Revolution How to Impact Your World for Eternity
Rick Brown ChristBridge Fellowship Tomball, Texas
Copyright 2013 by Rick Brown. All rights reserved.
Revolution 1 Revolutionary Worship 120 men and women were huddled together. The door was shut tight. They knew if they were found it could mean death to them. Only a few days before, their leader, a revolutionary, had been killed. He was a threat to the power structure in place and the ruling authorities of the day. So they killed him. And in killing him they thought it would silence his followers. Give them credit. They were together. 120 isn’t a large number when you consider their country had a population of four million. They didn’t have deep-pockets. No high education. But they were doing just as they had been instructed to do. They were waiting. Waiting for the right time to act. Great revolutions of history follow a similar storyline. Grassroots people grow tired of tyranny. The status quo can no longer be endured. They’d rather challenge with a purpose than continue to live without hope. In fact, according to the book The Anatomy of Revolution, revolutions "are born of hope" rather than misery.1 The Hebrews in Egypt understood. Tired of the tyrannical Pharaoh. Weary of back breaking brick baking. They cried out to God and hoped for something better. The Israelites under Rome understood. Their land had become a Roman province in 40 BC. Under the Romans the Israelites knew religious freedom. They could worship without interference. But they also knew taxes. Jesus would be asked if they should pay the tax to Caesar or not. By the time of Jesus there were many forms of both organized and unorganized resistance to the Romans. Josephus actually mentions over a dozen of these rebel bandits or zealots, like Judas the Galilean and The Egyptian. An increasing sense of political unrest came with them as they hoped for something different. Maybe you understand too. You’re tired of the same old life. You look at your current government and your taxes and your hard work and it is leaving you hopeless. But because you’re reading this you most likely have some hope, or at least are looking for it. Then prepare yourself for what I’m about to say. God is leading a revolution and he wants to enlist you. Yes, “you.” “You” who get up, get dressed, follow the same route to work or school or wherever every day. “You” who come home to a mundane list of things to do or an evening of kids or in a book or in front of a television set. He wants to enlist you just as he did Peter. In The Bible series, produced by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey that has been seen by over 100 million viewers, one scene depicts Jesus when he sees Peter struggling in his fishing boat. Jesus wades out into the water to join him. Peter is somewhat cynical and tells Jesus there are no fish today. Jesus leans over the boat, touches his hand into the water, and Peter tries again. You know the rest of the story. 1
In The Bible mini-series’ rendition some liberties are taken. But I think the feel and intent is good. When Jesus invites Peter to follow him, Peter asks, “What are we going to do?” A typical thing we’d ask, especially men! Jesus answers: “Change the world.” I know that line is not in the Bible (the real one, not the miniseries). But as Jim Wallis wrote: That’s what we are going to do: change the world. Not just to save a few people from hell and get them to heaven, not to judge all the non-Christians, not to abandon the earth for mansions in the hereafter, not to make sure we all believe the right doctrinal things … No, Jesus came to change the world and us with it. To join him is to join the changing of the world with the in-breaking of a new order called the kingdom of God.2 That’s been his plan throughout Scripture. And his plan to change the world may surprise you. God begins by saving his people so they can worship him. Not just so they can sit back and wait for eternity. He saves us to worship him. We see this most clearly in the Old Testament book of Exodus. Moses went before Pharaoh to rescue the people of God. God told him what to say to Pharaoh: “Then say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness’” (Exodus 7:16, NIV). Notice two things. First, the reason God would rescue his people was to enable them to worship him. They were in a land that worshiped other things: the Pharaoh, frogs, gnats, flies, and cows. Yes, they were pretty hard up for things to worship. But the point is that God wanted his people to worship only One. So he rescues them. And notice where he has them worship: in the wilderness. He removes them from the land they have been living in and gets them away to a deserted place so they can focus on him. He brings them to the wilderness. You see, worship is about ascribing worth to God. But we have to know he is worthy before we can do that. So when God brings his people to the wilderness they learn things about him. When they’re hungry he brings manna. When they’re thirsty he brings them water from a rock. When they’re threatened he has them stand still and watch as he defeats their enemies. Israel learned what God was worth in the wilderness. Jesus did too. In the New Testament there are three places Jesus spends his time: the sea, the mountains, and the wilderness. He met his temptations in the wilderness—the same place you and I meet ours. And he got away to the wilderness or “deserted” places as a habit. Why? So he could focus on God. God will prepare you for his revolution only when you meet him in the wilderness. It’s what God’s people do. God’s people worship him so they can be transformed. Worship transforms us. Remember the old adage: “You are what you eat”? We could change that to 2
“You are what you worship.” Worship is designed to move you on a journey from a person wandering through life to one who is a warring revolutionary against the enemy. Sometimes it takes awhile. The Israelites thought they were ready to get to their promised land. Moses sent in twelve spies. When they came back ten of them said the produce of the land was great but so were the people. They said they were of such great height that they felt like “grasshoppers” in comparison. Only Joshua and Caleb reported that they were ready to take the land. Instead of entering the land they stayed in the wilderness until that generation died out, all except Joshua and Caleb. After forty more years they were ready. They were different. They trusted God and took the land. Jesus found himself with the same predicament in a wilderness setting. In Mark 6 we find the story of the feeding of the five thousand. What you might miss is that it is in a wilderness place. That’s important. And it’s important to note Mark says they go there because “many were coming and going.” “Coming and going” was a military phrase. The disciples had been out in the villages, apparently gathering up men who were ready to fight the Romans. It was customary to gather in a remote place, a desolate place . . . a wilderness to get ready for battle. They just knew this was how Jesus was going to bring in the kingdom of God. So they gathered the people thinking Jesus would prepare them for battle. He did. But he prepared them for a different kind of battle. So Jesus taught. And he taught. And he taught. He taught about the kingdom of God being near. He taught the kingdom principles from the Sermon on the Mount. He taught until finally it was late. That’s why he had to feed them. Afterward he “made”—a stern word—he “made” the disciples get in the boat and go across the lake ahead of him. Later he walks on the water. They see him and think he’s a ghost, so he gets in the boat with them. They are terrified! That’s the last place you want a ghost! But they realize its Jesus and he is still with them. And he stays with them until they are transformed. He teaches them that the kingdom of God is not political. It’s not about being the president of a country or the king of a monarchy. It is something within us that affects what surrounds us. And we enter that kingdom through worship. Through prayer. Through scripture. Through silence. Through fasting. Through giving. Through trusting. Through serving. Worship is designed to transform us. It’s not just showing up at a church and sitting through an hour and a half of some songs and some speaking and some bread and wine. Worship is about a life of following Jesus. You’ll think differently. You’ll behave differently. You will be transformed. And when you are transformed, you’ll be ready for revolution because transformed people change their world.
The Israelites did. Joshua marched them to Jericho after worshiping God. He gives direct orders to be followed. This time the people just do it. The Canaanites are still the same height. That hasn’t changed. The walls around Jericho are still the same thickness. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is their view of God. Worship has transformed their view of God until they are ready to follow any command. Jericho was only the first battle they won in taking the land as God had promised. The disciples did. Huddled in that room—all 120 of them—not sure what was going to happen next. Jesus had told them they would be his witnesses throughout the world. Sharing your faith with someone else might seem intimidating. But remember, the Greek word for “witness” is the word from which we get our word “martyr.” Who knows? They may have thought their end was near. They could have panicked but instead they prayed. The Spirit comes to them. They leave the room. They begin telling others about Jesus. Until at one point this is said of them: “These … have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). They started a revolution that changed their world. Grounded in love of God and love of each other. Their battle, so they learned, was not against Rome but against something much bigger than that. It was a cause they would devote their life to. And like many revolutionaries before and after them, a cause they would die for. Tradition holds that 11 of the Twelve Apostles were martyred. Peter, Andrew, and Philip were crucified; James the Greater and Thaddaeus fell to the sword; James the Lesser was beaten to death while praying for his attackers; Bartholomew was flayed alive and then crucified; Thomas and Matthew were speared; Matthias was stoned to death; and Simon was either crucified or sawed in half. John—the last survivor of the Twelve—likely died peaceably, possibly in Ephesus, around the year 100.3 Revolutions are dangerous. Revolutions are risky. They surface the brave. Want to get in on this one started by a carpenter 2000 years ago? Here’s your first step: devote yourself to worship. Worship with others. Worship daily. God saved you for worship. God’s people worship to be transformed. And transformed people change their world. 120 met in an Upper Room in worship and changed their world. It happened then. Let’s be part of it happening here, again.
Revolution 2 Revolutionary Relationships Re-Imagine
“Once you're in the military and you have a battle buddy, they're your battle buddy for life.” So says Dale Beatty. He was speaking of his good friend John Gallina. They both joined the North Carolina National Guard at age 18. They met there in 1996, skinny kids in green uniforms. After six years John had left the Guard. When Dale got orders to go to Iraq he called up his buddy and said, "Do you want a vacation?" John asked, "What are you talking about?" Dale said: "We're going to Iraq. Do you want to go?" John immediately signed up and they were deployed on mission together in 2004. In November of that year, while on patrol, their vehicle hit an anti-tank mine. Dale lost both his legs in the explosion. John—who was driving—spent a long time recovering from his internal wounds of brain trauma and guilt over hitting the mine. But no injuries could separate Dale and John. “The bond that you form doing the jobs and the dangerous missions we (did) is unbreakable.”4 There’s a camaraderie that happens when people serve on mission together. Jesus knew that. And so he built his followers by gathering a few good men and giving them field experience right away. He took them into conflict and demonstrated how to deal with it. He pulled them away from the crowds so he could teach them. But mostly he sent them out on mission. One place he does this is found in Mark 6. And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts—but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them. Imagine how these disciples must have felt. They’ve heard Jesus teach about the kingdom of God. They’ve seen him heal people of unclean spirits, leprosy, and withered hands. They’ve seen him calm a storm on the sea. And now he tells them to go do the same thing. How would you feel if you had been in their sandals? Excited? Anxious? Doubtful? What Jesus did then is no different than what any teacher would do now. For example, it’s the time of the year our modern day gladiators suit up and hit the practice fields all across America. You would think it quite strange, though, if all they did was sit in the classroom and study their playbooks. Granted, some of that is required. They have to know how the coach thinks. They have to know what the coach expects. They need to know what their role is.
Battle buddies' new mission: Homes for disabled vets, By CNN Staff updated 3:23 PM EDT, Thu July 4, 2013 http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/04/us/cnnheroes-beatty-battle-buddies
But there comes a time when it’s time to play. You can’t learn to throw or catch a ball or make a block by drawing diagrams on a whiteboard. You have to go do it. And when you do, you learn from your successes and you learn from your failures. Jesus had plenty of time with his disciples where they drew up plays. Some were pretty difficult ones: Love your enemies. Turn the other cheek. Forgive continually. Live without lust, greed or jealousy. Serve others rather than expecting to be served. It’s one thing to get those principles in your brain. It’s something altogether different to get them into your behavior. So Jesus allows the disciples to sit with him at times. But then he sends them. He sends them so that they can put into practice what they have been hearing. They weren’t sent alone. Jesus sent them out “two by two.” Jesus understood the value of community and he understood how community happens. We tend to think it happens when we get with “the right church or the right group” and they will meet our need for companionship and direction for life and spiritual growth. This is the problem we have in our churches today. People come to a church with the primary question being “what can I get from this group?” When you do, it won’t be long before the group fails to live up to whatever it is you are looking for. Then you’ll move on to the next group and there will be similar results. Unless you approach the group at some point with a different question. What if you asked, “What can I bring to this group to help it fulfill the mission of the kingdom of God?” That’s an entirely different question. And when it is asked you will find yourself on mission with others. A by-product that you will find is community, or a sense of belonging. Jesus sent his disciples out by twos. He wanted no one to go it alone. He wanted the followers of his way to experience life together and come back and report how things were going. Which they did. In Mark 6:30 we read: “The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.” I would love to have heard what they reported. I think it was like a quarterback and his receivers not being on the same page at all. Why? There are some clues in the text. “Many were coming and going.” This is a military phrase used of an army getting ready for battle. They go to a “desolate” place. This is the place where armies would gather for battle. Jesus views the people as “sheep without a shepherd.” In Old Testament usage this refers to an army without a general. And they sit down on “green grass.” In the desert the grass would only be green at Passover time, the time of the year the people believed the Messiah would manifest himself. If there ever were a time for a Messianic uprising, this was it. This is why Jesus taught until it was late. The disciples had gone out and gathered an army! They were ready for revolution. Their understanding of Jesus and his role needed to be recalculated, so Jesus taught them why he was not going to be that kind of Messiah. Undoubtedly he taught them what his kingdom was about.
But notice how he taught them. He had them sit in groups of hundreds and fifties. The phrase carries with it overtones of military divisions of the Jews in their wilderness wanderings. Some think Jesus may have been putting the men in groups according to the villages they came from. If so, Jesus’ approach may have been to have them hear his teaching together so they could go home and try to live it out together. Which is exactly what happened throughout the known world at the time. This ragtag bunch of revolutionaries got on track with the mission and in turn knew a bond that was strong. It was a bond that would turn the world “upside down.” How did they do it? They were an army practicing the way of Jesus in the world. Rodney Stark, in his book The Rise of Christianity, writes: “Pagan and Christian writers are unanimous not only that Christian Scripture stressed love and charity as the central duties of faith, but that these were sustained in everyday behavior.”5 In other words, they walked the talk. Tertullian (circa 200AD.) claimed, “It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. ‘Only look,’ they say, ‘look how they love one another!’”6 And then Pontianus, in his biography of the bishop of Carthage, Cyprian, writes: The people being assembled together, he first of all urges on them the benefits of mercy. . . . Then he proceeds to add that there is nothing remarkable in cherishing merely our own people with the due attentions of love, but that one might become perfect who should do something more than heathen men or publicans, one who, overcoming evil with good, and practicing a merciful kindness like that of God, should love his enemies as well. . . . Thus the good was done to all men, not merely to the household of faith.7 From the writings of the second and third centuries we see that the people of God were on mission together, doing the things that Jesus had taught them to do. And in doing so they found a community of common heart and mind. As the Apostle Paul wrote: “…but we have the mind of Christ.” So what does this have to do with us today? I think many people come to a church looking for what that church can do for them. And mainly they want community. They want to belong. Mainly because so many people in our disconnected world don’t belong. But the first word you hear from Jesus when you come to his people is “repent.” He tells us we have to “re-think” things. We have to “re-imagine” what life can be like. That is the mission of Jesus and his kingdom. Forming revolutionary relationships that re-imagine together with Christ what life can be like. Think of it like basic training. Military recruits spend ten weeks in physical and mental training. It’s intense and it’s challenging. But when they are done they are ready. 5
Stark, 86. Stark, 87. 7 Ibid. 6
What if we saw relationships in the church in a similar fashion? You join up with a group of people who are also following the way of Jesus and together you practice it. You heard that right. You practice it. No more just hearing the word. Your goal is to become a doer of the word. Here’s what it might look like. A group of six to twelve people meet together on a regular basis. The curriculum is to read what Jesus said to do and then try to do them. Jesus, as a rabbi, would teach his disciples by inviting them to make revolutionary changes in their lives—to risk new ways of being and doing. And so, each member of the group might commit to do one thing, as an experiment, between meetings. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor.” So you do something loving for a neighbor that week. Jesus said, “Care for the widows.” So you do something helpful for a widow on your street or in your church. Jesus prayed in quiet places. So you go somewhere quiet and pray and reflect. Jesus said, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” So you find a way to live more simply and give money to those in need. Just the thought of actually doing something with what we are learning would change things, wouldn’t it? You’d have to change from being a spectator to a participant. You’d have to change from being a passive consumer of the group to a committed contributor. And you’d have to view leaders in a new way. Instead of the group leader being a service provider, the leader would be more of what they were biblically: someone who lived in the present reality of the kingdom of God and was able to teach others, by word and deed, how to practice the Way.8 What if you could be a part of learning how to live differently and failure wasn’t something you had to worry about? I know this is Houston where “failure isn’t an option.” But what if that wasn’t the point? What if the point was, “what did you do? How did it go? What did you learn from this experience? How did God change you because of it?” That’s how he trained a bunch of revolutionaries to transform their world. They fought some battles together and found the relationships they had longed for. Dale and John did. When they got back from battle Dale’s community helped him build a house. John, who had been a custom builder, advised. When they realized that many veterans would not receive the kind of help they were getting, the two decided to form Purple Heart Homes, a nonprofit that has modified or helped provide homes to 23 disabled U.S. veterans. Their friendship did not end on the battlefield because their mission did not end there. “I'm glad we've been able to have this next chapter of our lives, doing good things and helping people out,” says Dale. 8
Scandrette, Practicing the Way of Jesus, 43.
â€œDoing good things and helping people outâ€? together. Sounds a bit like the Jesus way. Follow it and be part of the revolution.
Revolution 3 Revolutionary Ministry 120 were gathered in an upper room waiting for the signal from their leader. A revolution was about to begin that they could hardly imagine. And it would take a lot of imagination. As you
look around the room you see some fisherman, a former prostitute, and an IRS rep. You see a former zealot—someone plotting to overthrow the ruling government—or two. You see a carpenter and a baker and people of varying trades. What you don’t see is anyone with any kind of pedigree that would cause you to wager your hard earned money that this group could make a difference. But there they were. Waiting for a signal that would start a revolution. The signal came in the form of a sound and sight show. The sound was from heaven, like “a mighty rushing wind.” The sign was “divided tongues of fire” that came and rested on each of them. What they didn’t have in credentials they more than made up for with fiery passion: the fire of passion of God’s Spirit in them. Look around this room this morning. If you see more pedigree than passion, we’re in trouble. But if you see passion that’s all the pedigree needed for God to use you and use me to make a difference. But can God use you? Can God use me? I usually ask that question about myself each Monday morning. By the end of the day on Sunday I’m not convinced God can use me for much. Too many tapes play in my head of how a sermon could have been better or a different word to someone I talked to could have been more helpful or I carry the unrealistic thought that there’s some silver bullet that if I’d just done it this church would take off like a rocket. Screen credits of all the dumb things I’ve ever done roll endlessly in my head like the end of a movie. It takes till Tuesday before I’ve had enough time to listen to God again to where I realize, “If he used those first disciples he can use me.” (Note: don’t call Rick on Mondays.) I wonder if you ever have similar thoughts. Have you ever asked God the question, “Do you want to use me?” If not, that might be the only point you need from this message today. Start asking that question. But if you have asked that question, then maybe, like me, you have your moment or seasons when you wonder if he can use you. That’s when you and I need to sit in that upper room with the 120. We’d fit right in. And maybe, just maybe, their passion will get caught in us as the wind blows through them. You know what happens next. The doors fling open and the message is flung out and before they know it 120 has become 3,000 (Acts 2:41). They spend time in worship and they spend time around tables and they begin to share what they had with each other and with the city. The story of Acts is the story of God’s Spirit moving this revolution from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and to the ends of the world. And he did it with a group of stubborn, hard-headed, and slow to “get it” disciples who had never traveled further than a week’s walk from their homes. Does he still use people like them to change the world? Will he still use people like us?
Even on Mondays I know the answer to that. “Yes!” So I want to show you how he does it. As Acts unfolds we find that God begins with people who have passion. Not just a “got fired up at church this morning” passion that will fade by the time lunch is over. But a passion that comes from Jesus’ Spirit. That kind of passion comes by being with Jesus. Peter and John healed a lame man in Acts 3. But when you turn the page to Acts 4 “the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them” (Acts 4:1-2). Peter had stumbled when threatened during Jesus’ trial, but this time he stands firm. He won’t quit preaching. The religious bullies see the difference. Something has gotten into them. Their response is described this way: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Peter and John had been with Jesus. They had been with him before the cross but don’t forget for forty days they had been with him after the resurrection. It gave them boldness to do now what they didn’t do before. And it gave them a passion for the work of Christ in the world. Start there. Be with Jesus. Worship him. Read his word. Pray. Turn your thoughts his way every day. Passion is the first organizing principle the church needed then and the same is true now. And not just any passion. Passion for the things Jesus is passionate about. Mainly Jesus is passionate about people. He wants them in his kingdom. And he has called you and me to serve them. Pray that God will give you his passion. Revolutionary ministry happens when people are filled with a passion for Jesus. When you have passion you will start to see the needs. By Acts 6 the church, which had been devoted to worship and the word and each other, had grown. With its growth came needs. It is a pivotal moment in the life of the church. One of two things is about to happen. Either the church will become a spectator sport where the members tell the professionals what needs to be done and then sit back and watch them do it, or it will become a team event where each member brings something to help. The members bring the professionals—the Apostles—something that needs to be done. “. . . the Hellenistic Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food” (Acts 6:1). In other words, the Meals on Wheels program was catering to the Hebrews and skipping the homes of the Greek speaking widows. The Apostles could have handled this. They had already guided the church through its initial growth spurt. They had set up a system where people freely gave to help those in need. But as the church continued to increase in size they knew it would not continue to increase in health if they tried to micromanage everything.
So they gave the work back to the people. Ministry happens when people are filled with a passion for Jesus and start seeing needs. Last week you heard from Stephanie Rhoads about the beginning of a Women’s Ministry. Stephanie and some others at our Leadership Lift talked about the need for a place for women to support each other and minister together. In the spirit of Acts 6 the need was brought to the leadership. But not in the form it often takes in churches. Sometimes it is, “Here’s a need and what are you going to do about it?” Rather, Stephanie spoke about the need and asked what they needed to do to start the ministry. In doing so the final part of our big idea for today can be finished: Ministry happens when people are filled with a passion for Jesus and start seeing needs and use their gifts to minister to those needs. That’s what happened in Acts 6. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:2-4 One group noticed a problem. One gave direction. And another led the way in meeting the need with their gifts. In this case it was a group who had gifts of wisdom and were full of the Spirit. In other instances it will be people with the gift of administration or mercy or giving or teaching. This moment was critical for the early church. The Apostles had a role to play. Notice that theirs was not marketing or corporate business know-how or being a Christian celebrity. It was “prayer and the ministry of the word.” If they were sidetracked into something else, well, the church might have become something else. Instead they did what they were supposed to do. They shepherded the process. They equipped and empowered others to do the ministry. And because they did, good things happened. How do I know? It says so. And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. Acts 6:5-7 Passion helps us see needs and moves us to use our gifts for ministry. When that happens, people are pleased, the word of God increases, and so does the number of disciples. Even those outside the church—the priests—become part of the passion of Jesus.
On Mondays I have to fight Satan. I have to not let him convince me that God won’t use me. You need to fight him too. If you are with Jesus and get a passion for the things he’s passionate about, Satan will try to convince you too that God won’t use you. He’ll try to get you to believe that he only uses top executives or people with high degrees or GQ looks or high-powered personalities. But don’t buy it. Before Jesus came along the disciples were doing what we do: loading trucks or selling Starbucks or teaching teenagers. They were blue-collared with calloused hands and tired feet. There’s no indication anywhere that he chose them because they were smarter or nicer or more outgoing than their neighbors on their street. He used them simply because they were willing to be with him. Are you willing today to be with Jesus? If so, he’ll give you passion. And you’ll start seeing needs. And then you’ll also see that he has given you gifts to meet those needs. PNG. Passion. Needs. Gifts. That’s a revolutionary picture of ministry.
Revolution 4 Revolutionary Team Work 2008 was a special year for my family. We were awarded a grant to take a sabbatical. Our church encouraged that effort and we were able to take time off to retreat and renew.
The Lilly Foundation, which awarded the sabbatical, gives pastors advice on how to take one since most of us don’t. One of the main things they said to do was to “re-enter slowly.” “Don’t get back and immediately load up your calendar.” That was the plan. We had a “welcome back” Sunday on September 7. Having been gone I had nothing on the calendar that week. But no one told Ike. Ike barged into all of our calendars when he hit the Texas mainland on Saturday, September 13, 2008. People were displaced. The Red Cross called. And before we knew it we were open as a Red Cross Shelter. So much for a slow re-entry. We expected to take care of a few people. Within a few days we had about 140 men, women and children staying in our church building. People like Larry, aka “Jersey,” and Mark Gunn. Needless to say, our church building was not built to be a La Quinta. We needed food. We needed beds. We needed showers. We needed help. By ourselves there was only so much we could do. One church, with many of its own people without electricity and having to deal with all sorts of Ike related issues, could only do so much. Enter the community. Once word was out that people were being bused to ChristBridge, help arrived. The Mayor, the city manager, the city finance director, the police chief and fire chief and EMS chief showed up. Showers were secured. Food was found. Volunteers from other churches came to help. A common tragedy turned into a common task. A Hurricane’s mess turned into a community’s moment. What no one could do alone we were able to do as a team. Jesus wanted it this way from the start. In the beginning there were to be no Christian celebrities. His church was not to be made up of independents. He wanted inter-dependents. The church was not designed to be personal (as in individuals) but plural (as in collective). In his commission to the disciples he said, “You will be my witnesses.” “You” there is plural, not singular. In America we read these verses by ourselves and hear Jesus speaking to us as individuals. It may relieve you to know, however, that Jesus spoke Texan. “You” is really “you all.” He was (and is) speaking collectively to his disciples. The task of witnessing was not given to one person. It was given to all. The same is true with the whole of ministry in the church. Notice in the early depiction of the church you find plural nouns and pronouns and not personal: And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts . . . Acts 2:42-46
“They.” “Themselves.” “Every soul.” “All who believed.” “All . . . had all things in common.” “They . . . were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing.” “[they] attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes.” There are no superstars pointed out. No billboard signs of a pastor and his family. The church is not personal but plural. We have a tendency to make it about individuals. The Apostle Paul fought the same tendency in his day. In his letter to the church at Corinth he targeted quarreling that was taking place. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I followApollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 1 Corinthians 1:13 Paul lowers himself and elevates Christ. He goes on to teach that Christ is the head of the church which is his body. Note that none of us is the head of the church. And note that none of us, by ourselves, is the body. We—collectively and together—are his body. Paul goes on to use the body metaphor to teach us that we are individually different body parts. As in the human body, when the parts work well together there is health. When parts don’t work together problems surface. Problems had surfaced in Corinth. Certain individuals in the church had begun to think they were more important than others. They had lost their understanding of interdependence. The body was pulling itself apart. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 1 Corinthians 12:15-18 The Corinthian church surely got a laugh out of Paul’s analogy. Imagine a body that is only made up of eyes. You could see great! You could read the menu at Luby’s faster and further away than the next guy. You could make your decision quicker and place your order and then . . . then you’d realize you couldn’t carry your tray because you had no hands. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” It’s was a funny analogy until they realized he was talking about them. And he’s talking to us. We need each other. No one has all the gifts that Jesus has given to the church. You may think you can do without the rest of the church. You may think you have enough gifts on your own.
I was leading a workshop on how to discover your ministry profile at another church. The participants had worked through the assessments. I had them share what they had discovered about themselves. One man—with all seriousness—said, “I tested out with all the gifts.” Before I thought (and, by the way, it’s dangerous to speak before you think) I said, “Well, it’s good to meet you Jesus.” Luckily, he had a good sense of humor. And it gave us the teachable moment to discuss how we need each other. We all need each other in our separate churches. We need other churches, big and small. And we need other groups. In our area, if someone without insurance needs medical help, you and I aren’t going to be able to help very much. But TOMAGWA—a medical non-profit for those with little or no income or insurance—can. If someone needs resources for food, we can help some, but our community helps best through TEAM—a non-profit that carries a supply of food and resources for the needy. Not one of us can do what all of us can do. You see the issues of world hunger, the need for clean water, or the problem of malaria. We need groups like World Vision and Living Water and Malaria no More. And we need to connect with others in the community. Prior to Ike’s visit our church had discerned that God was telling us to build bridges to our community. We had asked the question, “If we disappeared tomorrow, would anyone notice?” We were afraid that with the exception of our preschool ministry—JOY School—the answer might be, “No, no one would notice.” So we prayed about it. Our name even changed to ChristBridge. We looked for ways to build bridges and get involved but had not done much. We asked God to help us get connected. Be careful what you ask for. God often will give you the desires of your heart in ways you’d never imagine. I would not have picked the third costliest hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. as an answer to that prayer. But God did. And now he has positioned us in our city to be a great help when help is needed. Not only when it surfaces within our church. But also when it surfaces within our community. And when God’s people work together as a team the result is witness. • • • • • • • •
We worked with the Fire Department who brought food and built showers. We worked with the Police Department who welcomed and helped organize a large group of new residents. We worked with the EMS who came to check the residents’ health frequently. We worked with the Rotary Club who donated meals and 35 cots. We worked with Wal-Mart who allowed shelter volunteers to go in after closing to buy extra pillows and blankets. We worked with a local doctor who sent volunteers to help with medical concerns. We worked with a Diagnostic Clinic who sent volunteers to help with medical concerns. We worked with a local bank who grilled 600 hot dogs for shelter residents.
We worked with a local pharmacy who helped with meds some shelter residents needed. We worked with Chick-fil-A who helped with meals.
Without saying a word but by working together lives were touched. You may remember Larry, aka “Jersey.” He said his experiences at the shelter were lifechanging. “There’s always good and bad but I’ve only seen good. I’ve met the greatest people in the world here,” he said. And Mark Gunn lived in an RV that withstood the storm, but for health reasons he did not want to go back home without electricity. He was glad the shelter was open to him. “Everyone went above and beyond the call of duty,” he said. “I wanted to meet the mayor and the police chief and I got to meet both of them.”9 We were happy to accommodate Mark. The group that sheltered here became a microcosm of what God envisioned. They organized themselves and volunteered to clean up the kitchen, playground, unload trucks, take out trash and do other daily duties. They worked as a team with a church and community that worked as a team. For a few days our city was what God intended it to be. Interdependent. Each doing its part. No stars, only servants. The church isn’t personal. It’s plural.
Revolution 5 Revolutionary Organization Imagine the conquering king. He returns to his capital atop his trusty steed. Trailing behind him are those he has captured. The ones who had seemed strong and threatening are now seen as they are: defeated and nothing to be feared. As he enters the gates people young and old—men, women and children—hand him gifts as a tribute in honor of his conquering work.
Now imagine the same scene with one major difference. As the conquering king returns he doesn’t receive gifts. Instead, he gives gifts. That’s the kind of king I’d like to have. And that’s the kind of king the Apostle Paul writes about in Ephesians 4. As he writes about this revolution of love that has formed the church he samples Psalm 68:18 where another king, King David, writes: “You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the Lord God may dwell there.” But Paul does an interesting thing. He changes a word. “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” Who doesn’t like to be given a gift? Christmas, birthdays, and anniversaries bring out the child in all of us. And yet many are unaware that they have been given a gift from Jesus, the conquering king. In fact, just before Paul says “he gave gifts to men” he wrote “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift.” You probably thought the grace you were given was the forgiveness of sin and eternal life. That is grace. But another aspect of grace has to do with the gifts Christ has given. And just as you’d want to go find the gift if I were to tell you there was one waiting for you in the church office, don’t you want to know what gift Christ has given you? He has, you know. Notice that Paul said grace was given “to each one.” Everyone has been given a gift. No one has been left out. That’s news that should create some excitement. Our best gift-giving through the years have come when we told our boys there was a gift for them and we had left clues for them to follow. As they solved each one and got closer to finding their gift, the excitement increased. In a similar way there are clues that have been given for you in Scripture. If you want to discover more about your gift follow these clues. First, look at the gift options. In the Bible there are four major passages that list gifts that were given to people in the early church. The four passages are easy to remember and there are only two chapters to remember. Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Then you have Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 4. There you will find that some have been given the gift of prophecy or service or teaching. Others are given exhortation and some giving. Still some have wisdom and knowledge or faith and some have discernment. Some preach and some pastor. Paul even says there is a gift of martyrdom, but you can only use that one once. Your gift will tell you who you are in the body. Paul and Peter, when writing about gifts, talk about the person more than the gift. They are wrapped up in you and others in the church. Some are more visible than others. Those of us who preach or lead in a public way are more readily seen but are not more important.
What if you look through these lists and don’t find a fit? My belief is that these are not exhaustive lists. God gives each church what it needs to do what he wants that church to do. So ask yourself, what is it I do well and enjoy doing? And then ask others to affirm that or tell you some other role you have played that they see as your gift. Once you’ve got an idea of what your gift is then follow your passion. Your passion will tell you where you will use your gift. Your passion is whatever gets you motivated. Some people love to help young children discover new things. Others would be terrified to be tasked with watching tiny tots. Some respond well to someone in crisis. Another person loves to be involved in a think tank to solve a problem. Some want to be given guidelines to follow. Others want to know the destination and be allowed to get there any route they choose. Passion is what brings a ministry team together. The group gathers around a common passion even though they bring different gifts to the ministry. For instance, a group gathers around a passion of helping the needy. The researcher in the group investigates the needs in the community. The organizer plans the steps needed to put on an event to raise money for the need. The teacher/speaker helps get the word out. The server says, “Tell me what to do and I’ll go do it.” The exhorter reminds everyone the purpose and the encourager keeps the spirits up. One person has a passion for the sick another for study. One enjoys helping the old, another the young. One gets excited to lead while another loves the legwork. Your passion is the place you will use your gift most effectively. Simply put, what is it that when you are doing it you enjoy doing it? Marcus Buckingham helps people find what they are good at. And he makes a unique distinction between strengths and weaknesses. He says that your weaknesses may actually be things you are good at, but they weaken you. In other words, you do not find joy in doing them. Your strengths, however, are the things you are good at and you enjoy from the beginning of the project to the end. Find your gift and marry it to your passion. But make sure you think right about your gift. Some have been known to forget that their gift was given to them. Instead of praising the Giver they begin to seek self-praise. There’s a classic episode of Seinfeld, the place where much truth is taught. George and his girlfriend are out and pick up a big salad to take to Elaine. George pays for the salad. But when they see Elaine, his girlfriend hands her the salad and Elaine thanks the girlfriend, who receives the “thanks.” Of course George can’t let it go since he bought the salad. But in a way he’s right. The giver of the gift should be acknowledged. Sometimes we forget to remember who actually gave the gift. We need to think right about this gift giving, especially in two areas.
First, we need to remember we are attached to the others in this body. To the Roman church Paul wrote: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3, ESV). He teaches this in the context of the gifts within the body. Think soberly. You need the rest of the body. Connect with it. Be with others. Think soberly. The rest of the body needs you. Some feel they have nothing to offer. Instead of thinking too highly they think too lowly. Think right about how God has put you in this body and how you are to be connected to use your gift and passion. And then think right about why you are to use it. In the gift passages Paul says these are to be used for the “common good.” In Ephesians 4 he says the gifts are for “building up the body . . . the unity of the faith . . . the knowledge of the Son of God . . . and maturity.” Then he adds that “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Want to know Jesus? Want to be more like him? Then think right about who you are as a part of the body of Christ. Peter puts it simply in 1 Peter 4: we are “to serve one another as a good steward of God’s grace.” Through his grace he has given you and me gifts. We are not to misuse them. We are not to not use them. We are to be good steward of them. That means we are to take care of them, grow them, and learn how we fit in the body in a way that, when all the parts are working together, will grow this place more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ. That’s the one common passion we should all have as followers of Jesus, that we all grow together to look more and more like him. That’s a gift that keeps on giving. Begin following the clues today to find yours. Determine your gift. Merge it with your passion. Think right about your place in the body. And then, whatever you discover has been given to you, use it! Be you. You are you-nique. And the church needs your you-niqueness. Peter writes: “As each has received a gift, use it . . . !” Don’t try to be someone else. I can’t speak like Martin Luther King. You’d probably laugh if I tried. But I can speak with the style and voice God gave me. And your job is to be the best you that you can be and not someone else. When you do you’ll find yourself enjoying life more. And you’ll find the church start to get stronger.
The King has already won the victory. And he’s already given gifts. It’s high time for you to get in on the celebration.
Revolution 6 Revolutionary Generosity Steve Jobs was a revolutionary. He turned an industry around. He did it by doing things differently than how they were being done. His pitch was: “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status
quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers.” The early church was revolutionary. Their pitch could have been: “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in Jesus and living differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by living lives that are beautifully designed and simple. We just happen to live generous lives.” The early church changed their world. They were said to have “turned the world upside down” in a very short time. How did they do that? Many factors were involved but the most dominant one is that they understood and practiced revolutionary generosity. You may remember that there were some in Jesus’ day who wanted a revolution and wanted to make it happen through violent means. But Jesus said “no” to that way. N.T. Wright, in speaking of “astonishing generosity,” writes: “Jesus summoned his hearers to the real revolution, which would come about through his people reflecting the generous love of God into the whole world.”10 How could this start a revolution? They challenged the status quo. They didn’t buy into their culture. People who merely conform to their culture never impact it. Something has to be radically different and unique. They showed the people around them more of what life could be by not living in the way of the culture but instead living in the way of Jesus. Look at these verses concerning God’s revolutionary generosity: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3:16 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Romans 8:32 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…James 1:17 God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. 2 Corinthians 9:8 God doesn’t just do a little. God doesn’t just do enough. What God does he does generously. And so did his first followers. The story of Acts tells us that instead of acquiring things they got rid of things. They sold what they had and took the proceeds to the Apostles to take care of needs. Barnabas—called the “son of encouragement”—takes his extra property, sells it, and gives it to the Apostles and tells them to help others with it. These people didn’t just give away the old shirts and dresses and shoes in their closets. Paul says in 2 Corinthians that one group—the Macedonian believers—gave even out of their poverty. These people had a vision for what God wanted his world to look like and, since they didn’t see 10
Jesus and the Victory of God, 507.
it happening, they set out to do something about it. They practiced revolutionary generosity. They were generous out of their plenty and out of their poverty. And because they did their culture took notice. The Bible says “they had favor with all the people.” They had been with Jesus. They had heard his teaching but they not only had heard it, they had been changed by him. They practiced revolutionary generosity. Us? Not so much. • Tithers make up only 10-25 percent of a normal congregation. • Only 5 percent of the U.S. tithes, with 80 percent of Americans only giving 2 percent of their income. • Christians are only giving at 2.5 percent per capita, while during the Great Depression they gave at a 3.3 percent rate. • The US Consumer debt is $2.7 trillion. This is us. The same people who rant about the government running up the national debt. • The average credit card debt is $15,216.11 Numbers like that can make us feel guilty. But that isn’t the point. The point for us is that these numbers make us pause and reflect on why we aren’t more different than our culture. If we are following Jesus rather than the world then we should look different. We think it’s a money problem. But Jesus said it wasn’t a money problem. He said it was a heart problem. Actually, he said the problem has to do with our eyes. "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:21-23 KJV) Jesus talks about a “healthy eye” and an “unhealthy eye.” The literal terms are “whole” or “single” for what is translated “healthy” and “evil” for what is translated “unhealthy.” The Jewish people Jesus was initially talking to understood these terms. Someone with a “single” eye was a generous person. They were generous with their resources and they were generous in the way they viewed others. Someone with an “evil” eye was someone who was stingy with their resources and would not do anything in the way of charity. So when Jesus spoke about the eye, his audience knew a “healthy” eye was a generous person and an “evil” eye was a Scrooge. The truth of his teaching is that generosity is a vision issue, not a money issue. Generosity flows from the way we see our resources and see the future. More on that in a moment. Paul talked about revolutionary generosity when he urged the Corinthian church to excel in the same act of grace as the Macedonian believers did. 11
“What would happen if the church tithed?” Relevant Magazine, at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/what-would-happen-if-church-tithed
But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 2 Corinthians 8:7-8 Why would we want to excel in “this act of grace”? Paul points them to the One we follow and his example: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). God has always had a special place for revolutionary givers. And so in chapter 9 Paul writes: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Paul says we give not because we are pressured to but because we are pleased to. Giving in a revolutionary way is countercultural. Our culture is one of excess. It is one of entitlement. “I deserve that so I will go into debt to get it.” That’s how our culture lives. Joel Lovell wrote about this in an article entitled “The Upside of Downside” in the New Yorker. He quotes the feeling a friend of his experienced after Christmas. My friend Kim, a former lawyer turned painter, was at our place recently. “I hate Christmas,” she said at one point. “By the time Christmas is over, I feel so sick of it, like I’ve spent all this money I shouldn’t have spent and I have all these things I don’t really need or want, and I feel gross about having indulged so much, and I just want that feeling to come that comes in early January when everyone just reins it in, when we all privately acknowledge that there was something a little dirty about what we just did. You know what I mean? That’s what New York has felt like. It would feel good, like in a good-forthe-soul-of-the-city way, to collectively focus on something else.”12 Her words hit a little too close to home. Maybe for you too? Lovell’s answer doesn’t go very deep though. He talks about a vision for a better NYC but his solution is not generosity. It’s NYC becoming a place where poetry reading would flourish. We need a better solution than that. We need to be more like the early church. And it starts with a vision, not for poetry reading, but for God’s preferred Kingdom future. We’ve got to see “what can be” so that when we see “what is” we are moved to act. Let me help you with that. Would you like to know what would happen if believers were to increase their giving to a minimum of 10 percent? There would be an additional $165 billion for churches to use and distribute. The global impact would be revolutionary. Here are just a few things the Church could do with the kind of money: • •
$25 billion could relieve global hunger, starvation and deaths from preventable diseases in five years. $12 billion could eliminate illiteracy in five years. http://nymag.com/news/features/43575/index3.html
• • •
$15 billion could solve the world’s water and sanitation issues, specifically at places in the world where 1 billion people live on less than $1 per day. $1 billion could fully fund all overseas mission work. $100 – $110 billion would still be left over for additional ministry expansion.13
That’s revolutionary. The change would be felt in local churches. If everyone became generous in their giving money would seldom be an issue. More people could be helped. Churches would be known for their generosity in the community and most likely have the favor of the people. So there are two visions you can choose from. One is a vision of your preferred future. This vision has to do with your money being yours and a future you are creating for yourself. You hold onto what you can, build up a retirement portfolio and get all the toys you’ll want for those golden years. Another option is a vision of God’s preferred future. It is a vision that is developed by following Jesus who spoke of a Kingdom where no one lacked their basic needs, where people felt safe, and where communities were at peace. It is a vision where you look at the world around you and see that the current reality is not what God wants and you do something about it. You realize that what you have has been given to you by a generous God who has asked you to be the steward of his resources. If you want to have the “healthy” eye Jesus spoke of the second vision is your only option. So how do we get our eyes to health? It requires a radical commitment to the discipline of simplicity. Look at the one you follow. Jesus had no place to lay his head. He led a simple life. And so can we. We have to ruthlessly eliminate the things in our lives that cause our eyes to be “evil,” or selffocused. We have to buck our culture. We have to recognize what our “needs” are and understand what our “wants” are. The “wants” are what get in our way of simplicity and generosity. Just look at your budget. What? You don’t have a budget? Maybe that’s the place to start. Because when you track your trips to Starbucks or the movies or how much money you are spending eating out, you might be surprised at what you find. Does this mean you should never meet a friend at Starbucks or go to the movies or eat out? Of course not. But it does mean these are areas we might cut back our spending on and use those resources in a generous way to help others. As JR Vassar points out, “Buying SB [Starbucks] Coffee is a privilege of the elite in a world where 1 billion people live on less than $1/day. Constantly eating out is privilege of kings in a world where every 3.6 seconds someone dies of hunger (majority under 5). Dropping $12 on a
Ibid., Relevant Magazine.
movie seems audacious when $10 could treat 30 kids for malaria.” 14 These are all good gifts that God has given, but moderation is the answer. Statistics like these are meant to cause us to pause. A few years ago Karen and I paused. We had been paying a monthly gym fee for each of us. We found a much less expensive place to exercise and cut the expense down to almost nothing. So we had money freed up. But instead of spending it on ourselves we decided to give it to the sponsorship of a child through World Vision and to a mentoring program based in Portland. And that wasn’t even generous. It was just something we did. And there’s something you can do too. So go home and ask God where you have been excessive and where he wants you to redirect those resources to help create a better future that looks more like the one the Kingdom will fully bring. Start with your local church. Make it a practice. Generosity is a lifestyle, not an occasional thing. We aren’t going to make a difference without resources. Jesus taught us to give. He knew the hold money has on us. You can love either God or money—not both. So he wants us to learn to let go, live in a revolutionary generous way, and change not only ourselves but our world. Generosity can revolutionize the way the world has been since the first Apple appeared in the Garden.