This Sunday at OCC – “Power Drain” (Acts 4:32 – 5:16)

powerlinesA few days ago I opened our refrigerator and noticed it wasn’t very cold.  I looked at the butter and it was starting to melt.  I opened the freezer and our ice bin had become a bucket of water.  The really weird thing was that the light in the fridge was still on.  It appeared to be working.

One of the reasons I hear for why people don’t believe in Jesus is that all Christians are hypocrites.  People think we look like the light is on, but there is no evidence of God’s power at work in our lives or in our churches.  Our actions will proclaim what we believe to be true much louder than anything we say or preach.

My sermon this Sunday at Orchard Community Church is on Acts 4:32 – 5:16 which takes place at a time when God was doing amazing things in the early church.  Many people were believing in Jesus and becoming part of the church.  Evidently there were also others joining the church for the wrong reasons.   They were coming because it made them feel good, made them feel important or meaningful but they didn’t really believe in God.

We are introduced to one such couple.  Ananias and Sapphira are part of the church for what they can get out of it and not for God’s glory.  They want to look good on the outside.  They are a potential drain on the power of God at work in the early church.

But God was present with the early church and His presence in the church then as well as now makes a HUGE difference.  Do we live like we are in the presence of God?  Do we “do church” with the recognition that God is here?  If you are in the Greece/Rochester, NY area and don’t have a church, come Sunday and hear about how God dealt with the power drain in the early church in Acts 4:32 – 5:16 and what we can learn from this key event in the early church.

Oh, and before anyone gets us a new refrigerator…  It turns out my 2 year old turned it off using the knob inside the fridge.  It had probably been off for a few days without us even noticing.  How’s that for looking good but lacking power!?

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Home-Roasted Coffee

coffee roasting levels

I love coffee.  It has gone a bit beyond just drinking coffee and has become a sort of art.  A couple of years ago I saw something from a friend saying he was roasting coffee.  I immediately did what I always do when I am curious about something – I googled it.  Turns out, roasting your own coffee is actually fairly easy.  For years people roasted their own coffee.  The cowboys would carry unroasted, green coffee beans with them and roast them in a cast iron skillet over an open fire along the trail.  If a cowboy can do it, surely I can.  (This has yet to lead me to try cattle herding.)

This fed an addiction of mine and I’m not talking about a coffee addiction.  I have an addiction to learning to do something myself.  This has led me to learn how to program web pages, change my own oil and other car repairs, cook, do woodworking, and many, many other “hobbies.”  In fact, that’s how I started to play guitar – but that’s a topic for another day.  I guess I am a learning junkie and Google is like my heroin.

I got a popcorn roasting pan with a hand crank and found a website to buy unroasted coffee.  I had ideas of the wonderful aroma of freshly roasted coffee wafting through the house.  It turns out, fresh roasted coffee doesn’t actually smell that way until a few hours after it’s roasted.  While it’s roasting it smells a bit like burning dirt.  Not exactly a candle-worthy fragrance.  It doesn’t take very long to roast – maybe 8-12 minutes on the stove – but you have to keep the beans moving so you crank, and crank, and crank…. and quickly because you don’t want beans with burned spots.  On a steak the “grill marks” (burned parts where it touches the grill) add great flavor.   Unfortunately, burned spots on the coffee beans taste like licking an ashtray when you brew the stuff (and no, I have no plans to try that myself).

It’s also messy.  After the beans are roasted, they have chaff that has to be removed.  The chaff is small flecks of papery material.  I put the beans on a pan with little holes in it (made for cooking pizza) and set that on top of a box fan pointing up.  I have to move the beans around on the pan to get the chaff to release which basically puts my face in the path of the flying chaff.  Typically, I’m a bit sweaty after the hot stove and all the cranking and the chaff sticks – in my face, my ears, down the back of my shirt, in my hair…  Then, after all that work you would think you could brew a pot and enjoy the fruits of your labor, right?  Nope.  The coffee needs to sit for about a day before it reaches its full flavor potential.  It’s not bad right away, just not great yet.

So why all the trouble?  Several reasons – First because I’m cheap.  I can get a pound of  really good coffee for about 7 bucks unroasted while I was paying about 10-12 of the roasted stuff (note: the stuff that comes in cans does not qualify as coffee!).  Sure, I’m not going to put my kids through college this way, but it’s something (and there’s the addiction about doing things myself…).  The other reason, which has really taken precedence over any other reasons, is that it tastes amazing.  Coffee that has been roasted in small batches within the past day or two is the smoothest, most flavorful, least bitter coffee you can imagine.  You know how coffee gets gross as it cools – not this stuff!  And I can make it strong – really strong – and there is still no hint of bitterness.  I can roast dark or light and make my own blends.  Also, I get to pick exactly where my coffee comes from.  I don’t mean just the region or the country.  I get to pick from a particular farm in a country.  How’s that for control?  I researched growing my own coffee once but quickly decided that was way too much work.

So now I roast coffee about once-a-week.  All total it takes about 20 minutes from set up to clean up.  It’s a rewarding addiction hobby and if you come over to my house I’ll share some with you.

My next project is to make yogurt at home.  My wife, Becky, started making homemade granola which is amazing and it needs a friend.

What have you learned to do or make yourself that most people buy or pay others to do?

Edit: Turns out today is National Coffee Day! I had no idea. How’s that for timing?!

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Pulling Together – the Mission of Orchard Community Church and the Glory of God

Imagine 2 children on the same little league baseball team.  One set of parents hopes that the coach of that team will turn their child into an all star – whether he or she has the talent or not!  The other set of parents hopes their child will be part of a team where everyone has fun, gets equal playing time, and learns good sportsmanship.  Same team.  Same coach.  Same bat and ball.  Same rules.  But vastly different ideas about what the team is supposed to accomplish.  That coach cannot possibly satisfy both sets of expectations and is in for a long season!

Orchard Community Church decided to write out a mission statement before they hired a new pastor.  They also came up with a list of Core Values to communicate what is most important to this church.  As the new pastor, I am extremely grateful for the work that was done to help the church pull together in the same direction.  Over the next few weeks I will use Wednesdays to communicate and explain the mission statement and core values of Orchard Community Church.  It is my hope that this will help us at OCC to pull together with common purpose and direction.

Mission Statement of Orchard Community Church:  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.

To state a mission is to live with an end in mind.  It is an expression of a hoped for destination.  This focus becomes a unifying idea that allows us to evaluate everything we do against this all encompassing mission.  The end of the mission statement is really the most important – “for the glory of God.”

Why do we exist as a church?  There is a lot of pressure on churches to make people happy.  Often people come to church to be affirmed and to feel good.  But the church does not exist for the people.  We exist for God.  Saying that everything is “for the glory of God” may seem trite or overly grand, but it is absolutely essential because it provides the appropriate direction and boundaries for everything we do.  If we reach hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands with the gospel but do so in ways that do not promote and display the glory of God then we have failed.  If we form a fellowship of close friends and families who love each other but ignore God’s glory then we have failed.

For many people, the ends justify the means.  For the church, the end is the means.  We don’t just do everything for the glory of God, it is the glory of God at work in and through us that accomplishes all things.  It is the display of God’s glory in lives lived together focusing on Him, saved by Him, and doing all things for His glory that changes other people.  It is God’s glory that demands our worship.  It is God’s glory that drives our discipleship.  It is God’s glory that should be the goal of everything we do.

God has given us everything we need in Scripture to understand how His glory is displayed among His people.  We must be students God’s glory displayed throughout Scripture so that we can pull together as a display of God’s glory in this world on His terms, not ours.

How does understanding the mission of the church first and foremost as being for God’s glory help us to evaluate what we do?  Maybe we can get some conversation going in the comments to discuss this together.

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The Plan (for this Blog)

I didn’t want anyone to think I was giving some big theological overview of God’s plan in Scripture or history.  No, just my plan for this blog.  I like to plan and know that what I’m doing is accomplishing something.  I don’t want this blog to become a random collection of funny sayings and cat pictures.

So here is my plan (which is subject to change at any time).

Mondays will be a post about the previous day’s sermon.  I hope to link to the recorded sermon on the Orchard Community Church website, but right now we are a bit behind in getting the sermons online – which is understandable because the guy who does it is taking care of his wife and newborn baby!

Tuesdays and Thursdays will be random posts.  They might be something about me or my family.  They could be something serious or humorous (again, no cat pictures, I promise).  These posts might be something happening at Orchard.

Wednesdays will be ongoing series on a particular topic.  I am going to start with the Mission Statement and Core Values of Orchard Community Church.  Another series I have in mind is on the topic of church membership.  These series will probably go on for several weeks.

Fridays will be a sneak peak at the sermon for the coming Sunday.  I think it is good to come to worship with your mind already engaged so a little “warm up” is good.

I do not plan on posting on Saturdays and Sundays.

A few other things to know.  I won’t actually be writing posts everyday.  Some will be written in advanced and scheduled to go live on a certain day at a certain time..  Fridays are my day off so those posts will be written during the week and will go live on Friday mornings.

Comments are welcomed and expected!  I would love for this to be a dialogue.  Just in case you aren’t into the blog world that much (I’m still trying to figure it out myself!), just click the “leave a comment” link at the bottom of a post.  Anyone can post a comment and I will try to reply as soon as I can.  I welcome requests for certain topics or questions relating to a sermon or post.

I consider it my great joy and responsibility as a pastor to teach and disciple people as they follow Christ.  This blog is one way I hope to do that.  It is a tool and nothing more.  If nothing else, it is a great tool for me to constantly be thinking and evaluating what I am doing for God.  Maybe it will spur others on as well.

photo by Dunechaser

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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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The Church is…A Disciple-Making Community

Jesus gives the marching orders to the Church in Matthew 28:19 – “Go and make disciples.”  Our first priority, the best thing that we must seek to do above all else is to make disciples.  A disciple is a follower of Jesus.  Jesus looked at people and said, “come, follow me.”  He was telling them to spend time with Him and get to know Him.  He was telling them to trust Him.  He was telling them to accept His priorities as their priorities.  He was telling them to redefine their lives in terms of being His follower.  Being a disciple is more than just being a believer, it is being a follower.

If a disciple is a person whose life is redefined by Jesus and is following Him, then a Disciple-Making Community is a group of believers who are completely focused on growing in their relationship with Christ and helping (encouraging, challenging) others to do the same.  This involves evangelism, but it can’t stop there.  It involves offering programs to teach people and to help them grow in their faith, but it can’t stop there.  Making disciples is personal.  Making disciples is relational.  It takes time and sometimes it’s messy, but, according to Jesus, it is the number one priority of the Church.

This is going to take some effort to get right.  It just might cause us to radically redefine our priorities and our understanding of what the Church is about.  I hope that we care for people, but helping people is not necessarily discipleship.  I hope that we offer quality educational and social programs, as well as great worship experiences, but these are not necessarily discipleship either.  I hope that we maintain the tools God has given us – the budgets, buildings, property, and equipment that can help us do what God has called us to do – but the tools are only important to the degree that they are helping us to accomplish the mission of making disciples.

Would making disciples be at the top of a list of the most successful things we do as a church?  If not, then it is time for some serious evaluation and realignment to the mission Jesus gave us to “Go and make disciples.”  Let’s have business meetings, committee meetings, and staff meetings that are primarily concerned with discipling people.  Let’s recover the idea that being a leader in the church is about making disciples and bringing everything the church does in line with this important mission.

There are many things churches are doing that we should be proud of and feel good about, but if I’m understanding Jesus correctly, none of it means anything if we are not making disciples.

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Why do I want to Blog?

When I first approached a friend about helping me to set up a blog, she asked me a very important question – Why do you want to start a blog?  This was a great exercise to me as I thought about starting this blog.

First, I want to be able to have more of an impact on people throughout the week by getting them thinking about God and His Word as often as possible.   Second,  I want people in the church and visitors to be able to get to know me and my teaching better so that they can be comfortable coming on Sunday and already feel a connection.  Third, I just like teaching and I like writing so it seems like a natural fit.   I don’t want to try to make money off of it or get famous or anything.   I’ve gotten to a place in ministry where I believe that the size of impact is totally up to God and my focus should simply be on the depth of my faith and obedience.  I’m totally fine if I do this and only a handful of people read it.  I have a feeling it will be good for me no matter what.

The last phrase I wrote to her has really stuck in my mind and I’m curious to see what happens.

photo by Baddog_

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