there are hurting souls within rock-throwing distance of this church
  • what are we going to do with them, individually and as a church?
  • how do we serve a broken world?
  • somebody has made three observations from this passage:
  • FIRST, LACK OF LOVE IS EASY TO JUSTIFY, EVEN THOUGH IT IS NEVER RIGHT
  • perhaps the priest and Levite feared being rendered unclean from teaching what looked like a dead corpse
  • maybe they were afraid of being ambushed themselves if they stopped to help the man
  • maybe they thought, "If we help this guy, we have to help everyone"
  • maybe they were late; we don't know
  • I would venture to guess that they believed they had very good reasons not to help the man
  • I mentioned that it's possible that the priest and Levite may have had theological reasons not to help the robbery victim
  • an ancient book of Jewish wisdom told its readers not to help a sinner
  • their theology could have led them to inaction
  • I've heard similar theology in the church
  • some quote Jesus' statement that we'll always have the poor with us as a reason not to do anything about it
  • they don't realize that Jesus was quoting from Deuteronomy 15:11:
  • (Deuteronomy 15:11) There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.
  • in other words, Jesus wasn't saying, "There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, don't try to help them"
  • instead, it was meant as an incentive to generosity
  • "There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore, always be generous"
  • we'll always have the poor among us, but that doesn't mean we can't show God's love to our neighbor who's poor
  • some say that Jesus' ministry is about the spirit and not the body
  • they draw an artificial distinction between ministering to someone's physical needs and someone's spiritual needs
  • but Jesus' ministry was about both
  • you can't read the Gospels without reading of the way he cared for hurting people, people with illnesses, people who were destitute
  • Jesus went so far as to say, in essence, that whenever we see the hungry and feed them, or give the thirsty something to drink, or clothe those who need clothes, we're doing it as to God
  • look at the teachings and example of the early church:
  • (Acts 2:45) Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
  • (Galatians 6:10) Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
  • many Scriptures speak of dealing with issues of injustice and oppression (Leviticus 25:8-55; Isaiah 58:6-14, 61:1-2; Luke 14:12-14)
  • a clear reading of the Scripture will show that God does have an intense concern for the poor
  • sometimes we use the excuse that the pain in the world is so vast that we don't know where to begin or how we can even make a dent in what needs doing
  • a better attitude might be to pitch in where you see a need and an ability to help
  • you can't help everywhere, but maybe you can help right here
  • a storm in Florida brought in tens of thousands of starfish
  • a little boy went along throwing them back in the water, one by one
  • an old man came by and said, "Kid, even if you stayed here all day, you wouldn't even make a differen ce, there are so many"
  • the boy threw another one in and said, "I think I just made a difference for that one"
  • we can always think of reasons not to show love to a broken world, but our reasons are seldom right
  • a second observation someone made is this:
  • OUR NEIGHBOR IS ANYONE OF ANY RACE, CREED, OR SOCIAL BACKGROUND WHO IS IN NEED
  • there was deep hatred between Jews and Samaritans
  • if you had to line up a priest, Levite, and Samaritan and ask which one would be least likely to help a Jewish robbery victim, you would pick the Samaritan
  • a Samaritan would never help a Jew - or so you would think
  • neighbors come in surprising places
  • the lawyer's attempt to limit his neighbors might be limiting where his fellowship is coming from
  • when we see a homeless person lying on the street, that person is our neighbor
  • when we see a crack addict, that person is our neighbor
  • according to Christ, our neighbor is anyone with whom we come in contact
  • wherever you live, here are needy people close by
  • there's no excuse not to help
  • observation number three:
  • LOVE MEANS ACTING TO MEET THE PERSON'S NEED
  • the Good Samaritan was a risk-taker
  • he was compassionate and willing to get involved
  • when the Good Samaritan encountered the battered victim, he didn't throw the man money, canned goods, used clothing, or religious tracts
  • instead, he got up close and personal
  • he dirtied his hands tending to the man's wounds
  • he gave sacrificially - of his time and his money

  • a recent article in Christianity Today points out that in our churches, "many of our traditional outreach programs keep the poor at arms' length and offer merely ‘commodified' mercy" (October 6, 1997 issue)
  • the church father Gregory of Nyssa defined mercy as "a voluntary sorrow that joins itself to the sufferings of another"
  • the article continues, "Genuine compassion entangles our lives with the lives of the needy, and sometimes brings grief"

  • on Thanksgiving Day, the 23-year old mother of a little boy in a church's urban tutoring program was murdered by her ex-boyfriend
  • there were few dry eyes in the sanctuary when the church announced the tragedy
  • because the church had a connection to the family, this was not merely another crime statistic - it was one of their family
  • this is risky, and it exposes us to the possibility of being hurt
  • but this is what ministry is to be - relational, the giving of ourselves and our time, as well as our money
  • only then can we have a lasting impact

  • our church needs to think creatively of ways we can reach out and make a lasting difference
  • the ideas are limitless
  • mother's day out, so that young mothers can get the sanity break they need
  • foster parenting
  • building houses with Habitat for Humanity -- using what they call "the theology of the hammer"
  • do you know about this "theology of the hammer"?
  • we churches fight over all manner of doctrine, but we all agree on one theological point - the theology of the hammer, that Christ calls us to pick up our hammers and help provide shelter to those who need it
  • this is a point of theology with which all believers can agree
  • homelessness in Metro Toronto is reported to be at a 30-year high
  • it's estimated that there will be a 67% rise in people staying at hostels over last year
  • some people put the number at over 10,000 people
  • there's a church just north of here at Prince Edward and Bloor that will open its doors on 21 Friday nights this winter in the "Out of the Cold" program -- the only church that's doing this in Etobicoke
  • they're looking for volunteers
  • maybe some of you will volunteer to help by preparing meals or volunteering to help this church in this program
  • if so, the time is now to get involved, and I have the information
  • we, the church, are the incarnation of Christ
  • we are his hands and feet reaching out to touch hurting people
  • Christ does not shout to Gospel to us from heaven
  • he tells it through us
  • that's risky, but it's God's way
  • "the church you've always longed for" serves a broken world
  • (Matthew 20:28) just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
  • if he served, so should we

  • Charles Spurgeon argued:
  • "A church which does not exist to do good in the slums...of the city is a church that has no reason to justify its longer existence...Not for yourself, O Church, do you exist any more than Christ existed for himself. His glory was that he laid aside his glory, and the glory of the church is when she lays aside her respectability and her dignity and counts it to be her glory to gather rather the outcasts, and her highest honor to seek amid the foulest mire the priceless jewels for which Jesus shed his blood"

Modeling Integrity (Acts 4:32-5:11)

  • let me ask you a personal question: what are you like when nobody is looking?
  • a young man, a well-known Christian author, decided that he would no longer play poker
  • this was at a time when generally all Christians agreed that poker wasn't a good game for Christians to be involved with
  • on a slow train trip, some friends invited him to join a game
  • he hesitated only a moment before saying, "Deal me in"
  • he knew he shouldn't be play
  • his conscience was bothering him the entire time
  • but then nobody was going to recognize him, so why not keep playing?
  • during the game, he noticed a young man who stood to watch him play for a while, and then moved on
  • after the game, he came and asked, "Are you so-and-so, who writes that column in the Christian Digest?"
  • "Yes, I am," he replied. "Why? Have we met?"
  • "No, we haven't met, but I read that column all the time"
  • about then the poker-playing Christian could feel the flush of embarrassment and consternation rising, he said, "with more intensity than the thrill of four aces"
  • the man said, "Well, I want you to know that I've lost all respect for you"
  • then he turned and walked away
  • let me ask you again: who are you when no one is looking?
  • a youth pastor was waiting for a flight at an airport far from where he lived
  • as he waited, he browsed a magazine rack, where he spotted a Playboy magazine
  • he turned away, but then begin to rationalize why he should look at the magazine
  • "It's not as bad as other magazines," he thought, "and as a youth pastor I should know what my kids are reading"
  • as he was coming closer and closer to picking up that magazine, he heard someone call his name and turned around to see someone who had recognized him
  • who are you when nobody is looking?
  • one evening a man stopped by the home of a business colleague to drop off some papers
  • next to his phone was a note pad with the company logo on it
  • the company policy manual stated that no office supplies were to be consumed for personal use
  • from that point on, the visitor never quite felt he could trust that man as he had before
  • who are you when nobody is looking?
  • in the past six weeks, I've heard of three Fellowship Baptist Christian workers, including two pastors, who have been caught having affairs
  • they weren't who they appeared to be
  • there is a crisis in Christianity
  • many Christians are play-actors, claiming to be free of the faults they practice covertly
  • I know of professing Christians who have literally led double lives, right up to maintaining two addresses complete with a woman in each
  • I know of choir members who were arrested for bank robbery, Christian business leaders who engage in shady business practices, and employees who lie on their expense reports
  • in a word, we have an integrity problem
  • Acts 4:32-5:11 describes the first integrity problem to ever confront a church
  • a disciple named Barnabus sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet
  • a couple, Ananias and Sapphira, sold a field they owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet
  • the couple went through exactly the same motions, but there was a difference on the inside
  • they lied; they were dishonest
  • the ancient Greeks called an actor who spoke through a mask, "The Hypocrite"
  • the word came to be used for a person who was pretending to be something he or she was not, particularly someone who pretended to be pious without really being so
  • Ananias and Sapphira were hypocrites
  • their sin was not withholding some of the money from the field for themselves; that was their right
  • their sin was that they pretended to give the full sale price of their property
  • that was a lie
  • their sin was that they pretended to be one thing on the outside, while secretly engaging in another behavior on the inside
  • what I want to do this morning is to turn the spotlight on you and on me
  • I want to examine our inner life to find out if we really are the people we claim to be
  • I want to find out who you and I are when nobody is looking
  • and to do this I want to examine four principles from this passage that will guide as we examine our own personal integrity:
  • ONE: TEMPTATIONS TO COMPROMISE OUR INTEGRITY ARE COMMONPLACE
  • you don't need to look very hard for opportunities to cut corners or maintain a secret agenda
  • the opportunities are everywhere, and often they present themselves to us
  • I imagine Ananias and Sapphira started out on the right track
  • their desire to sell the field and donate the money to the church was, for all we know, sincere
  • it could have been, one night, that they began to talk
  • "You know, we got a good price on that field we sold"
  • "I know, and our credit card bill is huge this month"
  • "You know, nobody would even know if we withheld just a little bit. Things are so tight this month"
  • temptations to compromise our integrity are commonplace
  • if the don't present themselves to us, our minds will often manufacture them
  • when we think about hypocrisy, we usually think of gross indiscretions: cheating on taxes, stealing from a company, lying to a prospect, cheating on a wife
  • but temptations to compromise are much more commonplace, and while the consequences may be different, the verdict is the same
  • somebody has said that most people cut corners on the little things -- running yellow lights, speeding, taking office supplies home, promising four week delivery knowing it will take six
  • the truth is that we are all tempted to compromise our integrity in small ways every day
  • PRINCIPLE TWO: IT ALWAYS LOOKS EASY TO VIOLATE INTEGRITY
  • it's easy to buy items at some stores, have you noticed?
  • "Buy now, pay later"
  • our integrity is like that -- the up-front cost is very low
  • a man on an airplane ordered a drink -- a bourbon and Coke
  • the flight attendant said she would come back for his money, which he left lying on his tray
  • she passed by him a number of times
  • it became obvious that she had forgotten his money
  • after she had made a half-dozen trips past the man, he reached over, picked up his money, and slipped it back in his pocket
  • integrity: what's the price?
  • sold for a two dollar drink
  • it's in the small things that we decide the value of our integrity
  • (Luke 16:10) "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.
  • it's something we could call NBD - no big deal
  • when Ananias and Sapphira embarked on their plan, I'll bet they convinced themselves that it's no big deal
  • when a man begins to entertain lustful thoughts in his mind, he convinces himself that it's no big deal
  • when a cab driver offers us a blank receipt so we can fill whatever amount for our expenses, we think in our mind that it's no big deal
  • when we pay under the table to avoid paying taxes, we tell ourselves it's no big deal
  • and when we make copies of copyrighted CD's or computer software, we tell ourselves it's no big deal
  • at what price are you selling your integrity?
  • THREE: WHEN WE LACK INTEGRITY, WE SIN AGAINST GOD
  • (Acts 5:3) Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?
  • (Acts 5:9) Peter said to her, "How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also."

  • whenever we lie to someone else, we're sinning not only against tha t person, but also God
  • whenever we violate our integrity for even the smallest matter, we've offended God
  • (Psalms 51:4) Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.
  • although we're sinning against another person, ultimately we're offending God, because sin in any form is rebellion against God
  • it's humbling to realize that the Lord is watching your life
  • PRINCIPLE FOUR: HYPOCRISY HAS A HIGH PRICE TAG
  • (Acts 5:5) When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.
  • (Acts 5:10) At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.

  • Ananias would have gotten away with his deceit if it had just been up to people
  • but the Holy Spirit told Peter what was going on
  • the price tag for Ananias and Sapphira was death
  • (Proverbs 14:12) There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.
  • sin always carries a high price tag
  • ultimately the price could be death -- physical or spiritual
  • and in the meantime it could be the withholding of God's blessing, and the misery that follows
  • verse 11 tells us something we all need to understand: God takes sin seriously in the church
  • if God had overlooked such sin in the church at this point, dishonesty, greed, and covetousness would have become commonplace
  • but the consequences of Ananias and Sapphira's lie made people realize how seriously God regards sin in the church
  • somebody has said that Satan is perfectly willing to have a person confess Christianity, as long as he or she does not practice it
  • God desires people of integrity; God desires churches of integrity
  • let me ask you the question I asked you before: who are you when no one is looking?
  • what do you do when you think you can get away with it?
  • what "garbage" are you allowing to pile up in your life, and thus pollute the church?
  • what hidden sins are fouling up your life?
  • God desires to cleanse you this morning
  • I'm tired of hearing of pastors who have affairs
  • I don't want a church where we all harbor secret sins
  • our challenge this morning is to get rid of personal garbage that pollutes God's church
  • at Wheaton College in 1995, students stood in line from early evening until 6:00 the next morning to confess and forsake the sins and gods of their lives
  • this continued for a week
  • they filled garbage cans with unwholesome videos, catalogs of covetousness, sports equipment that took away from worship, immodest clothing, liquor, unwholesome books and magazines, and other items the Lord nudged them to throw away
  • it's garbage day, folks
  • it's time to get rid of the garbage that is polluting your life and this church
  • it's repentance time
  • God desires a clean heart
  • if you have garbage you need to get rid of, this morning is the morning