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Archive for Mission

Jan
07

Lighting the Way to Life! (part 2)

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Yesterday I posted three observations about the Magi’s visit to the Christ child that reminded me of Jesus’ mission and subsequently our mission on Earth. But there’s a fourth reality in the story. This is the part we seldom discuss. It’s a good news/bad news reality. Because the gospel is good news, I’ll begin with the bad.

Darkness will always work to oppose light (Matthew 2:16-18).

In an unanticipated turn of events, Herod becomes enraged that he has been deceived, resulting in his murder of all male children under the age of two in the region in order to eliminate the potential threat of a rival king. It was an evil act of brutality. He didn’t want light, so he sought to extinguish it.

Here’s the bad news. The “spirit of Herod” will always be at work in our world to oppose light. It’s a unilateral reality that dates back to the beginning of time.
From Cain and Abel, to Daniel in the Lion’s Den, to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, to Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem with a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other, to The Apostles in the book of Acts, to the year 2016.

Anytime a person or a congregation begins to have Great Commission conversations, Satan will take notice and flex his muscles. Anytime we have a renewed commitment to reaching our community and serving our world, all hell, literally, will break loose. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that we can be affirmed that we are being guided on the right path! I believe Satan could care less about much of what goes on in today’s American Church. But when the Church begins to discuss mission and vision and start having Great Commission conversations, that church can plan on a counter attack. His attacks are a sign that we are pursuing worthy goals.

So what are we to do with this fourth reality? We can shrink from it, opting for quiet co-existence in the world, or we can work in the midst of satanic oppression and shine the light by centering people on Christ.

Who are you lighting the way to life and centering on Christ in 2016?
Who do you know living in darkness that needs help finding the way to life?

“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:14-16, NLT).

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Jan
06

Lighting the Way to Life!

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The church I serve just finished up an extensive vision process with Auxano last year. Part of the project involved the painstaking task of developing a new mission statement. After hours of meetings spanning two months we settled on “lighting the way to life by centering people on Christ.” There’s a lot of backstory as to why we settled on the imagery of light and centering which is related to our particular context. But one can’t deny the metaphor of light as a key element of any church’s mission.

Today is Epiphany, when Christians around the world celebrate the visitation of the Christ child by the Magi. That story is familiar, and I must confess that I never thought of the story in the framework of mission until this past week.

Here are three of the observations from the story that I related to our congregation this past week.

First, the purpose of the star (the light) was to reveal God (Matthew 2:1-2)
. Light is an important image in the Bible. It was the first thing God created in the creation story. It’s important to us, too! When you walk into a room, chances are the first thing you do is turn on a light. We also use it metaphorically, as in “let me shed some light on the subject.” Light is important because it reveals. It clarifies. In the Bible, light reveals God. It provides guidance so we can see God. Light guides our steps to Him.

God did not hide himself at advent. Angels announced his arrival to shepherds, and a star guided the magi from the east to see him as well. The light of the star was for everyone. Pagan kings and ceremonially unclean shepherds alike were welcome to Christ. Light is also important because it reveals something about us. It is to those of us walking in darkness that we discover God through his light.

Second, the star revealed God so the Wise Men could worship Him (Matthew 2:1-2, 9).
Light reveals God so we too, may worship Jesus. Everyone is a worshiper. Christ alone is the valid object of our worship. Every lesser object of worship is an idol. In the Bible those idols are clearly identified. Strange gods such as Ba’al, Asherah and Molech existed in the Old Testament. The New Testament is filled with gods from the Greek pantheon. Our idols today are a bit more sophisticated and subtle. But their threat is equally real.

The light that reveals God is designed to draw all people to Christ in worship. John Piper said it best, “Missions exists because worship does not.” The responsibility of any Church is not to create more attendees, but more worshipers of Christ.

Third, when the Wise Men worshiped Jesus, he changed the direction of their lives (Matthew 2:12)

Genuine worship will be a transformative experience. Last week we celebrated the start of a New Year. Resolutions were made and goals were set with the idea that through will power we can accomplish the things we need to accomplish on our way to self-improvement. There are habits to break as well as habits to begin. But we don’t need reformation. We need transformation. Reformation works from the outside in, while transformation is an inside job. Transformation doesn’t come by setting our jaw and looking in the mirror. Transformation comes by looking into the face of Christ. It comes when we see God.

Tomorrow I’ll post the final observation from the darker, lesser discussed part of the story. Happy Epiphany!

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Oct
14

A Face Like an Angel

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During the month of October I’m doing a series titled, Missionaries You Should Know. Last weekend I opened to Acts 6-7 and taught about an interesting character named Stephen. I like him, enough in fact, to have given his name to my son. A lot of things are obvious about Stephen. As a man of good reputation and full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom (Acts 6:3), he was selected to serve the widows who were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. He was confrontational. If you read his sermon in Acts 7, he doesn’t pull any punches as he preaches the gospel (Acts 7:51-53). Most notably, Stephen was the first martyr of the Christian church (Acts 7:54-60). I don’t suppose his confrontational style had anything to do with that.

I am intrigued by an obscure verse about his face. Acts 6:15 says, “At this point everyone in the high council stared at Stephen, because his face became as bright as an angel’s.”

Hmmm. I imagine Stephen to be a guy like me…middle aged…family and kids…job…mortgage…and I’m not stretching the truth one bit to say that no one (especially an enemy) has expressed that I have the face of an angel! So what’s this about?

I got to thinking about some verses like Matthew 18:10, where Jesus said that we should always take care in how we deal with children because “their angels are always in the presence of (the) heavenly Father.”

Then I thought about Moses in Exodus 34. He came down the mountain after being in the presence of God for 40 days and nights with a face so radiant that the people became filled with fear.

And then I thought about Jesus and his transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-2. The Bible reports that Jesus appearance was altered and he became radiant.

I think those clues help us to understand something about Stephen. Though he wasn’t an apostle, he did know how to live in the presence of God. When you spend time in the presence of God, you not only reflect God’s countenance, you also reflect his heart and his passion. No wonder Stephen stepped up and preached the gospel with such clarity and passion. He was simply reflecting the heart of the One he has spent time with.

My mother always said that I needed to choose my friends carefully because I would be influenced by them to become like them. It was good advice that Lisa and I have passed down to our own kids. When you spend time with God, it’ll show. You’ll reflect his values and mimic his interests. Our God is a missionary God, and if you spend time in his presence, you’ll become a missionary, too.

 

On the surface we would believe that the early church in Acts was blessed with outstanding growth due to the anointed preaching of the apostles; their balanced practices that would evolve into much of our church programming today; and a talented and committed membership base. Only when we gaze beneath the surface do we discover that the church was framed in the midst of adversity.

 

The early church had to deal with persecution enacted by religious leaders and later, the Roman government itself. The church had to confront hypocrisy within its own ranks as certain members chose to seek reputation enhancement over character development. But in Acts 6 we find the greatest challenge of all…the question concerning what kind of church they were going to be.

This weekend in worship I framed the conversation by describing the difference between a battle ship and a cruise ship. I’ve not been on a battle ship, but it appears that everything about a battle ship and everyone on a battle ship is there in support of the mission. From the crew to the bridge, every person has an assignment that relates to the mission. Every function is evaluated in light of the mission.

A cruise ship, on the other hand, is about the comfort of the passengers. Passengers pay the fare to receive first class service, food, and entertainment. The experience is wonderful, but it’s all about the passengers.
The difference between the battleship and the cruise ship is the nature of their mission. What if the early church would have assessed their needs and their size and determined to make their mission about their “passengers” instead of staying on point with regards to their mission? It could have been disastrous! Yet many churches face the temptation to focus inwardly on the care and comfort of their members versus reaching out to their communities and the world.
What did the apostles do when they faced the problem in Acts 6 regarding food distribution to the Greek speaking widows?
The first thing they did was to guard their unity. We find the apostle’s concern for the church’s unity implied in the text. In the New Testament, unity refers to “thinking in the same direction.” In other words, unity means that everyone is on the same page, thinking the same thoughts.
The second thing the apostles did was to retain their focus. Verse two made it clear that the primary focus of the church was and would continue to be the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Third, the apostles involved their membership. They didn’t assess the problem at hand and minimize it or act as though it didn’t exist. No, they developed a plan of action and sought the community’s participation in selecting people of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom to engage the need. Ministry has an important role in the church, but like football, the purpose of ministry within the body is to get the members back on the field of play where they can continue to participate in the broader mission of the church.
Next, they adjusted their organization. They made a systemic change that would serve the mission by serving the people on mission.
Finally, they increased their influence. This simple process enabled the church to continue its growth and extend its influence to the point that even Jewish priests were converting to faith in Christ.
As I prepared and delivered this message this weekend, I was amazed at the maturity and wisdom of the apostles who led the early church. I was even more impressed by their unwavering commitment to the mission of the church. When given the choice between remaining a battleship or becoming a cruise ship, they got it right. I hope we will too.
Categories : Acts, Gospel, Mission, Purpose
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