February 4, 2018

Back to Basics - Service

Today we conclude our “Back to the Basics” series with: Service - work, obedience, and advocacy, cultivated by a heart listening to God and directed toward those around us. Before going any further let’s look at what the team that developed our core values wrote about them, “These four words are essential to God’s call among us and have been present from the very beginning…Each word represents the work of God’s Spirit in us. Each word requires the others to find fulfillment in the way we love, grow and share in our relationships with God and one another - intimacy and service are the more outward fruit, whereas presence and authenticity are soul nourishment that foster the fruit bearing.”

There are so many passages that the Preaching Team could have chosen but they centered on Matthew 25:31-46 for service. When we understand what Jesus was saying we discover powerful truths that will transform our lives and our service.

1. Returning to the basics we discover that service flows from our intimate relationship with God.

True service flows naturally from within us and isn’t drudgery or burden. In his book about the spiritual disciplines, “The Making of an Ordinary Saint” Nathan Foster wrote, “When we see someone intently listening to another human being we are witnessing service in action. When we see a person holding the sorrows of another in tender, loving care, we are witnessing service in action. When we see someone actively guarding the reputation of others, we are witnessing service in action. When we see simple, everyday acts of kindness, we are witnessing service in action.” Are we beginning to get the point?

When our service flows from our relationship with God we say, as the righteous, “Lord, when did we see you…?” Matthew 25:37. True service isn’t concerned with rewards, getting noticed or earning praise. Jesus warned against this in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. Matthew 6:1.

What we need to understand is every act of love, kindness, care and compassion we perform is an offering given to Jesus from a full heart. Just like Jesus we will serve the “least of these” out of a full and compassionate heart. When we are intimately connected to Jesus we see them as persons loved by God and not projects to fix.

2. Returning to the basics we discover that service isn’t flashy or about us.

We catch sight of this in what the King said the righteous had been doing for Him, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Matthew 25:35-36. There is nothing particularly flashy about any of this. Actually service can be hard, exhausting and thankless work.

In our celebrity worshiping and narcissistic culture everyone is seeking their 15 seconds of social media recognition. In this context service is absolutely counter cultural. Service isn’t glamorous; it is the quiet, consistent, often behind the scenes ministry that others may not even recognize as ministry. As often as not it is something we do outside the walls of the church.

Service has the capacity to free us from the self centeredness and self preoccupation so prevalent in our culture. As our focus turns to others we discover what Jesus meant when He said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26-28. We don’t serve for any reward; we serve because we love the King and those the King loves.

3. Returning to the basics we discover that service was a big deal to Jesus.

This is a hard passage because it is big enough to impact our eternal destination. We read these sobering words, “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 25:44-46.

Right up front we need to understand if this passage scares us into serving, or we serve to escape eternal punishment, we are completely off base. It‘s back to what I said earlier; our service flows from our intimate relationship with God. In the gospels we read that Jesus had compassion on the multitudes. He felt for and identified with those who were suffering. That was the whole point of the incarnation, “God with us!” When Jesus has us; heart, soul, mind and body, our service is motivated by love and compassion not guilt, shame, manipulation or coercion.

This is the beauty of an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. When we are in love with Him service is the natural result. We don’t live in fear of judgment. As Romans 8:1 declares, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…”

Conclusion

Before closing I want to read the full text of our core values statement. It says, At South, we value growing and sharing God’s love in true community and holistic ministry.

These four words are essential to God’s call among us and have been present from the very beginning:

Service - work, obedience, and advocacy, cultivated by a heart listening to God and directed toward those around us.

Each word represents the work of God’s Spirit in us. Each word requires the others to find fulfillment in the way we love, grow and share in our relationships with God and one another - intimacy and service are the more outward fruit, whereas presence and authenticity are soul nourishment that foster the fruit bearing. Each family member at South is encouraged to periodically evaluate their personal journey by these values. And by these same values, the spiritual leaders of the church family can evaluate our corporate ministry and relationships with one another.

There is something you can practice this week. It comes from Nathan Foster. In serving he said, “I passed by all the good parking spaces, I took the worst seat in a meeting, I stood last in line, I left the last piece of cake…, I let others board the plane before me. In every situation, I sought to become last. All these little acts became little deaths of my desire to be first, to have my own way, and it felt good.” This may be a way for all of us to serve in a new way. Maybe we could start a movement.

Opportunities for Growth:

  • Read Matthew 25:31-46 and ask God to give you a heart to see and minister to the “least of these.”
  • True service flows from an intimate relationship with God. Open your heart to a deeper experience so that you might discover where He will lead you to serve.
  • Are you able to identify who the least of these are in your world? They may be right in front of you in your home, at work or school.
  • Read over Nathan Foster’s quote and ask yourself, “What “little acts” do you sense God is asking you to practice?”

January 21, 2018

Back to Basics - Authenticity

On our journey “Back to the Basics” we will be stopping with Jesus at Jacob’s well. The well was located near the Samaritan city of Sychar. At the well we will listen in on a conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. This conversation is worth studying. There are so many things going on that it is impossible to do it justice with one sermon. In this conversation we see that Jesus was a master at sharing the good news. We observe in Jesus’ actions how no one was outside the reach of His love. We see how He treated women, outcasts and outsiders. Issues of sin, holiness, class, race, gender, equality and justice are all rolled up in an afternoon conversation over a drink of water.

While there is much in this passage our focus today will be on the second of our core values: Authenticity - real, true, and honest; living in the dynamic tension of brokenness and belovedness. In this exchange between Jesus and the woman we witness just how powerful a force for personal and community transformation authenticity is

Read the account from John’s perspective as he recorded it in his gospel. John 4:3-26, 39-42. Pay close attention to see if you can see authenticity at work.

1. Authenticity isn’t our natural default position.

If you aren’t sure you agree with what I just said think with me. When you are confronted with your hand in the cookie jar, or caught red handed in a compromising situation how do you respond? Is your default:

  • Evasion and deflection
  • Anger and hostility
  • Sarcasm
  • Self justification
  • Posing and posturing

These are the things most of us will do when we are caught in a compromising situation. Embracing authenticity isn’t our normal first response.

When Jesus reached out to the woman she immediately was defensive. This was to be expected; he was a man and a Jew. Her experience with either one would have left her scarred. Jesus knew this and carefully steered the conversation from asking for water to offering living water. She was moved by Jesus and asked, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” vs. 15. Jesus responded by getting personal, “Go, call your husband and come back.” vs. 16.

Her response demonstrated how authenticity isn’t our natural default. She was uncomfortable and tried to redirect the conversation saying, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” vs. 20-21. You can almost hear the sarcasm when she says, “You Jews.”

2. Authenticity begins with owning up to our sins, flaws and brokenness.

What I most appreciate about AA and recovery ministries is they begin with a call to authentic living. AA’s steps illustrate this:

  • Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  • Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

There can be no real authenticity until we recognize; we are a mixture of dust and divinity. As our core value acknowledges we are living in the dynamic tension of brokenness and belovedness. Our:

Dust = brokenness

Divinity = Belovedness

In the conversation between the woman and Jesus we see a growing owning up and authenticity at work in her. She moved from defensiveness and sarcasm to transparency and honesty. Rather than denying the truth she simply said to Jesus, “I have no husband,” vs. 17 and when Jesus revealed He knew there had been five men there was no denial. I believe she responded as she did because in her conversation with Jesus she didn’t feel shamed or condemned; she experienced authentic love and care.

3. Authenticity produces freedom.

Think about the woman. For a significant portion of her life she has been an outcast. So much so that when the other women of the community gathered at the well to draw water and socialize she was nowhere to be found. Then along came Jesus, a Jew, who ordinarily would have despised her, and low and behold, He reached out to her with His love. As He did this something inside her broke and the shame and the self loathing left her. She experienced a freedom that allowed her share what she had discovered in Jesus with everyone without shame or fear. John recorded she returned to town and told everyone, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” vs. 29. As a result of her witness, “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” vs. 39.

Authenticity has the power to set us free. In the mid-80’s Gordon MacDonald was one of the best known and followed pastors in North America. He pastored a large, influential church in New England and was the President of Inter Varsity Fellowship. Then the fall came. He had a moral failure; but unlike so many when it was discovered by his leaders, before it hit the news, he immediately confessed, made no excuses, blamed no one and resigned from everything. Then he humbly and repentantly began the slow process of restoration. About five years later his church asked him to return as pastor. He initially refused saying he wasn’t fit to serve. They chastised him saying, “So the grace you preached for all the years and offered to us isn’t good enough for you?” He returned to them. After this experience he wrote a book, “Rebuilding Your Broken World.” At the heart of the book is a section that cautions against carrying secret baggage. It warns against hypocrisy, self deceit and self deception. At the core it calls for us to live authentic lives where we experience the dynamic tension of brokenness and belovedness.

After meeting Jesus the woman no longer needed to hide, or run from community. She was set free and the result was many came to see and experience Jesus for themselves. There is a word here for us. When we embrace a free and authentic life it opens the way for us to share Jesus’ love and grace with others. He said, “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36. When this happens we are the same person on the inside as we are on the outside. This requires honesty, hard Holy Spirit work and may require a good spiritual counselor, mature friend, or entering into an accountability relationship. In the end living a free authentic life is worth the price and the pain.

Conclusion

We are all, in one way or another, the woman at the well; we need to sit with Jesus and drink the water He offers.

Opportunities for Growth:

  • Read John 4:3-26, 39-42 and try to approach the conversation from the woman’s point of view. How would you have reacted to Jesus when He first approached you? What in Him would have drawn you to Him?
  • Review the default positions people use when confronted. What is your natural default? What would it take for you to trade it in for authenticity?
  • Are you transparent and authentic enough to own up to your sins, flaws and brokenness? If not, what keeps you in bondage? Wouldn’t it be better to let go?
  • Are your experiencing the freedom that comes from living an authentic life? Or are you hiding and projecting a false image to the world?
  • Have you asked Jesus to give you living water so that you can be free?

January 14, 2018

Back to Basics - Intimacy

This morning we are continuing our “Back to the Basics” series by reintroducing the first of our core values. Core values are the no-compromise, non-negotiable guiding principles regarding how we do ministry and life together. Core values are meant to be embraced and lived out.

Our first core value is: Intimacy – a deep, abiding love relationship with God and a few others. To help us see the value of embracing intimacy as a lifestyle let’s turn to Luke 9:28-36. This is the account of Jesus’ transfiguration. If we read Luke 9 we see the big question being asked is “Who is this Jesus?” Who is this carpenter turned itinerate preacher who possesses the power to heal, feed the multitudes and cast out demons. In response to these questions Jesus asked His disciples, “But what about you?”…“Who do you say I am?”Luke 9:20. We can see in Jesus’ questioning of the disciples a desire for intimacy that would lead Him to take Peter, James and John up the Mountain. When we understand what happened to the disciples on the mountain we will be better able to embrace and experience our core value of intimacy.

1. There on the Mount of Transfiguration we discover that true intimacy involves a personal invitation.

Think with me, Paul reported that 500 witnessed Jesus alive following the resurrection, Luke records that there were 120 in the Upper Room and he also tells us Jesus sent 70 disciples out two by two. We know there were twelve disciples but on the Mount of Transfiguration there were only three invited. Luke specifically tells us, “Jesus…took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.” We need to understand in human form Jesus couldn’t have an intimate personal relationship with 500, 120 or 70. So, He picked three to pour His life into.

One of our common misconceptions about church life is we are to be intimately connected with everyone. Realistically, this is impossible. Jesus couldn’t do it and operated accordingly. This is why as the team thought about this core value we described it as “a deep, abiding love relationship with God and a few others.”

So how do we experience intimacy with God and others? With God we need to respond to His invitation. Remember Revelation 3:20 says, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” We must respond to Jesus’ invitation if we are to engage in an intimate relationship with Him. The great news is this deep intimate relationship is available to us through the Holy Spirit who is able to engage with all of us. So how do we experience intimacy with others? If we desire intimacy with others we must extend an invitation to them. The bottom line is we all need traveling partners. The question we have to answer is, “Have I accepted Jesus’ invitation to engage with Him in an intimate relationship and have I extended an invitation to a few others to join me?”

2. What we learn on the Mount of Transfiguration is true intimacy brings with it the promise of a life changing personal revelation.

Remember prior to the transfiguration the questions being asked was, “Who is this Jesus?” Do you think after Peter, James and John’s experience on the mountain that they had a new appreciation as to who Jesus really was? I can imagine years later as John and Peter faced persecution, imprisonment and suffering that this experience would have helped to hold them steady. They had heard God’s voice say, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” Luke 9:35. John would write, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim…” John 1:1.

We struggle with intimacy because we are afraid of rejection. We’re afraid if someone really knows who we are, what we have done, what is in our head they will want nothing to do with us. When we pursue intimacy we must be open to the personal revelation and the transformation it brings. We must also be willing to risk the pain that comes with transformation. But the risk is worth it.

The freedom, life and growth found in intimacy comes when we pray, “Search me, God, and know my heart;” Psalm 139:23. So the questions must be asked, “Have we asked God to truly know our heart and have we opened our heart to a few others?” Seek the few others prayerfully and carefully. You should never bare your soul to everyone. Be discerning and wise. Then freely enter in and when you do you will discover profound revelations about God, life and yourself and others.

3. On the mountain we discover true intimacy recognizes that some experiences are too mysterious and personal to share.

At the end of the passage we read, “The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.” Luke 9:36. Why was that? I believe what they experienced was so powerful, private, intense, and mysterious it defied words and was too holy to share. I think it was similar to Mary’s experience at Jesus birth where we read, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19.

Truly intimacy is sacred and holy. Not everything is to be shared.

I will forever be grateful for the two weeks I was able to share with the late Dallas Willard. In class he was asked to share some of the deeply personal, intimate and profound experiences he had with God. He started to share and suddenly stopped. Then he said, “I’m not going to share anything with you. I’m afraid if I share them that you will think you need to have the same experience. I don’t want you to look for what God has done for me and miss what He has planned for you.” Holy and sacred moments are sometimes too holy and sacred to be shared.

If we are willing to engage in an intimate relationship with God and others we will know mysterious, holy and sacred moments. They are treasures we guard in our souls.

Conclusion

So today I invite you to dare to risk and embrace Intimacy – a deep, abiding love relationship with God and a few others.

 

Opportunities for Growth:

  • Read all of Luke 9 paying close attention to verses 28-36. Travel with Jesus up the mountain and experience the intense intimacy with Him and with the others.
  • Answer the following questions:
    • “Have I accepted Jesus’ invitation to engage with Him in an intimate relationship and have I extended an invitation to a few others to join me?”
    • “Have I asked God to truly know my heart and have I opened my heart to a few others?”
    • What holy and sacred moments do I treasure in my heart?

January 7, 2018

Becoming Like Jesus - Together

On this first Sunday of 2018 I have asked God to cover you with “A New Year’s Blessing.” I have asked Him to cover each of you, and this place, with His grace, mercy and love. I have asked His Spirit to rest powerfully on each of you and on this place. I have asked that this year might be one of the most blessed, significant and impacting for the kingdom in South’s 112 year history. I have asked corporately and individually that we might experience an extraordinary visitation from God. I have asked that you, individually and corporately, would know God’s favor.

When thinking about where to begin during 2018 the Preaching Team, with input with the Spiritual Formation Team, thought that we ought to revisit our mission, vision and particularly our core values. The team felt it would be good for us to return to the basics and to revisit the heart of our calling. It is easy for a church’s mission, vision and core values to become meaningless words that have no real impact on the life of the body. Our hope is that these statements and values would come to reflect the heart and soul of those of us who call South Meridian home.

Today our “Back to the Basics” series will focus on our mission and vision. In the weeks to follow we will focus on each of our core values. My hope is we will experience a transformation when we embrace them. Now let’s go “Back to the Basics” by focusing on the scriptural basis of our mission and vision.

1. Going “Back to the Basics” in 2018 begins with “Loving.”

When the Journey of Discovery team was studying the Word to see what our focus should be we were led to “The Great Commandment”, Matthew 22:37-40. “The Great Commandment” given to us by Jesus came about because of a trap set by the Pharisees. Matthew records, “Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Matthew 22:34-36.

What they got from Jesus must have blown them away. In His response He summarized everything that God desires for His people. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” The Pharisees had a long list of rules and duties to keep. Jesus condensed and simplified it all to “Loving” God, ourselves and our neighbor. If all the law and prophets hang on this we felt we needed to pay attention to this for our life together at South.

When we travel with Jesus through the Gospels it becomes clear that “Loving” is at the core of everything. What I know is we won’t understand this until we see others as God sees them. Then we (will) affirm each person as a beloved child of God, created in His image to be in relationship with Him and to receive His unconditional love. As we receive God's love for ourselves, we extend it to everyone else, knowing that in loving our neighbor we are loving God.

2. Going “Back to the Basics” in 2018 will mean we are committed to “Growing.”

As we studied the Word the Journey of Discovery team was also led to “The Great Commission” Matthew 28:19-20. When trying to discover God’s calling it is impossible to ignore this passage. These are the marching orders Jesus gave to the church just prior to his ascension. Our orders state, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

When Jesus gave these final instructions to His followers He was calling us to engage in a life of discipleship, a life of continual growing. The focus of growing wasn’t the amassing of information, or learning the secret password to heaven and eternity. It wasn’t about learning the right behaviors. Growing is about engaging in an intimate relationship with God that transforms our entire being. When we are “Growing” no part of us is left untouched. This intimate, discipleship relationship with God affects us spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, and even physically. Paul understood it when he wrote, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17.

So we are called to seek to grow in relational intimacy, vulnerability and genuine community with God, our selves and one another. We seek to become lifelong learners, continually bringing our thoughts and views into alignment with the mind of Christ and the culture of His Kingdom.

3. Going “Back to the Basics” in 2018 will mean we are committed to “Sharing.”

While “The Great Commission” calls for us to be a growing people it also calls for us to be a sharing people. There can be no mistake that the first words of the commission are, “Therefore go…”

Go and what? Make Disciples, baptizing and teaching. How does this happen? It happens through “Sharing.” I love what is written, “Every one of us has something to give and something to receive. We also share in common our brokenness and need. Rather than denying this reality, we embrace it, believing that we are led by our brokenness into deeper love of God, self and neighbor.”

We aren’t called to share from positions of power and privilege. We are called to share as Jesus did; from a position of weakness, vulnerability and brokenness relating to people where they are. This is reflected our core values of: Presence, Authenticity, Intimacy and Service.

Jesus gave us one of the most powerful illustrations of sharing in the Parable of the Lost Sheep. Luke wrote, “Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Luke 15:3-7. We need to care for those in the fold and those out of the fold. It isn’t an either or proposition; we are called to do both. But our default must be to seek the lost sheep first. When I think about how South Meridian is strategically placed in this neighborhood I realize we are here to share our belovedness, our giftedness, our brokenness and our deep love for God, self and others right in this place.

Conclusion

One of my friends is a pilot who flies for Air Canada. To hold his certification he is required on a regular basis to return to the basics by taking flight simulator training. As I think about him it seems to me that we regularly need to “Return to the Basics” when it comes to “Loving, Growing and Sharing.” If we are willing to do this we will experience intimacy, transformation and joy.

Opportunities for Growth:

  • Read Matthew 22:34-40 and 28:18-20. Consider what Jesus’ words mean for your life.
  • Read Luke 15:3-7 and consider those who God is calling you to go and find.
  • Review our Mission, Vision and core values. Spend time considering how you might live these out.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to go “Back to the Basics” with “Loving”, “Growing” and “Sharing.”