Are We There Yet?
Serve Pt 2
Thanks to all of you who have sent in your road trip stories so far. I have one I have received that I would like to share with you today, where I am sure at least one person was asking “Are we there yet??”
“I was 9 or 10, and my parents were recently divorced. My cousins had a trailer across the border in a small town called Birch Bay. It was my week with my dad, and I was invited to spend a couple of days with them. We were waiting in line at the peace arch border crossing, which is one of the busiest in BC going into Washington state. Dad was in the front driving, and I was sitting behind him in the back coloring…or ummm writing letters. I decided to write “HELP” and hold it up to the window while waving at the cars beside us. Unbeknownst to my dad, the car beside us alerted border patrol, which caused us to get pulled over and put in separate rooms, and interrogated separately. They thought my dad was abducting me and fleeing the country. After about 3 hours of interrogation, a phone call to my aunt to confirm we were indeed going to her trailer, and a phone call to my mom to confirm that yes my dad does have permission to cross the border with me, we were free to go. From that point on, I was never allowed any writing utensils while traveling with either parent.”
I am sure that dad was asking “are we there yet??”…
As a church, in this age of COVID, isolation, and all the other oddities of it, some of us are asking the same thing. Life as the church has been completely turned upside down. We can no longer do what we were doing, and we keep hearing that when things do relax, everything could look different for us. It feels like a crazy journey. Who would have thought six months ago that church services would be completely digital? How many of you thought it would be accepted to sit on the couch sunday morning, in your PJs, with a coffee, participate virtually in our gathering with many other families who were doing the exact same thing? Who would have thought that in a matter of a couple weeks, all of our ministry plans would be turned upside down?
In the midst of all the crazy journey that is the church in this COVID era, what can we hold on to? Is there something about our life as a family that remains constant regardless of what is going on around us? Well, God’s plan for us is steady. We believe that He is asking us to be Generations Following Jesus Together. I am not going to unpack that this week, but if you want to know more about what that means, check out the last few Sundays. We believe this is achieved as we Gather, Grow, Give, and Go. We spent a fair bit of time talking about the first two. I want to again look at the third mission value: Give.
Last week we talked about how when it comes to serving others and giving of ourselves, God gives so you can give it away! God gives everyone abilities, talents, and resources so that we can invest in the lives of the others, and in doing so bring God honour, and build His Kingdom here on Earth. This week we are talking about how:
Faith and humble service go hand in hand
These two things truly are are the perfect pair. They go together naturally. When we think of faith, we should also think of humble service being an expression of it.
Please turn to Matthew 25:31-45. I want to give you some context. This passage is written in the setting of the church age. What this means is that Jesus’ earthly ministry is done has left Earth to be in Heaven with the Father. He has left His Holy Spirit to empower and commission followers to do His work while He is gone, to be the church. Like parable in prior section we looked at last week of the master who takes a trip and gives his servants responsibility over his wealth while he is gone, Jesus is gone but coming back at some point, and wants to see when He returns that His Church is carrying on His work, in His absence. This sets the tone for the next passage – what we are about to read is what Jesus expects of His Church.
1) Jesus looks to the intentions of the heart
The context here is future, when Jesus comes back to give final judgement for humanity and usher in eternity. He says that all the nations will come, and then He will separate the people, much like the shepherd separating the sheep and the goats. Important because: i) Goats and sheep would be in same flock, and would need to be separated as they were put in the fold to rest ii) Goats and sheep resembled to the point that only shepherd could see difference. There was something beyond the surface that they shepherd had to look to. It is similar to how only God can judge our heart and truly see if we are His. Only He can see the motivations behind what we do. Jesus looks to the intentions of the heart.
In the Bible, followers of Jesus are called sheep. As He prepares to judge humanity, sheep sit at the right, and goats at the left. That is important because right is always sign of blessing and the left is a sign of conflict and curse. There was something at a heart level that separated them as sheep, which allowed them to be on His right hand side. Is there something that sets you apart at a heart level? What is it that Jesus can see at a heart level that separates you as a sheep?
What characterizes those who are sheep?
2) The compassion you show reveals the nature of your faith
Jesus teaches that compassion and faith have to go together. Jesus invites those who are sheep to enjoy the eternity of the Kingdom that God had designed and intended for them to enjoy since before time began. Then He lists why they have proven themselves to be sheep.
Notice the characteristics that Jesus lists. They were not overly or overtly religious (such temple visits, observing religious traditions, or observance of ritual and laws – all be it very important. Jesus adhered to those same laws, rituals, and traditions). It was the everyday stuff. It was the stuff that came as they loved their neighbour as themselves because they loved God. It was the care and compassion stuff (food, drink, clothing, hospitality, visiting those in need).
Notice also how natural it was, and how every day it was for them. They didn’t do it because Jesus was there watching, or because He was specifically the beneficiary. Quiet and humble service was the right and natural thing to do as followers of Jesus. Jesus tells them that they fed Him, clothed Him, showed Him hospitality, and visited Him. Note their response in VS 37: “When did we see you?” They were so busy doing what came natural, and they didn’t do it because they saw Jesus as the physical beneficiary.
Yet Jesus says something: you may not have saw me, or thought of me as the beneficiary. But I was. Whatever you do the least, you do for me. The compassion you show reveals the nature of your faith. How they lived was important. It said a lot about their love for God.
Was Jesus teaching that in order to be accepted by God, it was all about their own good deeds? Was He teaching a works-based gospel? No. He was not contradicting the heart of the Gospel, and what would soon be written in Eph 2:8-9. Instead, He was confirming something similar to what His brother James would soon write in James 1:27, 2:14-17. The idea that Jesus was teaching was that their faith (what brought about a saving relationship with God) was based on grace, mercy, and choosing to place their trust and belief in Him. Yet the reality of their faith would find expression in their actions.
Who were the “least of these”, the ones that we should even be willing to serve even though it may not be comfortable, or be the people of prestige, position, and influence? There are different ideas among scholars. Some think that this refers to fellow believers who are in need. I agree with other scholars who tend to think it is a reflection on those who were marginalized, outcasts, the lowest of the low. The ones that no one else would associate with. In those days, they would be the poor, the disabled, the lepers, Gentiles, women. This interpretation reflects the ministry and heart of Jesus, where it seems Jesus did the most ministering and had the deepest compassion.
What is the application to us as a church in 2020? Your faith is not measured by how often you attend church, how much $$ you give, how much you read, how much you pray. Yes we need all these spiritual disciplines. They are valuable and are of crucial importance to help you grow in your faith. But where the rubber meets the road, where we see the outward proof of your inward faith is in your acts of compassion and love for others. Faith and humble service go hand in hand. The compassion you show reveals the nature of your faith.
How can we exercise compassion and love to the least of these? Who can we serve? HMC is trying to grow in this within our community. We see this evidenced by our involvement with Hanover Heights School, the warming center and use of our showers, gift bags given to some of our seniors, annual gift baskets at Christmas to those in the hospital, and our food pantry. How can the universal church be better? How can we personally be better on a global and local level? We have to stop thinking of those in need with an “us” and “them” mindset. We need to be willing to step out of our comfort zones, especially when it is inconvenient to show compassion, care, and love.
How will the church be relevant moving ahead? What sorts of things will impact the community at large for Him? Yes, our meetings are important to us and to our spiritual growth. But at the ground level, in our community, I propose that it is how we love the least of these that can help make the biggest impact. Our message gains credibility when people see it in action in our lives first. When they see us living out the teachings of Jesus, they are more inclined to listen to us.
Compassion and loving the least of these is modeled for us by Jesus Christ. It is ultimately how Jesus reached us who were “the least of these” by giving up His life for us.
Faith and humble service go hand in hand.
Are We There Yet?
4 – Serve
May 31, 2020
1 Pt 4:10, Matthew 25:14-27
The last few weeks together, I have been sharing my fun and wild road trip stories with all of you. This week I am going to do something different. HMC likes challenges, so here is your challenge (for all of you joining the live stream today, watching on Wightman channel 6, or reading this later on). I want to read your wacky road trip stories. Tell me about that trip where everything seemed to go wrong, or the strangest things happened, and where you found yourself asking “Are We There Yet?” Email it to me, drop it in the mailbox at the church and address it to me. And as they come in, I will read some of them on air. And the weirdest, most off the wall (Yet 100% true) road trip story is worth a prize. The deadline is June 13th, 2020. Send them in!
We have been talking about being on a bit of a road trip together. COVID has changed the rhythm of our church family significantly since the pandemic was declared in early march. No longer are we meeting physically in person. Everything we are doing now is digital – we are on Facebook, zoom, tv, and other streaming sites. To participate in the life of the church, you never have to leave your home. While I know there is a certain attraction for some, we also know that without the personal interaction isn’t the same. As we look to the future, we know that life in every single area will be different, and the church is no exception. And we long for clarity on what life will look like, what church will look like, but really, we don’t and can’t know as there are too many unknowns. And for some of us, we just want this wild road trip to end. We want to know “Are we there yet?”
In this time, there are some things for the church that regardless of how weird and awkward life gets around us will stay constant. Regardless of how the church looks and functions six months from now, we know that we will still be:
Generations following Jesus together
We will be an intentional gathering of all the ages who are united together in our desire to know, love, and follow Jesus deeper. We do this as we:
Gather: We understand that we are a community, a family. We understand that authentic community requires intentional participation. We understand that practical faith finds its expression within the setting of an authentic faith family and community. We need authentic community as we grow in our faith.
Grow: We understand that spiritual health, growth and continuing maturity is an important part of us being a community. So we strive to cultivate our heart soil so that when the seed of faith is planted in our hearts, it grows into an amazing, healthy, fruit bearing, reproducing plant. That is something that should be natural and normal.
Give: As we grow in our faith, we understand that a natural part of spiritual maturity is developing and using the gifts, talents, and abilities that God has given us to bring Him honour by serving Him and others. I want to spend a few weeks talking about why we give, how we give, etc…
1 Pt 4:10
God gives so you can give it away!
God gives you gifts, talents, skills, and abilities, and then He gives you the opportunity to put those things to good use, to invest them in doing His work (which often involves serving others). He gives so that you can give away. This is a natural and expected part of your own spiritual growth and maturity. Let me tell you a parable of Jesus that illustrates that point.
1) We are given gifts
Verses 14-15 are not just a nice story about a boss going on a journey and leaving his servants in charge, doing his work in his absence. It is a foreshadow of what is coming in a scene reminiscent of Matt 28:19-20, Acts 1:8 where Jesus leaves. He ushers in the church age in Acts 2 when the promised Holy Spirit comes and commissions the followers by giving them a fresh filling. And then the church carries on the work of Jesus in His absence, knowing that one day He will physically return.
Note the size of the wealth that was given. 1 Talent was equal to 15-20 years wages as day labourer. 5 talents = 75 to 100 years wages. 2 talents = 30-40. Huge investment… Think 550K minimum. This was a huge investment, huge risk in trusting these guys. The sheer size and risk of the investment reminds of the investment Jesus made in each one of us. He gave up His life, and then gives us His Spirit who gives us (who don’t deserve it) gifts to serve Him and do amazing things for Him. He gives us gifts to carry on His work in His absence. We are given gifts.
2) We can choose what to do with these gifts
The first two servants worked hard, gave it everything, and leveraged the wealth they had to make more back. They understood the reason the master gave them his wealth, so they worked it hard to get a return. They invested, they used what was given to them.
The third servant buries the money in ground so that it is safe and there is no risk of loss. In a day before banks, digging a hole and burying was a common safety and security measure to keep valuable possessions safe.
You have been given gifts, talents, resources, abilities by God. You can choose to invest it, take risks with it, work hard with it, and see a return in the lives of others, or you can keep those things to yourself. You can choose what you do with them.
3) We will need to show how we used those gifts
The master returns after a long time. He wants to see the returns on how the servants handled his wealth. They had to give an account.
This is a parallel to us in this church age. After what seems to be a long time, Jesus will return as promised (unexpected, like a thief). There is an understanding that all of us will need to give an account for how we used the gifts He gave us to carry on His work in His absence. Have we been wise with those gifts? Have we used them, worked hard with them, or have we hidden them?
4) God is looking for a return
In the case of the first two servants, hard work happens with the master’s wealth, and 100% returns are had. I don’t think the main focus here is how much the servants made back. The focus is that they took what was given to them, worked hard with it, and used what they had been given to grow a larger return. Faithful stewardship pleased the master more than the return. And because they worked hard for a return knowing that is what the master would have done, he rewarded them.
Contrast this to servant #3. He is the ‘sensible’ one that many of us can relate to. On the surface he did the wise thing. Taking care of wealth seems to be wise. But we see that he completely misunderstood heart of the master. He knew that the master always wanted a return for his hard work and efforts (harvesting where you have not sown, gathering where seed has not been scattered because maybe there still is something there) but saw him as only him being a hard hearted, penny pinching miser who wanted to protect his riches. So when the master gave the servants responsibility over his wealth, it was seen only as a protectionary measure rather than as the desire for them work hard with all with his wealth, and get a return.
The servant, not knowing master, fears him. Even though he knows his master expects a return, the servant is too worried about losing what has been given to him, which is why he buried the money to play it safe. This is why he takes the easy way out.
The master confronts him…Your words make you guilty! I gave you more than enough wealth to do a lot with, and you should know that I work hard for a return. And you know I expect you to work hard with what I gave you to get a return, yet you were fearful and lazy with what I gave you. There was no responsibility with my wealth!
God gives you and I gifts. Jesus left, the Holy Spirit came, and now all who know and follow Jesus have spiritual gifts that we are entrusted with while He is away. For some it is preaching, some teaching, some words of encouragement, some helping and serving quietly, some giving generously, some mercy and compassion, some are gifted in sharing faith and the Gospel. Whatever the spiritual gift, we have all been given gifts to use, to work hard with, invest, to build up His kingdom before He returns.
Which servants are we like? The ones who will work hard, risk it all, and put it all out there for a return? Or are we taking the gifts that God has given us and hiding it, fearful of the gifts, fearful of what it means for us and what we should do, fearful that God is more worried about protecting the gifts than using them in the lives of others and maybe sometimes messing it up?
God gives so you can give it away
How and who are you investing in? Sharing? Planting? Helping to grow the Kingdom?
Are We There Yet?
3 – Substance
Mark 4:3-9, 14-20
May 17, 2020
I want to tell you another road trip story where I (at times) just wanted to get home and was asking “Are We There Yet?” It was the road trip that was our honeymoon. I know, this is going to sound like the start of a really bad joke, but let me explain. Shannon was moving from Indiana to Canada. The plan was to load up a Uhaul trailer pulled by my car the day after our wedding, then drive through the night and get to Niagara Falls sometime the next day where we would spend a few days, then begin the long trip across Canada to BC where I lived at the time.
The trip began with excitement. We were saying goodbye to family when Shannon’s dad checked the trailer wheels, and noticed some play in one of the wheels due to a bad bearing. They figured we would be fine to get to Niagara, but we should get it checked ASAP. We left on our way. 45 minutes in, on the Interstate, all the trailer lights died. We had to park in a truck stop parking lot for a few hours only to find out that Uhaul wouldn’t help us until the next day. So, I had to rig up my own fix, bending the wires just the right way, and wrapping it in electrical tape. It was a ‘Red Green” fix without the duct tape. It seemed to work, and we were back on our way (at 2 am).
Then, the cat started up. Shannon had a cat we were bringing with us. And he did not like being in the car in his carrier, and he let us know about it with the most torturous, deathly sounding noises. There was part of me that wanted to turn around, drop him off at her mom’s and let him remain an American cat. But I reminded myself of my marriage vows the day earlier, and the cat stayed. We pressed on though, got to Niagara Falls, and had a wonderful time. I did get the wheel bearing fixed (they said they tightened it), and got the wiring fixed. And we went on our way.
I learned two lessons that trip: 1) I learned that not every hotel I get for free with Petro Points is worth staying in. Learned that twice as I pulled up to two dives (Toronto and Winnipeg) that my wife said no to.
I also learned that in Lethbridge Alberta, after driving across the country, that my trailer didn’t get the bearing tightened in Ontario because there was no bearing there! (I am still not sure what they adjusted that day.) The nice guys at the shop rigged something up so I could get through the mountains safely and home. All that to say, as much fun as we had in Niagara, we were ready to be home. We were asking “Are We There Yet?”
The last couple weeks, I have looked at how we as the church feel the same right now. The current COVID situation has taken us on a journey. We are likely a bit disoriented and lost, and we are tired. We want to stop, park our vehicle and say “aint it good to be back home again?”
Yet in our minds, we know life will be different after all this, and the church is no
exception. The problem is that we don’t know what this ‘different’ will look like. And that is unsettling to all of us. Yet, no matter how different things are, some things never change. God’s desire for us, his mission for us carries on even in such a time as this.
As HMC, we believe God wants us to be “Generations Following Jesus Together”. The last couple weeks we have looked at how Generations Following Jesus Together begins to happen as we be the family / community, or “Gather” as we call it. We talked about the need for togetherness. We talked about how authentic community requires intentional participation, and that practical faith happens in community, together. “Gather” is important. We “Gather” ultimately to do something… We gather to “Grow”.
Generations Following Jesus Together begins to happen as we grow more mature spiritually – growing up in our love, obedience, and service to God; as we grow in relationship with Jesus Christ.
(plant the spiritual seed in good dirt)
Let me tell you a story from Scripture about planting. You can find it in Mark 4:3-20. Jesus here uses a common experience, gardening and growing crop to make a significant spiritual point.
“Scattered it across his field” – This phrase helps us understand the farming technique of the day. The farmer would often sow seed without plowing. Picture a guy standing there, throwing seed out, and where it lands, it lands, even on a footpath. Seeds don’t sink into the hard ground of a footpath and they can’t take root. The seeds then become fair game to the birds. One can’t plant on a hard footpath. Substance matters.
The audience would know this reference well. The shallow, rocky soil was common out there. Palestinian terrain was often rocky and uneven, covered by a thin layer of soil. In this kind of ground, the seeds can at least sink into the soil and take root. But roots are shallow because the ground is too rocky for the roots to go deep. Plants with shallow roots often don’t survive the elements (unless they are specific to that setting). You can’t plant in the rocky ground either. Substance matters.
Sometimes the soil is good, is deep enough, and plants can begin to grow well. But if the plant is in the same bed as something that takes over and kills anything else, eventually whatever you plant will be destroyed. The roots get strangled below the ground as well as the plant getting killed off above the ground. You can’t plant a garden with the blackberry bush! Substance matters.
Just south west of Israel was Egypt. And in Egypt they had some of the best land for growing around known as the fertile plains around the Nile. Even in famine times, they would have crop growth (which is why Egypt survived the famine in Genesis). Seeds that fell on the fertile soil with the right conditions sunk in and sprouted roots that went down deep. Plants grew up strong. Plant in the right soil! Substance matters.
In those days, yields of 5-15X were common and considered great. Jesus says that with things planted in the right soil, the yields will be much higher: 30, 60, and even 100X. Jesus obviously isn’t actually giving a farming lesson. He is speaking of personal spiritual growth and the right conditions, or the right substance for that growth to happen. He says “if you are hearing me, pay attention. Reflect on what I am telling you, figure out the lesson, and apply it!
What happens next is a conversation in private between Jesus and His disciples that I am not going to unpack or try to explain today – it is a whole message in itself. But the summary is that they tell Jesus that they don’t understand what He is saying, and they wondered why He was choosing to speak in parables rather than bluntly and completely clearly. Some of it had to do with the hardness of the hearts of people and that they would not accept what Jesus would say if He were to put it clearly, but more about that another day.
Jesus then begins to explain it, which is where we pick up in Vs 14.
We don’t know who the farmer is. Maybe a foreshadow to the apostles who would carry on the message of Jesus. Maybe it is a reference to Christ Himself. The farmer isn’t actually the main character or focus here. What we do know is that the farmer takes the seed of faith, the truth of Jesus Christ, the revelation of God to the hearts of those who don’t have it with the purpose of that seed planting, sprouting, and growing spiritual crops in their hearts. Hearts are the soil.
The hard soil / footpath is a reference those who had hard hearts to the message. In those days it would have been the Pharisees and Scribes. It is a reference to those who heard the message but would immediately say a determined no to what is shared. And when that happens, Satan comes, like the birds, to snatch away the seeds of faith because he wants to snatch away the opportunity for spiritual growth. Some of his preferred tools are temptation (Mk 1:12-13), and blinding people to truth (2 Cor 4:4). Substance matters.
The rocky, uneven soil is like those who hear about Jesus, and are very excited to believe it, but aren’t strong enough or ready in their heart to stick with it when the going gets tough. They are fickle. Maybe there is something sitting beneath the surface in their hearts (like sin for example) that doesn’t allow for the roots to go deep.
When He talks about “falling away”, it is the same term used in Greek for when the disciples deserted Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as He was arrested.
The application here is that life will be difficult, sometimes even as a result of faith in Jesus. If the heart is weak and not willing to be fully committed to the truth you know, live, and believe, then heart is like rocky soil where any spiritual growth is superficial. The roots are surface. Any “heat from the sun” (pressure, persecution ) will cause it to wilt and die. Jesus says all this knowing that in a matter of a few years, the church would be born and endure persecution for faith. Substance matters.
The thorny soil represents a divided heart. It represents someone who wants Jesus sincerely, but also wants everything else. It represents someone who wants to serve Jesus, but also wants to serve wealth, possessions, position, influence, affluence, etc…
This is something Jesus dealt with this in His time as evidenced by the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-25). This young man comes to Jesus, eager to follow Him and be in His crowd. Yet Jesus tells the young man something shocking and hard: sell everything you have so that you can follow me. The man hangs his head in sadness and goes away. Jesus here is highlighting a principle mentioned elsewhere in Scripture (Matt 6:24) that we can not serve two masters. We will love one and hate the other.
The application is that unless Jesus is the #1 spot in your life, and if you aren’t willing to commit to Him at the expense of anything else that would seek to take the #1 spot, your heart soil is divided. It is like a garden with thorny vines; like a flower garden with a blackberry bush. The vines and the thorns strangle, they hold, and they kill off vegetation. Substance matters.
Those whose hearts are open to the Truth, ready to commit themselves for the long haul, let Him be #1 are like a garden with rich, fertile, good soil. They are not just surface deep.
Jesus mentions a couple things that need to happen to cultivate good soil; they need to: hear and accept so they can bear. And when the small seed of faith (tiny like a mustard seed) is planted in that soil, there is a huge crop that comes as a result. Not just the expected good 5-15X yield, but something bigger than can be imagined.
Substance matters. The soil needs to be cultivated, prepared, and mixed with the right nutrients for growth. When our hearts are open to Christ, when we cultivate our hearts, take out the rocky things that stop us from growing deep, take out the thorns that would seek to kill out future growth, we see a huge spiritual harvest in our lives. We see growth in our faith. We see growth in our relationship with God. We see others come to a faith relationship with Christ as well because we drop spiritual seeds from our lives (like any plant that self – reproduces).
How do we cultivate the heart soil? How do we have substance so that there can be that kind of spiritual growth? It has to start in our mind, our spiritual heart. We have to want to put in nutrients and special soils into the mix: Intentional daily prayer, worship, knowing God’s Word, walking with others who will encourage growth and keep accountable, dealing with the weeds, the thorns, the rocks, taking responsibility for our own spiritual growth.
(plant the spiritual seed in good dirt)
1) It is a normal part of the community life. It is natural. (Acts 2:42) What do we see in this verse? We see that as the community got together, that spiritual growth was a normal, natural, and expected part of the community life. They devoted themselves together to the Apostles’ teaching. They devoted themselves together to prayer. They devoted themselves together in the taking of the Lord’s Supper.
2) It is needed if we are to be healthy. (Heb 5:12, 1 Cor 3:2). We need more than spiritual baby food: milk. We need solid healthy spiritual food. Just like we would expect our children to grow out of just drinking milk so that they can be strong, healthy, and full of life, God designed us to do the same spiritually. To stick with the milk, to not crave more and want more is to not grow up to be healthy, to be full of spiritual life, vibrant, strong. It denies us the opportunity to be who God designed us to be.
May 10, 2020
I remember the longest road trip I had been on. It was the summer of 2002, and I was driving to Indiana from BC to see Shannon. The drive was close to 8000km round trip. It was in the Summer, in a small car with no air conditioning (when that was considered a bonus / luxury feature). I love to drive and explore, so I loved every minute of it. I got to encounter tons of new things, see lots of new states and scenery. I even drove through Chicago for the very 1st time and lived to tell about it (those of you who have driven there know exactly what I mean). The most exciting thing for me was that I knew that at the end of the journey, my girlfriend who I only got to see a few times a year would be waiting.
The longest part was the drive home. In one long day, I drove from a location in Indiana, 2 hours south of Chicago, to Lethbridge AB, just south of Calgary. It was 25 hours straight of driving. I Would never do that now. But I was 20 and invincible. I would have stopped if I could but had no money – even the $39 Motel 6 was too much. I tried stopping to rest in my car at rest areas and truck stops, but I learned something about driving through Minnesota and North Dakota at night. Not only is it humid, but it has big bugs. I had no A/C so I was dripping from sweat inside the car if I tried to sleep. And if I opened the window, who knows what ‘friends’ would crawl in. I was uncomfortable to say the least.
I got an hour here, 30 minutes there for a nap. But kept drinking coffee and driving as much as I could (maybe that is why I like Tim Hortons so much now!). I was eager to get to my relatives in Alberta – to a comfortable bed, to a home cooked meal, to air conditioning. I could see the destination in the distance, but for now was stuck in my car. In my mind, I was asking several times “Are We There Yet?”
A couple weeks ago, looked at how we as the church feel the same right now. The current COVID situation has taken us on a different, inconvenient, and uncomfortable journey. We feel stuck, much like I did in my car with no AC, and big bugs outside. We have been on a long trip (because of quarantine, social distancing, closures), and we just want to get out. We hear the governments talking of a gradual opening, and we can’t wait. But unlike me where I knew where I was going, we don’t.
We know life will be different for everyone after all this, and what the church looks like is no exception. The problem is that we don’t know what this ‘different’ will look like. And that is unsettling to us pastors, to MC, to you as the congregation. Yet, there are some core values that are the same no matter where we find ourselves as a church and what is going on around us. We have a vision and we have a mission that God has called us on, even for such a time as this.
As HMC, we believe we are called to be “Generations Following Jesus Together”. We do this as we “Gather, Grow, Give, and Go”. Over the next several weeks, I want to unpack this more in light of our changing world around us. A couple weeks ago, I started talking about the Gather part, the importance of community. I said that “Practical faith happens in community”. Today, want to spend a bit more time talking about the importance of “Gather” – the need for community. And how:
Authentic community requires intentional participation
The church was designed, not to be a building where people meet, but an authentic community who can meet in a building, or today is meeting online; a community who can meet at any time and any place. But in order for the church to be an authentic community, as God designed it, there needs to be buy in, or investment in it. The church family without participation is not authentic community – just a disconnected, dysfunctional gathering of people.
Why should we intentionally become an authentic community?
- God created the church with community in mind
-> There are three different potential applications here to “On this rock”. Not going to unpack them today. But later in this series I want to.
-> Notice one word… on this rock I will build _ church….
-> The church belongs to God, and He builds it. Takes the pressure off of us. Not about our methods, philosophies, wisdom, assumptions, ideas. It has to be about what God wants!
-> First time this term “church” is used in the Bible. And it is Jesus who is speaking of an entity, something He is about to create. A very specific Greek word is used here that goes beyond a light suggestion or casual implication of what the church was to be.
Ekklesia: A gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public space, an assembly. In a Christian sense, an assembly of Christ followers gathered for worship. Root words imply being specifically called out to a different purpose. Implication is that God calls us out specifically to be His community, His church, His family.
-> When we look through the pages of the NT, whenever the word “Ekklesia”/Church is used, it is referring to the group of believers as they come together as a community. It is not referring to individual, fragmented, isolated life apart from the rest of the church community. The church has always been a gathering.
-> The church isn’t what we do, it is who we are when we gather…..
-> Authentic community requires intentional participation. This appears to be what God had in mind when the church was created and named. He created the church with community in mind.
Rom 12:3-8, 1 Cor 12:12-28
- We find our purpose within the church community.
-> Both these passages describe something called “the body” that those who follow Christ were a part of. The word used in the original Greek manuscripts was:
Soma: Describes a grouping (small or large) of people who are closely united into one society or family, and in the NT, the church.
-> All who follow Christ are part of a body that is both global – meaning that we are united with all those who follow Jesus around the world – and a local expression.
-> The church is the place on a local level where that family / body identity finds
realization and purpose.
-> It is within this community that each one of us is given gifts, abilities, skills that this community body needs to function to the fullest. Meant to be used and find fulfillment in this community / family.
-> When we do not plug in, we deprive ourselves and the church community of the full potential available. When we do intentionally participate, we and the church are able to become a life giving, life changing, vibrant authentic community where we find purpose and connection.
-> Like the passage says, we need each other, just like the body needs all its’ parts.
-> Authentic community requires intentional participation. We find our purpose within the church community.
- The church community was intended to be at the centre of daily life
-> Often times, the church community has adopted a tendency to be separate from life in general. We are pretty good at compartmentalizing.
-> The church community becomes just something we have to do. Not influential, not important, not a priority.
-> What happens when the church community becomes compartmentalized is that it becomes irrelevant. When it isn’t a part of our general daily life, it loses its impact in any of our life.
-> Yet this is not what Jesus intended when He designed His church – the community of His followers who were a united body, who needed each other to function, to find fulfillment in the setting of gathering together. He intended His church to be at the center of daily life.
-> We see this as we go through the New Testament and look at all the ways in which the church was intended to be a part of daily life.
-> By no means an exhaustive list. Go home today and google “one another verses in New Testament”. I also likely have a list that I will post this week online. And not going to unpack these today. But gives you an idea.
Where needs were met: Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-35
Where disputes were settled: 1 Cor 6:1-6
Where support was given: 1 Cor 12:26, Gal 6:2
Where encouragement was received: 1 Thess 5:11, Heb 10:24-25
Where accountability was offered: James 5:16
Where prayer together happened: James 5:13-15
-> This is just a snapshot of all the daily things of life in which Jesus intends for His church (us) to rise up, live, and function together as a community, as a family. The church community was intended to be at the centre of daily life. But in order for this to happen, authentic community requires intentional participation. You need to want to plug in, to be involved, to identify here.
COVID 19 has completely changed the landscape of the church, and how we function. Community life has now, for the most part, gone online. The physical gathering we used to enjoy doesn’t happen. We aren’t getting together in each others’ homes. We aren’t getting together here at the church building. Our interactions with each other are a lot more limited as today, I really don’t have much of an idea who is watching unless you post in here (and even so, I am not able to pay attention to those things). For me it has been difficult as I don’t get to see you all at the door when you are leaving. I don’t get to see your faces, hear your voices. It is a different world.
In some ways, this has been a change that has been long overdue. For a long time, our culture and society has been online, and the church has been resisting the push to get online. Now, because of COVID, we have been forced to go online. And it has given us cause to re-evaluate a lot of what we do and how we do it. What things actually matter and make a difference? What things don’t? What we do know is that we will continue, even as things shift to allow us to be open, to provide an online presence for HMC in addition to the physical gatherings that we will be running.
With COVID, a lot of us have gotten used to not having to leave the comforts of our house to join into any of the church life. Sundays are super casual now. Being able to watch church from the living room, not have to be dressed to leave the house. And if you sleep in, you can watch it later. Everything else is online. And potentially, you could take in a whole week full of stuff here at the church and never have to physically see anyone (minus on a screen). And take it in when it is convenient. There is a lot of convenience now to how we do our church community gatherings – out of necessity.
As we look ahead though, I want to encourage us, when the regulations lift, to fight the urge to stay isolated and disconnected in our homes. Yes, it is convenient, but we are also missing out on the authentic and life changing community that we were designed to be a part of. We need to invest intentionally in our family. Authentic community requires participation.
Being online can not replace physical connection, no matter how hard we try. A family needs to be more than just a virtual family in order to grow deeper. And as we become more isolated in our homes, not participating in the community, the harder it is for us as a community to live intentionally, as a community on mission together in our communities. As cool as being online is, it leads to us being even more disconnected to each other in this community, and to the larger community in which we live.
Gathering can be anywhere, at any time. It doesn’t have to be Sunday at 10am. It can be in your own home with a dozen others. It can be any time of day, over a meal even. And who knows… maybe this will be the catalyst for us launching a whole bunch of home based churches tied into HMC. I dream…. But however we do it, gathering needs to happen. And it needs our intentional participation. We need to pursue authentic community together.
And of course, if you have never met Jesus personally, never started a personal relationship with Him, He invites you to know Him, love Him, and follow Him. He invites you to become a part of His family, His community, and experience belonging on a spiritual level. A deeper purpose, a deeper connection. If that is you and you want to know more, any of us here on staff would love to be able to help you more with that so that you can experience being a part of the life changing community and family that He has designed us for.
Acts of the Apostles 2:42-47 NLT
42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
Are We There Yet?
1 – Together
April 26, 2020
Growing up, one of my favourite things to do was to go on road trips with my family. There was something exciting about hoping into the backseat of our 1981 Buick Century, and later on our Caravan to go on a family vacation that was exciting. It usually meant camping along the way to go see relatives in another province. It meant seeing new sights along the way, stopping to do fun things as a family as we travelled, and being out on the open road.
I still love road trips. I still love to get the family in the car and go new places. For me, there is something therapeutic and relaxing about being on the open road. My boys, not so much. There is one phrase that every parent has heard when driving anywhere longer than across town that induces complete frustration: “Are we there yet?” And the more that question is asked, the more likely fighting ensues in the backseat. Reason – because they are bored of the journey. They are excited and just want to get to the end destination.
I can’t help but think we are a bit like kids on a road trip (minus the fighting I hope!). Life feels a bit like a road trip right now in that COVID has come in and nicely taken us from our normal routines and life and placed us inside quarantine which feels like being locked up in a car on a long road trip. We know that eventually COVID will end, but our destination may in many ways look different than where we started. The fear of the unknown has passed, but now we are bored, anxious, stressed, tired, and the longer this carries on the more we want to say “Are we there yet?”
As a church we are likely feeling the same thing. We are not meeting together in person. We are now meeting on Zoom, which prior to this many of us hadn’t heard of. Many of us have signed up for Facebook, and you are watching me live this morning from your home. Some of you are watching through our website now, or will later today. Some of you will be watching this on Saturday evening on the community tv station. Some of you are not even able to watch this, and are resorting to reading the transcript later by email or snail mail. We are making a lot more phone calls, and doing whatever we can to stay connected. And yet, as word starts trickling down from our governments about a gradual reopening of our province and country, we look forward to us being able to do some of the things we did as a church. Yet in the back of our minds, we know that being the church may not quite function the same as it did before. And in this in between time, we find ourselves asking (maybe in frustration, tiredness, and stress) “Are we there yet?”
While this morning, I do not profess to know any of the answers of what the future may look like for us, I do know first of all that we have a God who knows all things and is bigger than our unknowns. We need to go to Him in prayer, trust Him, and follow Him as we walk into uncharted, post pandemic territory. Second, regardless of what life will look like a month from now, even though we wonder in confusion if “we are there yet”, even though this is an all new road for us to drive down, some things stay the same. Our identity, purpose, and calling as the church has not changed. And as we look down the road to our destination, or new normal, our existing purpose, vision, identity, and calling becomes that much stronger.
In January, we unfolded a vision for HMC that I think is even more relevant and important today than it was in January. We want to be, as HMC, Generations Following Jesus Together. I think the vision statement is pretty self explanatory, so I wont spend a lot of time defining it.
How we get there is where we need more help. We have four core values, or mission words that are steps in helping us be Generations Following Jesus Together. They are “Gather, Grow, Give, and Go.” I want to practically unpack those words with you over the next several weeks. In order to do that, let’s look at Acts 2:42-47
As you are turning to Acts 2, I give you this thought: the people of God have always been heading into unknown territory. They have always been wondering “Are we there yet?” We have seen it in the Exodus narrative that we have been looking at with Amos. We see it in the New Testament as the church is birthed. We see it since then all through history, and we see it now. Yet remember this, God is unchanging, and He will bring us to our destination.
The church does not yet officially exist – it is still too new. Right now it is just the informal gathering of those who considered themselves followers of Jesus, and they are likely trying to figure out where they are going. Life isn’t what it was; it has changed for them. Yet they also have no idea what is in store for them either – if it were today, they would find themselves saying “ARE WE THERE YET?”. A lot has been going on culturally and religiously in that context that turned their lives upside down. In the last couple months, Jesus has been killed and has come back to life again. He then spent 40 days appearing to many and getting His disciples ready to carry on His work here on Earth. He then goes up to Heaven. Ten days later, as His followers were gathered together, God sends His Holy Spirit down to them, they are filled by this Spirit in a way they have never before experienced, they begin to speak in languages they did not personally speak, the message of Jesus went out, and a new movement was born that was drawing in many (thousands) of new followers.
Like us, they were in new and uncharted territory. Yet there were some values that came out of this new community that was changing culture, changing the religious scene, and changing lives that have carried on through the ages and God wants to be a part of our church today.
These verses give quite a list of what the first followers were doing. We need to remember that these verses are less about being specifically prescriptive (as we are sometimes tempted to take them as a method for instant church growth), and more about being descriptive of what was happening. That being said, there are some principles here that I think we need to pay attention to; some foundational principles that the church (in general) often forgets, but needs to embrace more so, especially in these times. As we look ahead, these things will help us make it through this time of transition and will help us be stronger as we arrive.
We need to GATHER; we need each other!
Practical faith happens in community.
As we look at this list of practical things that the followers were doing, I want you to notice something specific that comes out through this whole passage: practical faith happens in community. Community was natural and foundational to practical faith in Jesus being lived out. As we look at the example of the early followers, we see that faith is a community affair that finds its expression as people of faith come together and practically live it out. We see three different examples in this passage that stress the natural value of “community togetherness” as the early followers practically lived out their faith in Jesus.
Vs 42 – Fellowship: Koinonia This is the idea of a community built around a joint share or participation in a cause, where there is intimacy, mutual contribution, and association. As the believers got together, and practically lived out the teachings of Jesus, there was a sense of identity, community, association, and participation together that was natural and engrained into those teachings, that was foundational to those teachings.
Vs 44 – They were together, and shared what they had – The believers chose to be together physically, and share with each other everything they had with those who had need (which was a teaching of Jesus – but more on that in weeks to come). While this is not a command for us to embrace communism, there is a value here we can’t ignore. Following Jesus, when lived out in community, allows us to share life and what we have with each other, it allows us to love each other the way Jesus commands.
Vs 46 – ‘together’ – Of one accord, passion, mind, heart – What united the believers wasn’t a Costco or fitness club membership. It wasn’t an all access pass to the local country club. It was a deep, life changing, heart altering, direction changing set of beliefs in and obedience to the person of Jesus Christ. As they lived out the teachings of Christ, grew closer to Him, and devoted themselves to all the things listed in verse 42 (the apostles teachings, fellowship, sharing meals, remembering communion, and prayer), they did so together, united together because of Jesus. It was in the setting of community that their public faith practically happened.
Does the Bible back this up elsewhere?
1) The Old Testament law expected it: Lev 19:18 – Contained in the Mosaic Law that the Israelites followed, passed down from God, through Moses. What does it say? Don’t bear a grudge or live in bitterness against your neighbour but love them. Practice community with your neighbour. It is expected as a natural part of your faith.
2) Jesus endorsed it: Matt 22:37-39 – When asked by an expert in the law which was the most important command in the OT Mosaic Law, Jesus summed them all up in two ideas: community with God, and community with others. Love God, love your neighbour. Community is expected as a natural part of your public faith expression.
3) We need it to reach our God-given potential: Heb 10:24-25 – The early followers, the early church wasn’t to stop meeting together. It wasn’t so that they could get people to give to an offering to pay the bills. It wasn’t so that they could compete with the other churches for the amount of people they had. It wasn’t to create a social convention or club. It was because it was understood that as we live out our faith publicly and practically, it is hard. There are days where we will want to throw in the towel and quit. We need the support of a community to encourage us on as we live out our faith, and follow Jesus in love and good deeds. Community is expected as a natural foundation of your public faith expression.
We feel like we are on a journey. We feel like we have been ripped out from all that was safe, and all that we knew, and now we are on this journey to ‘who knows where’. It is stressful, it is confusing, it is uncertain, we feel anxiety, and we want to know “are we there yet?”
First of all, find comfort! Psalm 46 says “Be still, and in that quietness from all the calamity around, you will find out who God is.” Psalm 23 (which Matt read this morning) reminds us that we have a Good Shepherd who is guiding our journey and will take care of us.
Second, isolation reminds us of who we were meant to be, and how we were meant to function as the church. It reminds us of our identity. If isolation has done one thing for us, it has reminded us that we need community, we need each other, we need to GATHER. That reality doesn’t take a break because of COVID; it just looks different.
If we want to live out our faith publicly (which is a major part of it) in the way that Jesus taught, the way that brings hope and life change to others, the way that delivers joy and comfort in times of stress and fear, we need each other. The public expression of our faith in Jesus does not have a solitary option. Jesus, through his life, death, and life again, has invited each of us to be a part of His body, all united together, and functioning as one. For us to be who He has made us to be, we need to be there for each other, we need to encourage each other, we need to be involved in the lives of each other. We need our family, our community. We don’t work right otherwise. We need to GATHER; we need each other! Practical faith happens in community.
So the challenge to you is invest in others. Be involved in our Zoom Rooms where we share life, we share our needs, we encourage each other, we pray for each other. Call someone up on the phone this week who you need to encourage or reach out to. Maybe even (all be it virtually), find someone this week that you can mentor and shape, and they can mentor and shape you. Maybe you can do a Bible study with someone these next several weeks. If you need more help with that, talk to Pastor Kristina.
Find strength, purpose, and identity in community. Maybe have a virtual coffee over skype or Facetime with people from the church you haven’t seen before. Maybe today, after this service, download the family curriculum that Pastor Amos has made and as a family practice community together as you grow in your faith together (and pastor your homes). Maybe this week, as your individual household family, find another family that you don’t know as well but you can ‘adopt’ – you can get to know them more, talk to them, pray with them and for them, share life. Here is the encouragement: a pandemic with isolation measures that could threaten to tear apart a community because we can’t physically gather could actually be an amazing opportunity to build deeper relationships, and maybe with someone you do not know.
Maybe today as you listen to me, you feel lost, on a journey with no idea where you are going, but you also feel very alone. You hear me talking about being the community, being the family, and us needing each other because that is how Jesus designed the church to function. You want to be a part of something like that, but you don’t know Jesus, and you don’t know how to be a part of a community like this.
Jesus invites you today to find Him, to open your life to Him, to let Him in. Jesus invites you today to let Him transform your life and give you a new hope, purpose, identity, and a sense of belonging. And in so doing, Jesus invites you to be a part of His body, His family, and find community with Him and us. And if this is something you want to know more about, please send me (or any of our pastors a message) on facebook, find us on our website and send us an email, reach out. We would love to tell you more.
Remember, that even in the times of uncertainty where everything looks different, our purpose and identity does not change because Jesus, who our foundation is built upon as His community, His body, His family, does not change.