Worlds Colliding – Sermon on Acts 6:8 – 8:40 this Sunday at Orchard

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

We are constantly confronted with choices.  This Sunday’s Sermon on Acts 6:8 – 8:40 is called “Worlds Colliding” and is Part 6 in the series “Acts: The Gospel Mission.”  Throughout the book of Acts we see times when the ways of God collide with the ways of this world.  One of the most dramatic instances of this is when Stephen points out to people who thought they had it all figured out that they were actually entirely missing the point.    Stephen is horribly put to death for standing up for God’s ways.  The early followers of Jesus Christ have to flee for their lives.  But even through all this, God’s way triumphs as the Gospel Mission Continues.  Read Acts 6:8 – 8:40 in preparation for worship this Sunday and spend time in prayer asking God to challenge you through his word.

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Next Steps – Trusting God Every Step of the Way

I often get overwhelmed by large projects or ideas.  This is particularly problematic for me because I often have big ideas and like to plan large projects!  It can be crippling to look at all the things that have to be done to accomplish a particular goal.  Too often my response can simply be, “why bother?”  Since I can’t possibly accomplish it all there is no reason to even start.

But every journey begins – and continues – with one step.  We don’t have to figure out how to get from one place to another, we just have to take one step in the right direction.  Just tackle one thing that moves you along that journey toward that goal.  You can’t change everyone’s lives at once, but pick up the phone and call one person.  You can’t study the entire bible at once, but pick it up and read a chapter or pick one book and just start reading it (I recommend the book of John!).  You may not be able to fix your marriage or your relationship with your children all at once, but take one step in that direction.

These aren’t just steps to accomplish these things – they are steps of faith.  They are a recognition that we can’t accomplish these things but that God is already at work and holds the destination and the journey in his hands.

I have found that I don’t have to think about accomplishing the “grand plan” – that’s God’s job!  I just have to take a next step of faith in the direction that God is leading and watch what he does.  I am amazed at how much God can do through us when we simply take a next step for him.

Sometimes God doesn’t reveal the path ahead, he just shows you that next step.  What is a next step that God is putting in front of you?

photo by flickr user rofanator

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Power of the Gospel

The Mission Statement of Orchard Community Church is “We exist to make and become fully devoted followers of Christ through the renewing and transforming power of the gospel for the glory of God.”  

This is the last of three posts on the Mission Statement of Orchard Community Church.  The first was about the Glory of God and the second was about being Fully Devoted Followers of Christ.  This week I want to look at the idea of the “renewing and transforming power of the gospel.”

In Romans, Paul writes “I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).  Do we really believe this today?  There are a lot of Christian books out there on how to improve yourself, your marriage, your job, your church, and your children.  Many contain very helpful advice.  Often pastors preach sermons about these things as well.  My fear is that maybe, just maybe, underlying all of these ideas is the basic (and very wrong) assumption that we must change ourselves.  Sometimes I get the feeling that believers in Jesus Christ have lost the idea that the gospel is powerful to change us and have instead assumed that we must rely on our own good intentions, programs, and efforts.  We seem to scratch and claw our way to small changes on our own instead of relying on the monumental power that is available in the gospel.

How powerful is the gospel?  Like Paul said in Romans 1:16 – it is the power of God.  Ephesians 1:19-20 explains that this is “his incomparably great power for us who believe.  That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead…”  Did you catch that?  The power of the gospel is the same power that raised Christ from the dead!  If you are a believer in Christ, that is the power that is at work IN YOU!  The difference this power makes is the difference between life and death – “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

As a church we are not worried about having the best programs or techniques.  Our worship services won’t wow you and our use of technology certainly won’t blow you away.  Our coffee is OK and the preaching is probably average.  But what we have is greater than anything you will ever find in the world – the power of the gospel.  Our teaching isn’t about improving ourselves – it is about dying to self and accepting the new life that is only available through the gospel.

The power of the gospel renews us.  It is an ongoing recreation of who God made us to be in the first place.  It is a hope and a strength beyond any situation in this life.  It is a renewing of strength not by improving us, but by substituting God’s strength in the place of our weakness.

The power of the gospel transforms us.  No one can come to Jesus Christ and accept the gospel (the good news of His death, burial, and resurrection in our place for our salvation) without being changed.  You cannot add Jesus on to your life like installing an app on your phone or adding him to the already crowded list of priorities in your life.  Transformation is a total change – a complete tear down and rebuilding of who you are.   After all, minor improvements on a condemned building might make it look better, but it is still destined to fall apart.  This transformation comes as the gospel redirects our lives, redefines our priorities, and renews our will to conform with God’s perfect will.

As a church, we will trust in the power of the gospel in everything that we do.  I believe this will make us better parents, employees, leaders, stewards of our money, and everything else in our lives, but not because we are simply improving ourselves in small ways.  It will be because God is at work in us through the power of the gospel for the glory of God.

How have you seen the power of the gospel at work in your life?  How can we continue to demonstrate the power of the gospel in our individual lives and together as the Church?

photo by flickr user Shane Woodson

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10 Things About Me

Since I’m kind of the new guy and some of you are still getting to know me, I thought I’d give you a hand and make a list of 10 things you might not know about me. These are in no particular order.

1.  I love building things with wood and I have a dream to build my own guitar some day.  I’ve done a bit of research and it doesn’t look too hard.  The only big obstacle is that the supplies are expensive!

2. I was Bible Quizzer and coached a Bible Quizzing team.  This required studying and even memorizing sections of Scripture and then answering questions in a Jeopardy like competition.  At one time I had about half of the book of Matthew memorized word for word (other quizzers memorized the whole thing!).  It was a great experience.

3. I did a lot of Drama in Jr. High.  Acting was one of my favorite things and I think God used it in my life to help me be comfortable in front of large crowds.

4. I have an interesting physical condition known as Spontaneous Pneumothorax.  This basically means my lungs can collapse at any time for no reason whatsoever.  For many people with this condition it is very serious and life threatening.  So far for me it has just been very painful.  Someday I’ll probably write more about this but it’s on my mind right now because my left lung gave me a not-so-gentle reminder of this yesterday morning and I’m still feeling a bit sore.

5. I went skydiving in college.  This was great fun.  Unfortunately it turns out that this is one of the things people with Spontaneous Pneumothorax are not supposed to do (along with mountain climbing and scuba diving).  Oh well, ignorance is bliss and it was a great experience.  It was a static line jump over Wisconsin during the winter.  Quite cold but I could see for miles!

6. I like being near large bodies of water.  Oceans, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, etc. – I find them all very inspiring!  Looking out over a large body of water helps me put life in perspective.

7. I am not athletic.  This is partially due to #4 (I quit doing gym class in school after my Freshman year of High School and had to write a report each week on some sport – this was not fun).  I like doing some athletic things but I’m definitely not an athlete.

8. I know how to knit.  Actually I should say I knew how to knit and have since forgotten.  My wife bought a beginners knitting kit for our oldest daughter and neither one of us could figure out how to do it.  Never one to back down from a challenge, I started researching and eventually ended up knitting my daughter a purse that I think she still has.

9. I love to cook.  Especially anything on the grill!

10. I do many of my own car repairs (I figure I have to round out the knitting and cooking).  I change the oil, brakes, rotors, I’ve done control arms and hubs, I’ve replaced sensors and mufflers and many other things.  I have had a lot of help over the years and learned a lot of things from various people (thanks to everyone who has ever helped me fix my cars!).

Well there you go.  A few random things about me.  What are some things about you that others might not know?

photo by flickr user paurian

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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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This Sunday at OCC – “Staying on Course” (Acts 6:1-7)


Everyday we are pulled in many directions.  This happens to individuals and to the church.  How can we stay on course?  How can we be sure we don’t sacrifice what is best for what is good?  This Sunday at Orchard Community Church we are going to look at the first part of Acts 6 where the leaders of the early church are faced with a tough decision and they take a stand for staying on course.  We will look at how their decision is a model for our church and for our lives.

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Passing the Baton

“What me…a leader?  But I’m not qualified”  This is the response I often get when I speak with someone about being a leader in the church.  This brings two things to my mind.

The first is that EVERYONE is a leader.  I don’t think we have a choice of whether or not to be a leader – we only have the choice of whether or not to be a GOOD leader.  Someone is always watching us and looking to us to set an example.  This makes us leaders to someone, somewhere.   The ideals we have for “leaders” should apply to all of us.  Not everyone will hold a leadership title, but everyone is in a position of leadership so the big question if we feel we aren’t qualified is what are we going to do about it?

The second thing that comes to my mind is that this means I have work to do.  When someone says they are not qualified to be a leader, I take it personally.  It is my job to equip people to lead in the church.  I don’t understand when pastors complain about not having quality leaders in their church.  If there are no quality leaders, then it’s the pastor’s job to do something about it!

A very good friend gave me a relay baton with the verse reference “2 Timothy 2:2″ printed on it.  In this passage, Paul tells Timothy (a young pastor) ” And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.”  Paul trained Timothy and he is telling Timothy to train others.   Godly church leaders don’t just fall out of the sky, they are built up, developed, and trained over time.

If you feel that you aren’t qualified to be a leader in the church, what are you doing about it?  Someone is watching you and probably even following your example – this makes you a leader so be the best one you can be.  Who knows where it may lead?  You might just be passed a baton that puts you in some official leadership position. Are you ready?  If not, then let’s get training!

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Fully Devoted Followers of Christ


Part 2 of the Mission of Orchard Community Church (Read Part 1)

The Mission Statement of Orchard Community Church is “We exist to make and become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ through the renewing and transforming power of the gospel for the glory of God.”


We think fruit is good for food, but to the fruit tree the fruit is all about multiplication – growing more fruit trees! The trees must grow and mature in order to produce fruit that will produce more fruit trees. At OCC, we want to be intentional about growing in our faith. We believe that maturity in our faith is not just for the “super Christian” just like growing up is not just for some children. Our goal as a church is not just to be believers in Christ, but to be fully devoted followers of Christ. We cannot choose to follow someone and then take a seat once that choice is made. Following implies movement – a journey from early faith in Christ to constantly walking in faith, living life as worship, and producing fruit that scatters the seeds of the gospel wherever we go.

Being fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ means that we are growing by spending time in His Word and seeking to live out God’s truth in everything we do. It means that worship is the goal of everything we do, not just how we spend one hour on Sunday mornings. It means we know we can never stop growing, never say that we’ve already put in our time, and never stop learning more about this incredible relationship that God has made possible with Him through Christ’s death on the cross.

We do this through studying God’s Word together in small groups, in Sunday School, and through the sermon each week. We will unabashedly challenge, encourage, and equip each other to grow in faith because we want to be an orchard of growing, fruit producing trees, not just a field of immature saplings.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

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alarm clockIt’s 6am and the sun has not come up yet.  My wife and kids are still sleeping.  It is very still, except for the sound of the furnace waking up.  I wonder what the day will hold?  

Father, help me take everything in this day and use it as an act of worship to you.  I want to do more than just get things done.  I want to live in prayer and worship.  It is easy in the stillness of now to say this, but soon the battle will begin to get little eyes to open and little feet to move.  In the rush, may my children know that I love them and, more importantly, that you love them.  Then, as I stare at my long list of things that I should do today, may I see each one as an opportunity to point others to your infinite grace.  May I grab hold of each opportunity and recognize the choice inherent in every moment to either rely on my smallness or to point to your greatness.  May the alarm be my call to worship each day.


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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

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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