Welcome to the crazy family called the church.
I heard a story at the elders meeting this past week from Hope A.C. Church in Chicago. The question was how the Pastor of the church led the congregation from a struggling group of 30 people to several hundred people excited about ministry. One day the pastor found gang members tagging the side of the building. A large man with an imposing presence, he confronted them ~ “What are you doing?” As they stammered out a non-answer, the pastor said, “My favorite color is red.” Hesitantly they gave him a red spray paint can. He joined them defacing the building. Then they asked him who he was ~ he told them he was the pastor of the church. This made no sense! And he challenged them to show up the following Sunday. “We don’t do church” they responded. “I’ll tell you what,” the pastor said, “You come to church one time and tell me that afterwards.” Six of them showed up that Sunday. Today, I’m not sure how many years later, two of those six are in youth leadership and a couple are worship leaders. And the church has it’s finger on the pulse of the community.
Welcome to the crazy family called the church.
The Power of Prayer. All for ONE and ONE for all. Through prayer comes a face to face with God, and through prayer unity of those who are seeking God. Through prayer we each seek the Lord, and through prayer the Lord descends upon each one, so that there is a unity of spirit. All for ONE and ONE for all. Amen. The power of prayer. As I prepared for this message I happened to come upon a live camera of the Western Wall in Jersualem, as day turned to night…I kept the live camera going in the corner of my computer. I noticed a gathering of men perhaps 30 in number jostling together and soon the guys broke out into a circle holding hands, spinning and singing, and then I noticed in another corner of the wall the women were doing the same thing… Prayer and worship at the Western Wall.
RIP for this message does not stand for Rest in Peace. It stands for Respect, Integrity and Purpose. All three of these ingredients are needed to fully accept one another the Bible way. I love the t-shirt I read about that one church gives to people when they are baptized: “Made for more than just me.” We are made to be with others, to accept others, to be in a community.
Underline Rom. 15:5-6: this is, I believe, the bottomline purpose of the entire book of Romans. READ. A Spirit of Unity: the church that is united in one heart is unstoppable.
Ps. 34:3 says it this way: “Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.” True unity does not just happen, but it comes from the desire and deliberate decision to submit to Christ and work towards building others up.
There is nothing worse than disunity ~ is not that a primary criticism of the church? Is that not the reason more and more Christian people are declaring in some form, “I love Jesus, I just don’t like the church?” I think we have a measure of momentum here at SACC…. Let’s build on it. Although, in a few moments, I will reluctantly tell you about one internal squabble that is festering here among us.
A 104 year-old woman was being interviewed by a Christian reporter. The reporter asked, Is it easier or more difficult to live the Christian life the older you get. The lady thought for a second and said, “Well, there is less peer pressure!”
This woman has a point. Today the subject is stumbling blocks. If you think certain practices are fine, but your behavior might cause some people to question their faith, then take the more conservative route and join in solidarity with those folks. Lose the argument for the sake of your friend’s faith. Don’t be a stumbling block. In the case of the 104 year old woman, if she has been a rock solid Christian for decades, there are likely few stumbling blocks that could threaten her faith. I think I’m like the 104 year old woman! I see all sorts of people do all sorts of crazy things in the name of Christ and even though I don’t get it, there are few stumbling blocks to me! Just because I disagree with you, that does not make it a stumbling block. It is only a stumbling block if our behavior causes another person to be shaky in their faith.
Anyone remember the name of the evil organization Maxwell Smart was always fighting in the old TV show, “Get Smart”? [KAOS] Disorder, confusion, tension, fighting common. There is an old joke about three professionals who were arguing about whose profession is the oldest. The Doctor is the first to speak: “the Bible says God took a rib out of Adam to make woman. Since that clearly required surgery, then the oldest profession is surely medicine.” The Engineer shakes his head and replies, “No, no. The Bible also says God created the world out of void and chaos. To do that, God must surely have been an engineer. Therefore, Engineering is the oldest profession.” The politician smiles smugly and says with confidence: “And who do you think created Chaos?”
Confusion, tension, fighting has been around a long time….I have come to believe that for our day/ in this time/ the most important word in the book of Romans is PEACE. Peace to overcome tension. Do you know LuLu? if she spots my van coming towards her as she is walking down the road, she ALWAYS [gives me the peace sign], if she spots me across the Sumas RV Park she’ll get my attention and [give me the peace sign]. I call LuLu the earth lady. She keeps saying I call her a hippie…. She has captured the message of Romans: PEACE.
The theme of Romans: How sinful people can be an accepting, loving, affirming community centered in Jesus Christ. The leaders of the church in Rome have standards nobody can possibly meet so the circle of acceptance must be broadened ~ we are all sinners in need of God’s grace, nobody is worthy, No Not One. Yet God in his merciful and loving wisdom wants the best for us all. And he wants Christians to be together. And he wants Christians to bless each other. Not just tolerate each other, but bless…
In this old world there is too much stress, too much tension, too much fighting, too many opinions, too many disagreements, too many expectations of what other people should do. I’m talking about within the church. REPEAT. Too many people distance themselves from the church because there is too much.
I have fallen in love with a verse in today’s scripture that is a refreshing, realistic bit of wisdom, that describes the power we all have to change the world right now. Rom. 12:18. Unpack this verse ~~~~ you can only control your decisions, your behavior, the way you respond to other people.
The way of the world is the easier way. The way of God is the harder way.
A few days ago I went into the kitchen at our house and tried to open a new bag of cereal ~ a plastic pouch where you tear off the top then reseal it…I was fumbling around determined to succeed! Sally came into the kitchen, saw me struggling to get it just right, picked up the scissors ~ YES, I knew they were there on the counter beside me!, and said, “try these.” She deflated my challenge to tear it off. I took the scissors, cut a straight line in 2 seconds, the sealing part worked, I expressed disappointment at not meeting my self imposed challenge, and Sally says, “Sorry I don’t think like a man.” Obviously Sally’s brain works better than mine! The Lord wants us to renew our mind…. A new way of thinking….
In Rom. 12:1 the word “Therefore” is a hinge… based on everything up to this point, Rom. 1-11, this is how you respond: make a whole hearted commitment to the Lord. Take the hard way: renew our minds, do the will of God. The wholeness of the Christian life is not only what we believe, but also how we live, the choices we make, our attitudes towards others, peace between brothers and sisters, acceptance of one another.
The bigger the Lord, the easier we face the problems of life. The smaller our God the bigger our problems. Let us practice what John the Baptist proclaimed when he saw Jesus: “he must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30).
BTW, this explains today’s world: get rid of God in schools, in marriage, in society, and problems get bigger because we weak and ignorant humans are trying to resolve them. Bring back God and problems get smaller, because then we leave them in God’s hands. We don’t need to understand everything. I fly in an airplane, not having a clue as to how to fly one of those buggers, totally amazed. I googled how much a Boeing 787 Dreamliner weighs: When empty, 223,000 pounds! I don’t need to understand how such a craft stays in the air, how to take off and land, but I’m glad the pilot knows. How much more God? I don’t need to wrap my mind around every personal problem, I just need to know God understands everything.
Jesus Christ has risen from the dead! God believes in you…do you believe in him? The scripture today is a declaration that accepting Christ is a simple act of faith that transforms your life and heart: Confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart ‘God raised him from the dead.’ The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a key to a changed world and a changed life. The mouth: our external life, the heart: our internal thoughts. God believes in you… he sent Jesus to die for your sins, and now he is risen from the dead…. Do you believe in him? Listen to the words of a boy that has much to teach us about believing in Christ....VIDEO…. God understands….
A college freshman, Candi, braced herself for her final exam of the year. All answers were yes or no. Candi had not studied, and now that she was staring at the test she was overwhelmed. Then, in a moment of inspiration, she began flipping a quarter answering "Yes" for heads and "No" for tails. She zipped through the test and sat back while the rest of the class kept sweating out their answers. However, during the last few minutes of the exam period, Candi began to frantically flip the coin again. The instructor, concerned about Candi’s odd behavior, stopped by her desk and asked if she was ok. "Oh yes, I'm fine." Candi said. "I finished the exam a half hour ago, but I'm going back through it to check my answers!" (this is a joke! a few people asked me afterwards how it ended, and one person told me he really did flip a coin for answers for some questions and did better than the questions he "knew")
How much would you value a coin that always lands on the side you call? There is such a coin. On the one side is “Justice.” On the other “mercy.” (demonstrate the coin till it is “wrong”…..)
Today’s scripture highlights one truth: MERCY. READ Rom. 11:30-32. Mercy is always found with its companion, justice. Like two sides of the same coin. Something is wrong, there will be consequences: will it be justice, getting what you deserve, or mercy, not getting what you deserve. (I wish I could make this coin work….)
You know the story of the Ugly Duckling. The “Duck” that did not feel like it belonged. None of us deserve God’s salvation, yet he loves us anyway. Here is a shortened version of the story. BTW, I read Hans Christian Anderson was a lanky awkward boy growing up, the other kids would make fun of him; when he grew up he had a beautiful singing voice and was an outstanding actor… I think most of us fall into the ugly duckling trap. The story…
It is a beautiful summer day. The sun shines warmly on an old house near a river. Behind the house a mother duck is sitting on ten eggs. "quack, quack." One by one all the eggs break open. All except one. This one is the biggest egg of all. Mother duck sits and sits on the big egg. At last it breaks open. Out jumps the last baby duck. It looks big and strong. It is grey and ugly.
The next day mother duck takes all her little ducks to the river. She jumps into it. All her baby ducks jump in. The big ugly duckling jumps in too. They all swim and play together. The ugly duckling swims better than all the other ducklings. - Quack, quack! Come with me to the farm yard! - says mother duck to her baby ducks and they all follow her there.
The farm yard is very noisy. The poor duckling is so unhappy there. The hens peck him, the rooster flies at him, the ducks bite him, the farmer kicks him. At last one day he runs away. He comes to a river. He sees many beautiful big birds swimming there. Their feathers are so white, their necks so long, their wings so pretty. The little duckling looks and looks at them. He wants to be with them. He wants to stay and watch them. He knows they are swans. Oh, how he wants to be beautiful like them.
Now it is winter. Everything is white with snow. The river is covered with ice. The ugly duckling is very cold and unhappy. Spring comes once again. The sun shines warmly. Everything is fresh and green.
One morning the ugly duckling sees the beautiful swans again. He knows them. He wants so much to swim with them in the river. But he is afraid of them. He wants to die. So he runs into the river. He looks into the water. There in the water he sees a beautiful swan. It is he! He is no more an ugly duckling. He is a beautiful white swan.
If you declare somebody as hopeless, you are slamming the door in the face of God. You know what it is to have a slammed door: not welcome, don’t apply here. I was once told to never return to a store/// an art gallery/shop in Laguna, California. The shop specialized in Norman Rockwell prints and images. For some silly reason, I tried to get into a conversation with the shopkeeper that Norman Rockwell presented an image of American history that was an unreal slice of America that depicted an innocence that did not reflect real life... The shopkeeper had no idea what I was talking about; she was annoyed by my silly idea. The more she objected the more I tried to explain myself and the more she became annoyed. By this time Sally and Lucia had wandered outside to go to the next shop, so I told the shopkeeper I had to go…. “Good” she said, “and don’t come back.” ~ bam. A slammed door.
Last week two words were used to describe salvation: salvation is simple and available. Today, the emphasis is on AVAILABLE. God has made salvation AVAILABLE to all. Available. Back in 1995-96, when my father was dying of leukemia, a number of people in the community said if you need help with your children, I am available. One of the those very kind folks was Don and Shirley Nielsen. To be available. Several times we called on them because things came up. Available. What a great word. If you are looking at an old model car, you need to know if parts are available. Dating sights are full of people saying, “I am available.” Rooms at hotels, seats on a plane, tickets to the big game, a seat in the restaurant… In the world of opportunity, we set the course of our lives according to what is available. This week I spent a day with Andy A. working on a project. For 10-12 years he moved furniture, and in that time took on as many jobs as possible in order to get enough work, “I am available.” He told me about the hazards of moving furniture. One time he was going about his business; an elderly gentleman with memory issues accused him of stealing the furniture, “what are you doing young whippersnapper, taking my furniture?” and before Andy could say much of anything, the not so gentle man smacked him in the jaw! Being available may come with a price, but Andy’s philosophy, if you are going to find work, you have to make yourself available…
When I was growing up in Sumas, Mr. Phinney, the pastor of the AG Church, was a big man with a booming voice. He lived in the church owned parsonage of what is now Ernie White’s house across from Bob’s. The kids of the neighborhood played a lot outside, including Arthur Phinney, the son of Mr. Phinney ~ we always within a three block radius of our homes. When it was time for lunch, or time to come home, Mr. Phinney would go outside on his front porch and in his big booming voice yell out: A-R-T-H-U-R. No matter what Arthur was doing with us, playing flag football, climbing a tree, counting bottle caps, riding bikes, as soon as his father’s voice hit the airwaves, Arthur was off like a shot as fast as he could go headed home… if you lived in the neighborhood at that time, you remember….