Welcome to week 3 of Reality 2.0. The first week, in case you missed it I shared what the overall VISION for this new version of Reality Church is. Last week, I shared part 1 of our mission. Vision is what we are trying to do. Mission is how we will do it. If you missed either, I strongly encourage you to watch them online.
Here’s the short version as illustrated by this graphic.
Our foundation is God’s Word. We are grounded in God’s Word.
Our vision is to see lives changed by the transforming, restoring power of Jesus Christ.
Our mission part 1 is doing life together in authentic community.
Today I will be sharing our mission part 2.
The VISION is WHAT we are trying to accomplish –
the MISSION is HOW we will do that.
As I told you last week, what we will be doing comes straight out of the Acts 2 church – if you remember the series “Church: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” from a few weeks ago, you will remember that this was the GOOD. This was the first church. The ekklesia that Jesus would build upon the Petra – the unmovable rock – that is the foundation of our faith.
So, without further delay – let’s take another look at the Acts 2 passage that I’ve been talking about for weeks. You’re all going to have this memorized before I’m done – at least I hope so.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
From this brief look at the early church, there are two great missions that can be pulled from it. One is the more obvious one that I shared with you last week and is part 1 of our mission. This week I want us to take a closer look at verse 45 and the first part of 47.
Verse 45 says:
They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
Now, before you shut me down because you think I’m about to do a giving talk or ask you to start selling your stuff and giving it to the church – hold your horses, because that is NOT where I’m going with this.
This is another one of those verses that the simple English translation just doesn’t do it justice.
Looking at this whole section only at face value, it would easily give the impression that the early church was this commune of people who had given up their worldly lives and sold everything, abandoning society, and living in houses where all they did was listen to teaching, eat, and pray.
Well, that’s not how it was. Remember that these people didn’t have cars or trains. They had to walk everywhere, and they all lived rather close to each other and they didn’t have TV or computers, so meeting together every day was not unusual, and they didn’t need to give up their day job to do it.
Back to verse 45… They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
When you dig into the Greek and take a closer look – it becomes clear that in this particular statement, the key word is “need”.
It is true that some would sell their property and possessions and give the money to the apostles to use (as is referenced elsewhere in Acts), but this verse really implies that people were simply ready and willing to do so when a qualified need arose. In other words, they were ready and willing to help people in their time of need.
Now, looking at verse 47, it says that they “enjoyed the favor of all the people.”
Why would that be? Was it because of all the eating and hanging out together that they did? Was it because of all the listening to the apostles that they did? Why would they be favored by the people outside the church if all they ever did was hang out with other believers and take care of each other?
It’s because of what I talked about a few weeks ago.
They didn’t only listen to the apostles teaching – they acted on what they said.
And what did the apostles teach? They thought what Jesus said.
And what did Jesus say? Remember the “New Commandment” that was going to define how people would know that you were a follower of Jesus? Well, let’s recap it:
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
This was an echoing of the second greatest commandment – to love your neighbor as yourself.
And remember this is Agape love – not a feeling, but an action that is patient and kind and so forth – watch the talk from Wednesday night for a deeper look at the biblical definition of “love”.
These early Christians listened to the apostles who taught what Jesus taught about loving others and they went out and did it! They practiced loving their neighbors – which were the Romans, who had very low morals and almost no respect for life. The Christians were kind, and caring, and unselfish, and would take care of people and help them out – regardless of their social status. They scooped up discarded babies off the street. They took in the social rejects, and treated women with respect.
They looked after the Least of These!! Another teaching of Jesus – that the apostles surely repeated, and Matthew wrote it in his book:
31 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne.
32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.
35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.
36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink?
38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing?
39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
The parable continues with the King talking to the other group and condemning them for having the same opportunity but never acting upon it.
This parable is not meant to indicate that salvation is based on how well you serve the “least of these” – all other scripture is clear that salvation is not merit based. Therefore, these people’s righteous standing was not because of these acts of service, but rather they performed these acts because of their salvation.
They were exhibiting the Fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
They had experienced the life change that we have been talking about and it became evident in how they treated others – just as Jesus predicted when he said that people will know that you are my disciples by how you love each other.
And again, it was this kind of love that the early church practiced which gave them favor among all the people and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
And this is what we are going to do too.
This is other lane of our two laned mission. We will be a church that is dedicated to seeing lives changed by the transforming, restoring power of Jesus Christ. We will accomplish this life change by
DOING LIFE TOGETHER IN AUTHENTIC COMMUNITY
LOVING OTHERS TOGETHER THROUGH COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT.
Notice I didn’t say Community Service, or Service Projects – I called it INVOLVEMENT for a reason. I’m talking about being a church that is truly involved in our community – not just once in a while, not just the occasional PIN breakfast or Operation Christmas Child. I’m talking a continual, ongoing, regular involvement with numerous organizations right here in our local community. And not just us, but working together with the other churches who are like us and those that are NOT like us.
That doesn’t mean I am disinterested in foreign missions. In fact, I hope to some day send some of our people overseas, but there is a great need right here that is not being met.
- There are thousands of homeless people roaming the streets and beaches.
- There are thousands of inmates in the local jails.
- We have several hospitals and nursing homes full of forgotten people.
And most of it flies right under our radar. We don’t even see it. And if it does happen to show up on our Facebook, maybe we like it or comment and if we’re really brave we share it, but not much else.
Are we not called to love others? To actively engage in the imperatives of the one-anothers I talked about last week and that are strewn through the New Testament. I love the way James puts it:
14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
Many try to claim that James is arguing for a works-based faith, but he’s not – he’s merely pointing out the obvious fact that
a faith that claims to cause a person to be a new creation and to have the Spirit of Christ living inside him, but shows no outworking of the fruit of that Spirit or the character of Christ is a bogus and useless faith.
In other words – if nothing changes on the outside, then has anything changed on the inside? But that’s a whole sermon for another day.
Right now I’m trying to show you that an inevitable part of being a believer and follower of Christ is that you begin to care about the things Christ cares about – namely the intentional loving of other people, and in this case loving the people who don’t have anything to give you back.
It’s no mystery why he chose to specify the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned. That is basically the poor and the homeless and the people who are in the lowest stations of life. And Jesus is saying that when we care for those people, when we feed them and clothe them and care for them and visit them – then we are doing it for HIM!
And do you know what happens when you do this? when you give of yourself with no hope for a return – it does something to you. It changes you from the inside. You start to feel things like you never imagined. Your heart starts to break for things you didn’t used to care about. And you suddenly see the world in a different light, and your life is changed. But do you know what’s even better? When you show the agape love of Jesus to someone in an self-sacrificing and totally altruistic way – it not only changes you – it changes them as well!! It’s two for one!!
And that’s the kind of change and restoration that only Jesus can give, and he chooses to allow us to participate in handing it out to others and as we do that he gives it to us as well.
And so, this is the mission God has given me for this church. We will refuse to be a church only unto ourselves. Yes we will do plenty of stuff just for us – but we will also be an unselfish, caring church that the local community would miss if we were gone. And I’m not talking about doing this to get people to come to our church.
We will be a church that loves, that cares, that gives, that shares – because that is what God put us on this earth to do.
Because there is a hurting world right outside our walls, and we can no longer sit idly by and do nothing about it.
It is time for us to do something!
That song always gets me.
I have a dream that by some point there isn’t a Sunday that goes by that we aren’t in the middle of collecting things or money for some local needs-based organization – that almost every weekend there is an opportunity for you and me to go serve the poor, the imprisoned, the sick, the less fortunate. Where we do fundraisers – not for ourselves, but for some worthy cause. We certainly aren’t there yet. We’ll have to start small, and build, but this will not be the last time you hear about this.
So, if this kind of thing doesn’t sit well with you.
If you aren’t interested in being the hands and feet of Jesus in our community – then maybe you need to find another church, because that is what we are going to be about.
But if this resonates with you. If you feel your heart strings being pulled, and deep inside you know this is what the Body of Christ is supposed to do and you want to be a part of it – then stick around because we need your help. There is so much need out there, and I don’t personally know of all of it – so I’m depending on you to speak up. If you see a need that you think we should or could meet – speak up and let us know. It doesn’t have to be big and it doesn’t have to be small.
All you people out there with the Mercy gift – this is your turf. This is where you shine. What breaks your heart? Tell us about it – how can we help?
- It can be something big that the whole church does together – like feeding the homeless, or collecting goods.
- It can be something that’s more for a small group of people – like helping out a poor family that you know of, or visiting people in the nursing home just to make them smile
- Or it can be something that is more individual based – like joining the jail ministry and talking to the inmates about Jesus, or just buying that street corner guy some food and handing it to him – or better yet, sit down and eat with him.
While I don’t personally have the greatest mercy gift – in fact it’s pretty much my lowest score on the spiritual gifts test – God has been breaking my heart lately for the least of these – and he has put me in charge of a part of his body and commanded me to do something about it. So we will.
One issue that is very close to my heart is the plight of the least and most helpless among us.
Many people think of the Holocaust as one of the greatest atrocities in recent history. The Nazis were attempting to annihilate ethnic Jews and killed over 6 million of them in concentration camps. 1.5 million of them were children. While this was indeed a great horror and the pictures still haunt even us who were not even alive during that time – there is a far greater Holocaust going on even as we speak, and it’s happening right here in our country, our state, and our city.
Since 1973, in the United States – more than 56 Million human children have been intentionally murdered while in their most vulnerable and helpless state – before they were even born. 56 million.
- More than 37 times the number of children killed in the death camps of Nazi Germany.
- 40 times total number of American soldiers killed in all American wars.
- That is close to the population of California and Florida combined.
- Seven times the population of Virginia.
- It’s staggering. And that’s just in America since it became legal – not including before that.
- Worldwide it’s over a billion defenseless babies murdered.
A little closer to home, here in South Hampton Roads – on average 26 babies are killed each day, totaling a little over 6,000 each year.
Do you think God cares about this? Does it get any more “least of these” than an unborn human child?
Now, I didn’t say all of this to make you feel bad or to demonize the people that do this. If you have personally done this, I am not condemning you – and Jesus loves and forgives you just as he does me. But I feel that we as a church need to do something about this.
And the way we save these babies is by helping the frightened and desperate mothers who feel like they have no other choice. And one organization that does that is the Crisis Pregnancy Center. In 2013 they were able to save at least 523 babies lives by the services they provide for these expectant mothers, and I want us to be a part of that. So, you will be hearing more about that in the future.
I know some of these things can be out of our comfort zone – but that’s the point. Jesus didn’t say ‘whatever you do for your best friends, or the people you already hang out with, or the people you feel most comfortable with’ – he said for the “whatever you do for the least of these”, for the rejects, for the outcasts, for the people you don’t normally associate with. You stepped out of your shell and allowed yourself to be exposed to the hurting people of this world and in doing that you allowed me to minister to them through you – and guess what, while you were doing that, I was working on you too.
We may not be able to fix these things. We may not even be able to make a dent or a scratch, but only a pin prick.
But the one thing we can no longer do is NOTHING.
We must do something.
We must do all that we can.
We must care for the least of these around us because that is the very heart of God!
My prayer for myself and for this church is that we have the mind of Isaiah when he heard the Lord asking “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
He said “Here am I. Send me!”