Empowering Each Individual (Acts 18:24-28)

  • I'd like for you to open a passage of Scripture with me this morning
  • it's found in Acts 18
  • the setting is Ephesus - the capital city of the Roman province of Asia, with over 300,000 inhabitants
  • it was Asia's most important commercial center
  • it had a large harbor, and the temple of Diana, a building that was one of the seven wonders of the world
  • it was a city steeped in idolatry and the occult

  • please read with me verses 24 to 28
  • (Acts 18:24) Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.
  • (Acts 18:25) He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John.
  • (Acts 18:26) He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.
  • (Acts 18:27) When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.
  • (Acts 18:28) For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.

  • if you were attentive in English class, you know that adjectives are describing words
  • and adjectives can take three forms: simple (modifying a single person or thing), comparative (comparing two), or superlative (comparing three or more)
  • moving from one to another simply requires an -er or an -est or the use of the words "more" or "most"
  • one could be good, better, or best
  • obviously, being described with superlatives is far better than merely being simple

  • when Apollos encountered the early church, he moved from simple to comparative to superlative
  • with the aid of his brothers and sisters in Christ, his spiritual gifts matured until the reached maximum effectiveness
  • initially, he was adequate in his teaching about Jesus (verse 25)
  • after encountering Aquila and Priscilla, he was more adequate in communicating the way of God
  • gradually, as he was encouraged and given further opportunity for experience, Apollos became most adequate in debating and proving the deity of Christ

  • you know that each believer has been given a spiritual gift by the Holy Spirit
  • when God designed the church, he designated leaders to lead the church, teachers to teach the church, servants to serve the church
  • God's intention is that the church be a place where everyone is a minister
  • his intention was never that a designated few do all the work
  • he compared the church to a body, where every part has a function

  • having broken an elbow recently has taught me how valuable that elbow is
  • you don't appreciate that elbow until you need to button a shirt, brush your teeth, or tie a tie, and your arm won't bend properly
  • Christopher Reeve, the actor who played Superman, is paralyzed from the neck down
  • he says that you don't realize what a problem an itchy nose is, unless you have no way to scratch it

  • when a part of the body of Christ is not functioning as it should, the church is not being effective as it could be
  • on the other hand, when spiritual gifts are exercised, two things happen: the body of Christ is edified, and the individual is fulfilled
  • personal fulfillment comes in knowing you have been used by God to lighten others' loads or to point them to the Savior

  • you see, it's not just a responsibility to use our spiritual gifts, it's also an incredible privilege
  • a couple was transferred because of work reasons to a new city
  • this couple had previously attended a church with one of the best known pastors in the country
  • about a year after attending their new church in the new city, they stopped the pastor and said, "Since joining here, for the first time in our lives, we feel like we 'own a piece of the rock'"
  • the pastor asked them to elaborate further
  • he said:
  • "Unlike our last church, in which we felt we were only needed to fill a pew to give our famous pastor an audience, here we feel needed for more positive reasons. Since coming here my wife and I have discovered we have a similar gift mix," he added
  • he went on to describe their ministry at the church
  • and then he said, "You'' never know how much we enjoy ministering to our 'flock.' Pastor, you need us here. We have something to contribute."

  • that's the way all Christians should feel about their church
  • believers may need help, however, in the area of their giftedness
  • "The Church You've Always Longed For" empowers each individual to find fulfillment in discovering and using their spiritual gifts

  • when we're introduced to Apollos in Acts 18:24-25, we notice that he's a native of Alexandria, Egypt
  • his credentials were impressive
  • he was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures
  • he had been instructed in the way of the Lord
  • the passage says that he taught with great fervor, and had been taught about Jesus accurately, although he only knew the baptism of John
  • the baptism of John was a confession of sin and repentance
  • it appears that Apollos had been taught by believers whose message about Jesus Christ was not complete
  • it appears that Apollos majored on repentance from sin, the first step, but had limited knowledge of faith in Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit
  • Apollos knew Jesus as a figure in history, but not as a living presence in his life

  • Apollos was, at this point, a diamond in the rough
  • when Aquila and Priscilla heard Apollos teach in the synagogue, they saw his ability and giftedness
  • they saw that God had gifted him, and that he could be a powerful servant of Jesus Christ

  • I'll always remember what a pastor told me:
  • "There's gold in them there pews!"
  • when this pastor looks over a congregation, he puts a 10 on every head he sees
  • he sees every person as a kind of Apollos, gifted by the Holy Spirit, and capable of serving God powerfully

  • but who is there to mine this gold?
  • the names of the people who encouraged Apollos were Aquila and Priscilla
  • they made tents for a living
  • in other words, they were lay people
  • yet they became traveling companions with Paul from Corinth to Ephesus
  • having been left by Paul in Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila began discipling believers there

  • when they came across Apollos and saw his giftedness, they did four things
  • FIRST, THEY ENGAGED APOLLOS
  • they entertained him in their home
  • this is one of the secrets of ministry: the best ministry often takes place inside the home
  • believers must awaken to see their homes as valuable tools for ministry
  • when you invite someone into your home, you're opening your life to them
  • you're saying, in effect, that you care enough about that person to develop a relationship with them
  • hospitality goes a long way in developing the types of relationship that allow significant ministry

  • this past week, some adults had children over to their houses to go over memory verses in the Bible Buddies program
  • in my mind, one of the best things about this program is that children get invited into our homes
  • we can engage people in our homes
  • in fact, years later back in Rome, they hosted one of the house churches that developed

  • HAVING ENGAGED APOLLOS, THEY DISCIPLED HIM
  • they exposed him to a more adequate understanding of the way of the Lord
  • they "filled in the blanks" of his theology and experience
  • they led him to the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit in his lif e

  • Priscilla and Aquila had obviously made the most of their spiritual education
  • they had listened to sermons and studied their Bibles carefully, and were able to share with Apollos what he needed to know
  • instead of confronting him harshly, they discipled him lovingly

  • THEY THEN ENLISTED THE HELP OF OTHER CHRISTIANS TO ENCOURAGE HIM
  • other believers urged him forward, encouraging him to use his gifts

  • FINALLY, THEY ENDORSED HIM
  • they wrote letters of commendation to the disciples in Achaia

  • doesn't that sound like the type of church you desire?
  • can you recall a pastor, teacher, or friend who challenged you to go further than you would have on your own?
  • let me ask you, is there someone in your life in whom you have noticed a gift that needs acknowledging and encouraging?
  • could God use you to help that person become all God wants him or her to become?

  • Dr. Charles Lake suggests that we prepare ourselves to empower other individuals with four tips:
  • 1) Know the gifts of the Spirit
  • 2) Be observant and look
  • 3) Be open to the Spirit's promptings; and
  • 4) Obey
  • as we respond to the Lord's leading, we'll be amazed at how God can use us to help others find fulfillment in him while contributing to the church you've always longed for

  • in verses 27 and 28 of Acts 18, we read the end of the story, and it's a good one
  • he became a great help to those who had believed
  • he refuted the Jews in public, and proved the deity of Christ from the Scriptures
  • Apollos was one of the best communicators of his day
  • you would have rejoiced to sit under the ministry of such a messenger

  • all this was because a devoted lay couple accepted the challenge to make disciples, empower each individual, and maximize other's gifts for God's glory
  • the very same thing that you can do

  • Charles Swindoll asks the following:
  • who taught Martin Luther his theology and inspired his translation of the New Testament?
  • who visited Dwight L. Moody at a shoe store and spoke to him about Christ?
  • who was the elderly woman who prayed faithfully for Billy Graham for over twenty years?
  • who financed William Carey's ministry in India?
  • who helped Charles Wesley get underway as a composer of hymns?
  • who personally taught G. Campbell Morgan, "the peerless expositor," his techniques in the pulpit?

  • you probably don't know, do you?
  • Swindoll writes, "Had it not been for those unknown people - those ‘nobodies' - a large chunk of church history would be missing. And a lot of lives would have been untouched"
  • but they were people just like you and me, and God used them to encourage and empower others, and as a result church history was changed
  • God can use you to empower others
Parts of this message adapted from a sermon by Dr. Charles Lake

Stretching Your Comfort Zone (Acts 10:1-35)

  • a few years ago, Charlene decided to take me to a hotel for a fancy dinner
  • she had no way of knowing that the restaurant had recently become a Japanese restaurant, specializing in all kinds of exotic fish, including sushi
  • I have nothing against raw fish, but let's just say it stretched my comfort zone
  • and let's also say that I haven't been back to that restaurant since then

  • what I went through is nothing compared to the way the apostle Peter had to stretch his comfort zone
  • let's look at Luke's words in Acts 10:1-35 and watch for some big-time stretching this morning
  • I'll be borrowing from a description of the event given by Pastor Roger Haber of Bridgeway Community Church, in Carol Stream, Illinois

  • the beautiful city of Caesarea, built by Herod the Great, was the center of the Roman government in Palestine
  • in this city lived a centurion named Cornelius
  • a centurion was a Roman army officer in charge of 100 soldiers
  • Luke tells us that this man and his entire family were devout and God-fearing
  • he gave generously to the poor and was a man of prayer
  • Cornelius must have come to appreciate the only true God as he served in Palestine

  • one day, at three o'clock in the afternoon, Cornelius had a vision
  • an angel of God came to him and called him by name
  • the angel informed Cornelius that God had noticed him
  • he said to send some men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon, who was also called Peter
  • Cornelius would have observed that Simon was a Jewish name
  • a Jew coming to a Gentile home was unthinkable, entirely illegal for the Jews
  • but Cornelius, demonstrating both faith and obedience, sent two of his servants and an aide to the address in Joppa

  • as the scene shifts to Joppa the next day, we see Peter on the roof praying
  • it's noon, and Peter's prayers have been distracted because he's hungry
  • while the meal is being prepared, Peter has a vision
  • three times he sees a large sheet descending from the sky with all kinds of animals, reptiles, and birds on it
  • a voice tells Peter to get up and help himself to this smorgasbord
  • there's a problem, however: Peter is a good Jew
  • he knows the dietary regulations found in Leviticus 11
  • he knows that Jews are only allowed to eat kosher or clean food, that is, meat from animals that both chew their cud and have cloven hooves
  • in our day, he would not be able to eat any pork chops, lobster, or turtle soup
  • but three times the Lord tells Peter not to call anything unkosher that God has declared kosher
  • aren't you lobster lovers glad God cancelled the dietary code?

  • you've probably heard the rest of the story
  • as Peter was thinking about the vision, the three men from Caesarea arrived downstairs and asked for him
  • the Spirit told Peter to go meet with them, and not to hesitate in going home with them
  • the men informed Peter that Cornelius was waiting to hear him preach
  • Peter invited the men to stay with him there in Joppa that night, since Caesarea was about 30 miles away
  • it was one thing for a Jew to offer hospitality to Gentiles; it was another thing to accept it from them
  • but Peter's vision was part of the process in preparing him to stretch his comfort zone

  • Peter and his entourage (we are told later that six of his brothers went with him) arrived at Cornelius' house to find him eagerly waiting for this preacher
  • as he walked into the house, Peter found he had a congregation eagerly waiting for a sermon
  • he reminded his hearers that what he was doing by being there, was unthinkable and unlawful
  • but he also told them he had just ascertained that what God has called clean he should not call unclean

  • then Cornelius told Peter about the vision he had, and Peter gave his message
  • Peter was learning as well as teaching
  • he discovered that God does not show favoritism, but accepts people from all backgrounds
  • what a change in thinking for Peter!
  • he proclaimed the story of Jesus to them, telling them how Jesus went about doing good
  • but Jesus was more than a political benefactor
  • he healed the sick and those who were under the authority of the devil
  • Peter himself was a witness to all of this
  • but the Jews rejected Jesus
  • they killed him

  • then Peter told Cornelius' household that God had raised him from the dead
  • he said that everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins through his name

  • while he was speaking, the Holy Spirit came upon the congregation, reminiscent of that Pentecost Sunday in Jerusalem
  • and like those believers in Jerusalem, the accompanying sign of speaking in other languages came upon these new Gentile believers
  • Peter and his associates were astonished
  • if God had accepted these people, what was to prevent the church from accepting them into its fellowship?
  • so they were baptized, an outward act that demonstrates the reception of people into the family of God
  • Peter stayed with this new church for a few days and continued to teach them

  • what a wonderful and amazing story
  • its very length speaks to its importance to the mission of the church
  • we forget what a mammoth change had to take place within the early church for non-Jews to be accepted
  • in contemporary terms, Peter and his Jewish friends, and Cornelius and his invited guests, were "blown out of their minds" by what transpired that day
  • it clearly demonstrates that the church Jesus desires to build is a church that welcomes all people!
  • in order for this to happen, you and I must stretch our comfort zones

  • I think that God is delighted when a church welcomes all people
  • I believe God is grieved when the church is prejudiced or just plain unfriendly to those of a certain race, age, social status, or appearance
  • every one of us needs to learn the very important lessons that Peter and Cornelius learned if our church is to be the church Christ wants it to be
  • the church must welcome all people
  • we must stretch our comfort zones
  • we must see two things:

  • THE CHURCH DOWN HERE MUST START TO LOOK LIKE THE CHURCH UP THERE
  • Chuck Colson wrote about his first meeting following his conversion with a group of Christian leaders who met regularly for prayer and Bible study
  • one in the group, a former senator, came from a liberal background and would have nothing to do with Colson during the Nixon White House days
  • a Christian leader who had spent some time with Chuck Colson knew that he had made a genuine commitment to Christ, but not everyone was willing to accept him as a fellow Christian

  • a meeting was arranged, and when Colson and his Christian friend arrived he was given quite a grilling
  • he wasn't sure at first if he would be accepted
  • finally, they became convinced, much like Peter and his Jewish friends were convinced about Cornelius and his guests
  • one of Colson's children was struggling with him being in prison, and a former governor offered to serve some of Colson's prison term so he could be released to spend time with his child
  • there's no such thing as liberal or conservative in the kingdom of heaven

  • a certain church was very conservative in theology
  • they taught that sexuality is a gift from God to be enjoyed between a married man and woman, and that sexual activity outside of marriage - including homosexual behavior - is sinful
  • but this church was loving enough of sinners that a number of homosexuals began to attend
  • some people in the church were upset - imagine homosexuals in the church!
  • the pastor turned to the congregation and told them that the homosexuals can take their place right beside the liars, thi eves, drunkards, and gluttons
  • the pastor wasn't condoning homosexuality
  • his point is that we want sinners to come to church, and not just certain types of sinners

  • Billy Graham said that 11 o'clock Sunday morning was "the most segregated hour in America"
  • many have forgotten the words of Jewish rabbi who was thrilled to bring the good news of Jesus to different faces and different cultures
  • listen to these words from the rabbi, the apostle Paul:
  • (Colossians 3:11) Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

  • Raleigh Washington and Glen Kehrein write:
  • "We believe the body of Christ holds the key that can unlock the stranglehold of racism in our society. That key is the ministry of reconciliation. Christ has given us a mandate. It is high time the church as a whole, and individual believers, answered the call of Christ and became ambassadors of reconciliation in our homes and churches, neighborhoods and cities"

  • the church down here should start to look like what the church is going to look like up there
  • do you know what I mean?

  • after describing all of the Jews from every tribe of Israel that will be gathered around God's throne for eternity, the apostle John wrote:
  • (Revelation 7:9) After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

  • the head of the church, the Chief Shepherd, has welcomed and will welcome all people into his kingdom
  • shouldn't you and I start stretching our comfort zones now?
  • shouldn't our churches intentionally reach out to people of color, people of different cultures, and people of different educational and economic backgrounds?
  • Peter, Cornelius, Paul, and the Lord Jesus Christ would all answer that question with a resounding "Yes!"
  • how about you and me?

  • RECONCILIATION NEEDS TO BE PART OF OUR DAILY LIVING
  • it's easy to sit in our pews and say the church must welcome all people
  • but changing our individual actions is a different story
  • Peter was slow in getting the message on that rooftop in Joppa
  • the Lord had to deliver it three times!
  • I'm sure Peter would have said that the church should welcome all people
  • after all, he heard Jesus teach that the gospel was for the whole world
  • he stood there on the Mount of Olives just before Jesus ascended into heaven and heard him say he would be a witness to the ends of the earth

  • but Peter wasn't perfect accepting this in his personal life
  • Galatians 2 informs us that Peter didn't always practice what he preached
  • when he was around non-Jews, he accepted them and ate non-kosher food
  • but the moment Jews came around, he separated himself from the Gentiles and reverted to Jewish customs
  • the apostle Paul had to rebuke him publicly for his duplicity
  • they were trying to make out that one group was better than the other

  • you might think that you have no problem welcoming other people
  • I thought I didn't either
  • this past Wednesday I was getting ready to leave my office here at the church
  • I was feeling sick and so was my daughter Christina
  • all of a sudden I heard the voice of an older man who had somehow gotten into the church
  • somebody had forgotten to lock the front door

  • I finally found him, and he said he wanted to talk to the pastor
  • I took one look at him and decided this was not good news
  • I sat down with him, fully expecting to hear a sob story, concluding with a request for money
  • but you know what he did?
  • he reached into his pocket and handed me five twenty dollar bills to be given to the foreign missionary of my choice

  • I had pre-judged that man incorrectly
  • instead of welcoming all people, I had labeled this man
  • how many times to we label and stereotype certain types of people, instead of welcoming them as Jesus would?

  • that's where action step three comes in
  • we need to connect with individuals outside our churches
  • our journal challenges us to evaluate our circle of friends so we can consider ways to broaden our horizons and stretch our comfort zones
  • how many friends do you have who are different from you in age, race, religion, economics, education, or marital and family status?

  • after we evaluate, it's time to reach out
  • select a person who is outside your normal circle of friends
  • it may sound contrived, but human nature demands that we make a conscious effort to overcome our prejudices

  • stretch your comfort zones
  • Peter did
  • Cornelius did
  • Jesus Christ will always be pleased when "The Church You've Always Longed For" welcomes all people
  • let's pray

  • To all who are weary and seek rest
  • To all who mourn and long for comfort
  • To all who struggle and desire victory
  • To all who sin and need a Savior
  • To all who are idle and look for service
  • To all who are strangers and want fellowship
  • To all who hunger and thirst after righteousness
  • And whosoever will come -
  • The church opens wide her doors and arms
  • and offers her welcome in the name of
  • Jesus Christ her Lord.

  • the Scripture says
  • (Hebrews 13:2) Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
  • Lord, may we be a welcoming place at this church, we pray
  • Amen.

  • adapted from a message by Rev. Roger Haber, teaching pastor of Bridgeway Community Church, Carol Stream, Illinois
adapted from a message by Rev. Roger Haber, teaching pastor of Bridgeway Community Church, Carol Stream, Illinois

Capturing the Heart of the Community

  • not too long ago I was driving west along the Queensway
  • I estimate that I've traveled this same route literally hundreds of times
  • but this particular time I noticed a restaurant that was advertising its prices, and I said, "That restaurant must be new!"
  • to which Charlene replied, "It's been there for as long as we've lived here!"
  • I estimate that tens of thousands of cars pass by our church every week
  • I've heard some people, who have passed by our doors hundreds of times, claim that they've never noticed our church before
  • now, let's consider what people notice when they do see our church
  • I'm sure that we want our church to exude a sense of openness and invitation
  • although it was the last thing we wanted, our churches have inadvertently created what is called a fortress mentality
  • the bricks and mortar which we intended to provide a place of worship have in effect walled us in so that we have little effect for the gospel in our neighborhoods
  • this is far from what the Bible teaches, and far from what we intended
  • I dream of a church that captures the heart of the community
  • as I read the New Testament, I discover that the early church did capture the heart of the community
  • Acts 2:47 tells us that the early church enjoyed the favor of all the people
  • Acts 5:13 says that they were highly regarded by all the people
  • as the early church grew and believers were scattered through the Roman empire, little communities of Christ-followers sprang up
  • you get the sense in Acts that the early church was a force, and it had an impact all over the Roman empire
  • I don't mean to pretend that the early church was perfect
  • but I believe we could learn some valuable lessons from the New Testament on how to capture the heart of the community
  • just as God captured the heart of Nineveh through Jonah, I wish and pray that God would capture the heart of Humber Bay through Park Lawn Baptist Church
  • I'm going to go through a checklist of four ingredients we'll need if we're going to do this
  • my part is to tell you what these four ingredients are
  • your part is to mark yourself on whether or not you possess this ingredient or not
  • ATTITUDE
  • the first ingredient that is absolutely crucial is attitude
  • somebody has said that attitude determines action determines accomplishment
  • how we feel about our church and community (attitude) will determine the steps we take (action) which in turn will determine what we get done for the kingdom of God in our community
  • our attitude towards the church and the community ultimately determines our effectiveness
  • consider the contagious enthusiasm of the early church in the book of Acts
  • when the believers spilled out of the Upper Room into the streets of Jerusalem, everyone there heard them in their own language "speaking of the mighty deeds of God" (Acts 2:11)
  • but their testimony didn't stop with speaking
  • (Acts 2:42) They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
  • (Acts 2:43) Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.
  • (Acts 2:44) All the believers were together and had everything in common.
  • (Acts 2:45) Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.
  • (Acts 2:46) Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts,
  • (Acts 2:47) praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
  • let me ask you a question
  • what do you think would have happened if the attitude of the early believers was one of disharmony, disunity, self-centeredness, and leader-bashing?
  • "Who do these apostles think they are?" "These apostles preach too long!" "They're serving fish again?"
  • do you think that people would have jumped at the chance to participate in a group like that?
  • not likely!
  • once upon a time, there was a woman named Ethel who went to church every week
  • and very week she was frustrated because her pastor refused to give an invitation at the end of the service
  • Ethel felt it was important to invite people to walk forward and accept Christ, but the pastor wouldn't do it
  • every Monday at work, her longtime friend Harriet asked about her weekend
  • and every Monday Ethel complained about that hardheaded pastor of hers
  • "He wouldn't know a good idea if it socked him in the face," she muttered
  • one week, Ethel suggested for the zillionth time that the pastor give an invitation
  • "Hmmm," he said, "that might be a good idea."
  • Ethel was shocked
  • "If you get someone who needs the Lord to church, then I will offer the invitation"
  • Ethel couldn't wait for Monday to roll around
  • she marched up to her friend Harriet
  • "Would you come to church with me this week?"
  • "No," said Harriet, with a quizzical look
  • "But you're my oldest and dearest friend," Ethel blurted. "Why not?"
  • "Well, I'd do just about anything for you, Ethel," replied Harriet. "But for two years I've been hearing what an imbecile your pastor is - I'll never, ever go there"
  • (50 Day Adventure journal)
  • action step 2 in our 50-Day Spiritual Adventure this year asks us to attract others to the church by saying good things about it
  • each day, for 50 days, we are encouraged to write down something good about our church or church family
  • then, at least twice a week, we should share some of these good things about our church with someone else
  • we shouldn't boast in anything but the cross, but we do need to hold forth the good qualities the church already has
  • and then, at least once during the Adventure, we are to ask someone to come to our church or to a church activity
  • this will be easy to do, because if we have been telling them about the good things happening at the church, they will naturally want to come
  • what's your attitude when it comes to the church?
  • BOLDNESS
  • the second ingredient necessary to capture the heart of the community is boldness
  • (Acts 4:29) Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.
  • (Acts 5:18) They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail.
  • (Acts 5:19) But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out.
  • (Acts 5:20) "Go, stand in the temple courts," he said, "and tell the people the full message of this new life."
  • (Acts 5:21) At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people. When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin--the full assembly of the elders of Israel--and sent to the jail for the apostles.

  • people's lives were touched dramatically as the apostles demonstrated the power of God in the streets of Jerusalem, at peril of arrest, imprisonment, or worse
  • and the church began to grow beyond Jerusalem
  • the early believers were bold
  • they couldn't help but tell you about the Lord!
  • I made a new firefighter friend last month
  • one thing about firemen - they spend a lot of time together
  • they practically live together for 24 hours at a time
  • what a place to be a Christian!
  • you couldn't help but share your faith with others
  • my friend's name is Winton, and he said that as he opened up about his relationship with God to his co-workers, he began to discover a large number of secret Christians
  • they were too bashful about Christ
  • if we're going to capture the heart of the community, we need boldness!
  • (Acts 4:29) Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.
  • we must become people and churches that take our light out from under our bowls and put them on a stand, where we can draw men and women home safely into the Master's arms
  • the church must become that true lighthouse for people in the storms of life
  • if the church is not following the mandate of Jesus to go make disciples, then why should we believe that God will bless the church?
  • or, if we as individuals are not willing to be molded and used by our Lord, then why do we hope God will bless us?
  • when a church loses its vision to reach the lost, God's blessings are withheld
  • but when the majority surrender themselves to be used by him and to make him the real Lord of their lives, we begin to see marvelous things take place
  • CONTACT
  • the third ingredient we need if we're going to capture the heart of the community as a church is contact
  • I believe the early church had two advantages over us
  • number one: they didn't have church buildings
  • that might not sound like much of an advantage, but they couldn't be contained and trapped by the four walls of a physical plant
  • it's my contention that North American churches have unintentionally succumbed to a fortress mentality
  • the bricks and mortar which we intended to provide a place of worship have in effect walled us in so that we have little effect for the gospel in our neighborhoods
  • we're the salt of the earth, but the salt is still in the salt-shaker
  • we have to somehow prevent the walls of the church from holding us in
  • I believe we should purposely endeavor to establish ministries within the community
  • another conviction I have is that we should continue to allow our facilities to be used by the community
  • at present, our church is "home" to two girl's groups, English as a second language classes, and other groups
  • these may not be profound, but they demonstrate that our attitude demonstrates that we have a heart from our community
  • another advantage the early church had is that they were scattered
  • we read in Acts 8 that the believers were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria because of persecution
  • in other words, they were literally forced into contact with unbelievers
  • sometimes in church the opposite happens
  • the longer we're Christians, the fewer friends we have who are not Christians
  • we need this contact
  • to his Father, Jesus prayed, "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one...As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world" (John 17:15,18)
  • Jesus repeatedly addressed the importance of sending, or scattering, of his people into the world
  • ministry is incarnational; we need to be among people
  • Paul even tells us not to separate from sinners in the world
  • let me challenge you: if you're going to capture the heart of the community, how much contact do you have with the community?
  • how well do you know your neighbors?
  • what community groups are you involved with?
  • what steps are you taking to keep involved with the community?
  • DESIRE
  • perhaps the ingredient we lack the most is desire
  • when Jonah went to Nineveh to preach, the entire city repented and turned to God
  • the Ninevites were known far and wide for their savage cruelty
  • what happened? Jonah was so upset that the Ninevites repented that he wanted to die
  • Jonah wished that they would be destroyed rather than saved
  • how much do we care about capturing the heart of the community?
  • a pastor came to church in jeans and a tee-shirt one Sunday morning, and his hair was in a ponytail
  • he preached about how Christians get concerned about things that don't matter while not getting concerned about things that do matter
  • he preached the whole sermon without a word about his appearance
  • he talked about compassion for people in the community who are marginalized, disadvantaged - about breaking our circles of security
  • finally, at the end he said, "Now some of you today have been getting more upset about my ponytail than you are about people not getting Christ's gospel and Christ's love. The truth is, ponytails don't matter - but people do. I'm going to cut my ponytail. What are you going to do about your neighbors?"
  • the real question this morning is, how much do you care?
  • do you care enough about capturing the heart of the community that you're going to pick an ingredient on this checklist that needs work, and do something about it?
  • in fact, I'm going to throw down the gauntlet and challenge you this morning to carry out action step two
  • action step 2 in our 50-Day Spiritual Adventure this year asks us to attract others to the church by saying good things about it
  • each day, for 50 days, we are encouraged to write down something good about our church or church family
  • then, at least twice a week, we should share some of these good things about our church with someone else
  • and then, at least once during the Adventure, we are to ask someone to come to our church or to a church activity
  • who is willing to accept this challenge?

Becoming a Church that Cares (Philippians 2:1-11)

  • I return this morning from my holiday with mixed feelings
  • they're mixed because I enjoyed sleeping in, swimming, tubing, and other summer activities, and I'm sad that summer is over
  • and yet I return with a sense of enthusiasm over returning to this church, a church I love greatly
  • I'm excited too because I believe some exciting things lie ahead

  • I wonder how many people share my enthusiasm about the church?
  • I wonder if we handed out bumper stickers that said, "Honk if you love the church," how noisy would it be on the street?
  • no matter what happens, I can't get past the fact that the church is the bride of Christ, purchased with his blood, and his chosen people, the objects of his love
  • the church is the very institution ordained by God to be a vehicle of his love until Christ returns
  • no matter what happens, no matter how humble it might appear, no matter how troubled it at times may be, I can honestly say that I love the church

  • this morning we could list some problems with churches in general and with our church in particular
  • but anyone can identify problems
  • what we're going to do is to identify solutions
  • I'm not exaggerating when I say that I love the church so much I would give my life to see her increase in strength and vigor
  • my dream is that the church would be a vibrant community of God's people worshiping him, caring for each other, growing in faith, serving God using their gifts, and winning other people to Christ

  • one of the keys to this, I believe, is that the church - not just our church but every church - become a place where loving, authentic relationships permeate every aspect of church life
  • where honest, loving, authentic, and caring relationships become the norm
  • where people come in and say, "Wow, that's love!"

  • one of the startling things that Jesus said is found in John 13:
  • (John 13:34) "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
  • (John 13:35) By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
  • Jesus commands us to love one another, just as he has loved us
  • now think about it: Jesus has lavished his love on us indiscriminately, and he says we are to love one another in just the same way
  • so prominent is this love to be that Jesus says it will be the identifying mark of his followers: they love one another
  • now think about it: Jesus didn't say we would be identified by our buildings or steeples; he didn't say we would be known by the Bibles we carried or our public prayers; we wouldn't even be identified by theology
  • he said that people would know that we are his disciples if we love one another

  • one of my dreams is that the church would be known as a place of love, a place that cares
  • my dream is that every person who comes into a worship service at any true church would immediately sense the warmth of fellowship that exists there
  • my dream is that people who otherwise would have nothing in common would be bound together with a love that can only be explained in supernatural terms
  • just imagine how attractive such a fellowship could be!

  • this morning we're beginning a 50-Day spiritual adventure called "The Church You've Always Longed For: What You Can Do to Make It Happen"
  • our theme this morning is "Work at becoming a caring family"
  • I think the choice of this theme as the first one is correct
  • if we're going to be the church we've all longed for, one of the most important things we can do is to develop our capacity to care for each other

  • in Philippians 2, Paul gives the people in the church family at Philippi some advice on how this can happen
  • what Paul wrote to Philippi equally applies to us
  • we are God's family as well

  • [UNDERSTANDING OUR PRIVILEGED POSITION]
  • Paul assumes some things about the church at Philippi that I think we can assume about our church as well
  • first, he assumes that they would find encouragement in the fact that they were united with Christ
  • "2:1 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ"
  • Christ is the glue that holds us together

  • also, as believers, they were at the receiving end of God's love; this is a great comfort to God's people, knowing that Christ loves us
  • "if any comfort from his love"
  • this is especially important for those of us who are lacking love in other areas of our lives
  • we're greatly comforted by the fact that no matter who else may not love us, Jesus loves us

  • third, Paul assumes that because of the indwelling Spirit within each of God's children, they had a fellowship or bond that held them together
  • "if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion"
  • he just assumes that there's already a sense of fellowship and compassion between us, because we have the Spirit within us, and because we're part of the same family

  • if this is true of us, the apostle Paul writes in verse 2:
  • (Philippians 2:2) then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.
  • Paul urges them to become a loving, caring community of believers; the family that God wants us to be
  • "If you've gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care," Paul writes, "then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends" (The Message)

  • [LIFE-CHANGING, FAMILY TRANSFORMING PRINCIPLES]
  • let's look at some life-changing, family-transforming principles
  • Philippians 2:3 says:
  • (Philippians 2:3) Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.
  • it's amazing how easy it is to get caught up with ourselves and the things we want to do
  • from time to time we need a reminder to focus on others more than ourselves, and to stop being so self-absorbed

  • Paul says that two things get in the way of caring for others: selfishness, and trying to make a good impression on others
  • these are the mortal enemies of unity and harmony in the church
  • the first, selfishness, is listed as one of the "acts of the sinful nature" in Galatians 5:20
  • it's putting our interests ahead of the interests of other people
  • does anyone here struggle with selfishness?

  • too often we can get sidetracked with trying to make a good impression on others
  • we're concerned with how we appear and how we sound
  • this is our natural tendency

  • now, put together a number of people who, as one person says, are pushing their way to the front and sweet-talking their way to the top, and what do you have?
  • the very opposite of what Christ intended for the church

  • instead, Paul says in verse 3: "in humility consider others better than yourselves"
  • this is a life-changing, family-transforming principle
  • imagine what would happen in our homes and churches if for one day we all thought of everybody else as better than ourselves
  • imagine if we all start trying to do more for each other than anyone is doing for us
  • imagine if at home we started fighting, in a healthy way, for the privilege of cooking the meals, setting and clearing the table, and so forth
  • imagine if at church we forgot about trying to make an impression and getting our own way, and instead focused on others and how to serve them

  • the irony is that when people are like this to us, they make a huge difference in our lives
  • when we come across a person who is free of pride and selfishness, and is focused on servi ng us, we are literally humbled and impacted by that person
  • you can probably think of someone who has had this type of power in your life - someone who had a positive, significant influence on you
  • they respected you as a person, they loved you, they were caring and encouraging - and they caused you to grow
  • this is what we are to be to others within the body of Christ

  • verse four gives us another principle:
  • (Philippians 2:4) Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
  • we have no problems looking after our own interests
  • it's obvious sometimes we don't even have the foggiest idea what the interests of others might be!
  • we need to listen to others and find out what the interests of others might be
  • in the church, it means trying to understand others, and deferring to their needs
  • it's refusing to be obsessed with getting our own way, and forgetting ourselves long enough to focus on others
  • it's listening and deferring to others

  • it's easy to say we love other people, or that we're a caring church, but it's another thing to think of others as better than ourselves and to put their interests ahead of our own
  • imagine a church that fulfilled this commandment to love one another, to honor one another above ourselves, to live in harmony with one another, and to be willing to associate with people of lower position
  • that's what the Bible describes as a caring church
  • that's the sort of church that I dream about

  • the real key to all of this is to have the attitude of Jesus
  • the verses that follow in Philippians 2:5-11 describe that wonderful, familiar truth of how God as Jesus humbled himself in obedience to become one of us
  • and then as we all know, he became sin for us and died for us
  • now, if Christ was willing to do all that for us, shouldn't we at least be willing to care for the others who are our brothers and sisters in Christ?

  • that's the way it was in the early church
  • read about it this week as you do your adventure journals and look at Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-35
  • they weren't perfect, but they were characterized as a group that loved each other

  • that's how it has been in my life as well
  • I wouldn't be here this morning if it hadn't been for the influence of a number of people who loved me in the way I described
  • a Sunday school teacher who taught me for years - every time I graduated to a new class, he graduated too
  • he had a lot of problems in his life, but he loved me and he cared for me
  • a youth group leader who taught great lessons, but whose greatest contribution to my life was one-on-one
  • he took me out and treated me as an object of his love
  • he cared for me in a godly way
  • a seminary teacher who encouraged me, a pastor-friend who has shown me what true friendship is about, and I could go on to name some of you - these are the people who have shown me what Christian love is
  • and that is how we are to love one another

  • we're going to close with a prayer that is found in your bulletins and in the adventure journal
  • the prayer is part of the action step that goes with this week's theme in the 50-Day adventure
  • the prayer is appropriate, I think, in our efforts to become a caring church
  • would you open your bulletins and pray it with me?

Lord,
I long to be part of a caring church family,
But often I'm not sensitive to what people are really saying,
Please teach me to listen with your ears of compassion.
I pray for [a need you've heard recently].
Lord, help me respond with a heart that cares the way you do.
Amen.