“World’s Colliding” – Acts 6:8 – 8:40. Monday’s Reflections on Sunday’s Sermons

I called this sermon “World’s Colliding” because I see a collision between our idea that we are in control and the truth that God is in control.  I was really struck by the stubbornness of the religious leaders.  As I read through the passage, studied, and spent time in prayer, I saw a pattern of control emerging.  They thought they had all the answers.  They thought God had to work through them on their terms.  Their attempts at staying in control are like us creating our own “world” – like blowing a bubble – and then living inside it where we think we reign supreme.  What really convicted me was that these were religious people.  They believed in God, but in their minds God was just a part of their bubble and they were still in control.

Stephen’s speech is an incredible overview of the Old Testament showing how God is in control, He works according to His ways, He works wherever He wants, and He works through whomever He wants.  It is His world and we get to live in it.  The fact that Stephen was willing to give this speech knowing it could lead to his death shows he was completely trusting God.  He was not consumed by this “bubble world” of our own making.

My main take-away from preaching this sermon is this question:  Which world are we really living in?  Are we as believers living in our world, of our own making, where we are in complete control or are we living in God’s world for His glory, and under His authority?  One huge difference I see between the church in Acts and the church in western culture today is that we seem to have too much invested in this “bubble world”.  It seems that the church in Acts was so effective because they were living out the reality of God’s kingdom, not just trying to tell people about it.  Their goal wasn’t to point people to the kingdom of God using any technique of this world possible, it was to BE the living example of the kingdom of God according to power of God’s presence and the gospel at work in their lives.  Sometimes the techniques undermine the message.

I think we have become too technique driven.  We think that if we do MINISTRY A and maybe MINISTRY B then God will bless us with X number of converts or at least Y number of attendees, which should result in Z increase in giving.  This is “bubble” thinking.  This is us being in charge and expecting God to bless our methods.  This was not how Stephen and Philip did ministry.  They simply showed up, lived and spoke the gospel in any and every situation.  For Stephen, it meant his death.  For Philip, it meant the beginning of the Samaritan church and the church in Africa.  In our “bubble world” we would say that Philip was effective and Stephen was not, but that’s certainly not what God’s Word is saying.  It was because of Stephen’s testimony and then his death that the church moves out of Jerusalem carrying the gospel with them wherever they go.

I used to think that the believers in Jerusalem were not fulfilling Christ’s charge to them in Acts 1:8 to take the gospel to “Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  I was ready to preach this passage according to this understanding, but the more I studied the more I saw the passage differently.  I see now that Acts 1:8 wasn’t just a list of goals for the church, it was a road map for how God was going to work in them.  Each “stage” in the gospel mission was a preparation for the next.  The church needed  to spend time in Jerusalem building a firm foundation on God’s Word (the teaching of the Apostles) and learning to live out the gospel as a community of believers.  They also needed to see how God worked in various situations.  At the beginning of chapter 6 we see that cross-cultural issues were needing to be dealt with and the church (guided by the Holy Spirit) responded brilliantly.  This prepared them for the next stage of their mission.  I don’t think that what happened to Stephen was God’s way of kicking them in the seat to get them moving, I think it was a sign that God knew they were ready for the next step in their mission because they had learned the lessons they needed to learn in Jerusalem.

This aspect of the passage didn’t really come out in my sermon yesterday – there just wasn’t time and there is always more that could be said about a passage than what can fit in any one sermon.  But it has been on my mind a lot over the past few days.  It’s easy to look at Acts 7-8 and ask how we might be missing our mission and wonder if God might have to take drastic measures to get us moving.  But now I think there is a better way of looking at it.  We should ask what God might be preparing us for and whether or not we are learning the lessons He is teaching us.  Maybe part of our “bubble” thinking is that we think it is our job to figure out how to get the mission accomplished when the truth is that it is God’s mission and He will accomplish it through us if we are allowing Him to do the work in our lives that He is trying to do.  Is it possible that we are so busy trying to accomplish God’s mission that we have missed the importance of being God’s people?  Is it also possible that this will be the most effective way of accomplishing the mission?

What “world” are people seeing in our lives, in our churches, in how we do things?  Are they seeing the authority of God and absolute dependence and trust in Him?  Or are they seeing an unspoken belief that we are in control?   I mentioned in the sermon that at the cross the world of God and this bubble world of ours collided.  The cross not only shatters the reality of our bubble world, it provides a way out – salvation through Jesus Christ.  We see in Revelation 21 that our world will pass away.  The bubble will be popped and shown for what it is – nothing.  God’s world (His truth, His authority, His glory) will endure for ever and ever.  We live in the time of the collision.  We must decide if we will accept the reality of His world and the gospel as the bridge and then we must live this out and be witnesses of this “world shaking” truth in everything we do.

Robert Frost said in his poem “The Road Not Taken” – “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”  This is a very poetic reminder of a much stronger truth expressed in Scripture:

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12)

“Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”  (Matthew 7:13-14).

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:34-36).

Edit (10/26/11): listen to this sermon online

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Staying on Course – Monday’s Reflection on Sunday’s Sermon

Edit (10/26/11): listen to this sermon online

You can’t set a course just by looking at the waves.  This was one of the points from the sermon yesterday at Orchard Community Church as we looked at Acts 6:1-7.  At first glance this passage seems to be about just some organizational issue in the early church, but it is really so much more.  The early church was faced with an important issue – certain people were not being cared for.  There were two potential problems that could have happened in this situation.  The early church could have dismissed the issue as being no big deal which would have been disastrous because it would have destroyed the unity of the church.  The other potential problem is that they could have become “all about” that particular issue.  All of the focus and resources of the church could have been diverted to deal with that particular need.

Instead, the apostles say that they must keep their focus on God’s Word and on prayer.  In other words, as the primary leaders in the church they must stay focused on the main mission because this is what sets the course for the church.  The particular need that came up was important, but it could not be substituted for the overall mission.  So often in our lives and in our churches we start chasing the biggest and most immediate “wave” that is coming at us.  We change our course in order to deal with the immediate issue.  Then, when that wave disappears we see another wave and immediately set a new heading.  We chase one wave after another and end up going in circles.  We lose sight of our overall mission of living out and spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ because we are too busy focusing on one wave after another.

Our course must be set by something outside of our changing situations.  This is true in the church and in our individual lives.  The apostles understood this and they made a decision to keep their focus on the Word of God because they were unwilling to lose sight of the overall mission for the sake of an immediate need.  The highest priority in the early church (which should also be our highest priority today!) was to make sure that their course was set by the Word of God.  Only by the primary leaders keeping their focus on the Word of God could the changing situations be dealt with in the best possible ways.

This narrow focus by the primary leaders doesn’t limit other people’s involvement or ignore important needs.  Just the opposite!  The apostles choice raises up a new level of leadership in the church to deal with situations that come up according to the overall direction that is set by God’s Word.  The church didn’t choose just anyone and they didn’t just choose people who had skills that were useful for the current situation.  They chose people who demonstrated the work of God in their lives because the situations aren’t just practical (or secular) issues – they are always spiritual.  When the overall mission of our churches and our lives is set by the Word of God, then every situation becomes an opportunity to carry out that mission in how we respond to situations.  We see the people who were chosen to lead in this particular situation go on to do great things for the kingdom of God.  This is because every service opportunity in the church should also be a discipleship opportunity.  Burn out among secondary leaders in the church or burn out in our individual lives is usually a sign that we are chasing after waves because the course is not being set by God’s Word.

What about you?  Do you ever feel like you are just chasing one wave after another?  How do you keep a focus on God’s Word in your life?  How should we do this in our churches?

Here are the daily devotions that were listed on the back of the sermon notes.  If you are looking for a way to make God’s Word a priority in your daily life, this might be a good way to start!

Monday:  Read Acts 6:1-7.  Why was it important for the apostles to keep their focus on the “ministry of the word of God”?  Do you make God’s Word a priority in your life?  Why or why not?

Tuesday:  Read Acts 6:1-7 again.  Why was it important for the men who were chosen to be “full of the spirit and wisdom” in order to take care of this need in the early church?  How does this challenge you today?

Wednesday:   Read Hebrews 12:1-3.  What does it mean to “fix your eyes on Jesus” and how do you (or should you) do this in your day to day life?  How do we do this as a church?

Thursday:  Read Ephesians 4:11-16.  What is it that keeps us from being tossed about by every wave (circumstance or idea) that comes our way?

Friday:  Read Acts 6:8 – 7:60 (this is the text we will be studying at OCC this Sunday).  Think about what stands out to you and what questions you may have.

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Power Drain – the lie that it’s no big deal. Thoughts from Sunday’s Sermon.

outletHow do you get up in front of a bunch of people and talk about 2 people in the early church that God put to death for lying?  Very carefully.  Yesterday at Orchard Community Church I preached on Acts 4:32 – 5:16 which includes the account Ananias and Sapphira.  I had a lot of hesitation on what to say and how to say it.

Here’s a quick summary of the passage:  Acts 4:32-37 talks about the amazing love at work in the early church that was expressed in sacrificial giving for each other.  I absolutely love these snapshots that occur throughout the book of Acts.  I think they encourage us to be a better church and to realize that it actually is possible to live out our faith together in this world in a way that makes a difference.  Acts 5:1-11 introduces Ananias and Sapphira.  They seem to want the recognition that others received for giving sacrificially, but they didn’t want to actually make a sacrifice.  They sold some property, gave some of the money to the church and kept some for themselves.  This is not a problem.  Peter (the leader of the church at that time) even makes it clear that they had every right to do this.  The problem was that they said they were giving all of the money from the sale.  What should have been an expression of worship and trust in God instead is made into an act of self glorification and greed.  So God takes the lives of Ananias and Sapphira.

As I prepared to teach this passage on Sunday, one question kept ringing through my head:  What was the big deal?  Weren’t other people in the early church sinners?  Didn’t others do things that were wrong?  Why does God make a big deal out of this?

What really helped me was that this story reminded me of two others.  The first that came to my mind was the story of Nadab and Abihu from Leviticus 10:1-2.  Nadab and Abihu had been in the presence of God with Moses and the other elders of Israel (check it out in Exodus 24:1-10. this is an amazing passage!).  They had received very specific instructions on how to serve in the Tabernacle, particularly in regard to the burning of incense (Exodus 30:34-38).  Yet one day they decide to do an experiment and burn something different.  After all, what’s the big deal?  Evidently it was a big deal because fire came out from the inner room, from the presence of God in the Tabernacle, and consumed them.

The other story that came to mind was the story of Achan from Joshua chapter 7.  The battle of Jericho was a key moment for the young Israelite nation.  God was teaching them to depend on Him and not on their own ideas.  The old song is wrong, Joshua did NOT fight (or “fit”?) the battle of Jericho so that the wall came crumbling down.  It was God!  It was His battle and His victory that He won for His people to show them that His presence with them and this was a very big deal.  The people were told not to keep any of the precious things they found after the battle (Joshua 6:18-19) because these were all to be given to God to show that it was His victory so the spoils of the battle belonged to Him.  But Achan didn’t obey.  He kept some silver and gold and a beautiful robe for himself because he evidently thought it was no big deal.  Turns out he was wrong and he paid for that choice with his life.

So what was the big deal?  What made these particular instances so bad?  I really prayed about this and spent a lot of time reading about it and here’s what finally hit me.  Their actions denied the existence and/or the power of God.  This is true of all sin to some degree, but it was true in these instances to a great degree.  The other thing that was a big deal was the timing. In each case God was at work teaching His people that He was with them – in the tabernacle, in the battles, and in the early church.  The very thing that God was working to to establish was what these people were undermining.  They were treating the presence and work of God like it was no big deal and God had to act to show that this was completely wrong.  The lie of Ananias and Sapphira threatened to drain the power out of the gospel mission of the early church by treating God’s Presence as no big deal.

God is with us.  He has poured His presence – His Holy Spirit – into the lives of all who trust in Jesus as their savior.  This is a very big deal.  We cannot live and act as if it hasn’t happened.   I don’t think we necessarily need to live with the fear that God is going to strike us down at any moment, but we certainly can’t go to the opposite extreme either and live like it’s just no big deal.  The impact of this realization in the early church was huge.  Acts 5:12-16 shows that the church continued to grow because people realized that the Power of God was present in the early church – just as He is present with us today.

Here are two quotes I used in the sermon.  Maybe they will get you thinking like they did for me:

“(W)e are for the most part tempted to go about our daily business in this world without giving God much thought.  Indeed, we are tempted to live as though God did not exist, or at least as if his existence did not practically matter.  In short, one of the most insidious temptations fostered within contemporary secular society and culture, a temptation rendered uniquely plausible by the ideas and assumptions embedded within modern institutional life, is the temptation to practical atheism” (Craig Gay, The Way of the Modern World: Or, Why it’s Tempting to Live as if God Doesn’t Exist, 2).

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does any-one have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”  (Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk, 1982, found on wikiquote.org).

If you were at Orchard Sunday, how did God challenge you?  If you went to another church, what did you learn and how did God use it to challenge and/or encourage you?  Click “Leave a Comment” below and let me know!

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Turbulence and the Gospel Mission – Monday’s Reflection on Sunday’s Sermon

My goal for each Monday is to post a reflection on the sermon from the day before.  It might be a summary, information I was unable to include in the sermon, or even correcting something I said wrong (it does happen!).  I hope these Monday posts help us to continue throughout the week the conversation with God that is started on Sunday mornings.


Edit: this sermon now available for listening online (10/26/11)

Yesterday at Orchard Community Church I preached from Acts 3:1 – 4:31 and 5:17-42.   These passages speak about the early church facing turbulence.  The apostles are arrested for healing a man in the name of Jesus and then proclaiming to the crowd that Jesus is the way of salvation.  As they stand trial, the apostles don’t fight for their rights and file a lawsuit.  They don’t form a coalition and set up a boycott.  Their response to the turbulence is to keep proclaiming the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ – right there in the trial, in front of the very leaders who sent Jesus to the cross.  No whining, no protest about discrimination – just the gospel.

The response of the other believers in Acts 4:23-31 is equally amazing.  In their prayer to God they reference the stories of persecution from the Old Testament and also what happened to Jesus.  They realize that every time God’s people bring God’s message into the world there is TURBULENCE – hardships and persecution.  Their witness to us today is that we should expect turbulence on this Gospel Mission rather than see it as something abnormal!  Then they ask God for something – something to help them as they face this turbulence.  They don’t ask for the persecution to stop.  Instead, they ask God to give them boldness to keep sharing the gospel even as they are being persecuted!

When the apostles are arrested a second time they declare – “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29).  They say that they will never stop proclaiming the gospel of Jesus no matter what.  This time they are flogged (severely beaten) and again warned to stop.  What is their response this time?  “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.  Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 5:41-42).

This passage made me think of two questions about facing turbulence on the gospel mission.

1. What spills when you are shaken?  When a cup is shaken, it is what is inside the cup that comes out.  If you are drinking a cup of grape juice on an airplane that goes through turbulence, you may wish that water spilled out instead, but it just doesn’t work that way!  Why would it work this way in our lives?  When we face turbulence, it is what is inside us that will spill over.  When the apostles and the early church were shaken, it was the gospel that spilled over in each situation!  Why?  Because that was what was inside them – that was what saturated their lives!  What do we spill when we are shaken?

2. What is your seat belt?   When passengers on an airplane are in their seats they are supposed to keep their seat belts fastened because the plane could encounter turbulence at any time.  When we go through hardships and/or persecution, we look to something to hold us secure.  What is it we are trusting to hold us as a Church?  Is it a privileged place in society?  Is it the traditions of our church?  The flashiness of our programs or our shining new technology?  What about as individual believers?  Are we counting on a certain relationship?  A place of honor or prestige within the church?  Maybe our bank account?  Maybe when all is stripped away we are simply counting on ourselves to hold us secure.  We think we are our own seat belt, but a seat belt that is only attached to the thing it is supposed to be holding will never be secure.  It must have a firm anchor!  The early church knew it was held secure by the very thing that was taking them through the turbulence in the first place.  The Gospel.   What are you trusting in to hold you secure?

Finally, one last question.  We will go through difficult times for many different reasons.  This world is full of disappointments and trials that have nothing to do with the gospel.  The question I have after studying these passages in Acts is this:  As believers in Jesus Christ, are we experiencing turbulence because of the gospel?  The other types of difficulties will come, but that’s not what this passage is about.  If we are truly on the gospel mission, then there will be turbulence because of the gospel.  We don’t seek it or cause it, but we should be ready to endure it and to proclaim the gospel in the turbulence.  In order to do this, we must be people who are saturated by the gospel and live this out in everything we do.

So my hope for this week is that we (like the early followers of Christ before us) are saturated with the gospel because turbulence is to be expected, but when we are held secure by the gospel then the turbulence is just another opportunity for the gospel to spill over for others to see.

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