Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Let's do some new things!

God is great, yet he loves the least of us.
God is good, yet he spilled his own blood for the ungodly.
God is just, yet he prefers mercy and forgiveness.
God is in the highest heaven, yet he walks beside us and lives within us.
God is eternal, yet he teaches us to cherish the moment, the minute, the day.
God is love, he yet loves the unlovable.
God has judged humankind guilty and condemned us to death; yet has taken our punishment upon himself so we can live.
God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, yet he is doing new things.

We see the day and the night, yet God made evening then morning for each day.
We see rich and poor, haves and have nots; yet God looked at all he had created and said it was very good.
God prepared his people to enter the land that he had promised them telling them that there should be no poor among you as you will be richly blessed.  Jesus walked the earth almost sixteen hundred years later and said you will always have the poor among you.
Sometimes it is hard to tell what the future has in store for us.  Sometimes it is hard to tell which way is up much less which way we are headed.
Thomas J. Watson was the CEO of IBM in 1943 when he was either quoted or misquoted as saying, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”  He may have been correct, but he missed the demand for these now ubiquitous items by a few billion.
People make and lose fortunes in the stock market guessing what will or will not happen next.
For over 200 years, the Swiss were not rivaled in the watch-making business. Then in the latter half of the last century, electronic and digital watches flooded the market and the Swiss didn’t want to play in this arena.  In fact they didn’t even consider the new items to be watches, and as a result they lost their prominence for a few decades.  They are playing catch up now.
Anyone remember Borders Books?  Go online and try to order a book from Borders.  You will be redirected to Barnes and Noble.  Borders didn’t want to play in the online world.  Now they are not playing in the book world.
We know that God is constant.  He is our Rock.  We know his love never fails.  We know that his faithfulness continues through all generations.  What we don’t know is what tomorrow is going to look like.
In the 1990’s I was at a conference where Norm Augustine was speaking.  He was the CEO of Lockheed Martin at the time.  He was discussing how he was being challenged to produce combat aircraft that weighed less and less each decade.  The price went up considerably with each reduction in weight.
He said if he lived long enough, one day the government would contract him to build something that weighed nothing but cost everything—something that weighted nothing but cost a fortune.
He noted with a wry grin that he had lived long enough and that product was very much in demand.  It was called software.  It weighed nothing and cost a fortune.
It is amazing how things change.  Take the church for example:
1950’s:  Build it and they will come.
1990’s:  Add a Coffee Bar and they might stop in
21st Century:  Put it on big screens and they might catch a sermon here and there in places far and near.
How much more convenient can we make this whole church thing?
The whole church building—the brick and mortar stuff was pretty much standard back in the day, but it takes a lot to maintain a building, and if you build it they will come doesn’t work much anymore.
As attendance began to decline the church needed to be more inviting.  Instead of the 200 gallon coffee pot and miniature Styrofoam cups, why not the bistro approach?  Get a latte and catch a sermon, and maybe even a song or two.
Next, of course, the regular preachers weren’t entertaining enough.  Everyone had already read their old jokes on the internet a dozen times before they came out of the pulpit.  So the big screens went up and one person could spend 40 hours a week polishing a prime time worshiptainment video that could be broadcast in multiple locations.  It saved on staff and the jokes were always fresh.
There was an extra enticement in this new setup.  You could come to church and not have to get to know anyone.  You could come in a group like you would go to the movies, sit together, laugh together, and leave together.  You didn’t have to make connections with anyone.
Maybe the next iteration of church will be experienced entirely on your mobile device.  If you still have a flip phone, then your experience may be lessened somewhat.
I don’t want you to think that brick and mortar buildings are bad.  They are not.  It is wonderful to have a meeting place that is not a tent.
And coffee by any other name would not smell as sweet.  Coffee is good.  Good coffee is gooder.  For anyone considering entering the ministry, one of the perks is that you can abuse the syntax and grammar of your native language in the name of homileticss and generally get away with it.
As for big screens, I say the bigger the better.  If it is worth putting on a screen, make it big enough for everyone to see.
Buildings, coffee, and big screens are not bad, but they sort of miss the point of what the church is.  So let’s talk about what the church is.
The church is those people that God has called out of the world, and set apart from the world, to be sent back into the world.
We are called out of the world.
We are set apart from the world—made holy if you will.
For the purpose of being sent back into the world, not just to endure until Jesus comes to get us.  We are sent with purpose.
We are on a MISSION FROM GOD.  We will look at 3 areas that make those of us known as the church unique in our mission.
We are commissioned.
We have taken the yoke of our Master.
We are called to continue to gather together.  We are counseled, admonished even, to continue to meet together.
#1  We are commissioned to make disciples, baptize, and teach others what Jesus taught us.  This requires more than gathering together.  It beckons us to walk together.  We have conditioned ourselves to think that discipleship training fits into an hour on Sunday morning, sometimes with a Wednesday evening thrown in here and there.
Discipling is in everything.  It is not confined to a classroom or a time slot.  We walk with God’s Spirit and we walk with one another learning how to follow Jesus in this world that we have been called out of and are now sent back into.
We must walk with, coach and be coached, counsel and be counseled, mentor and be mentored by the body of Christ for the rest of our days on this planet.
Baptizing—that’s the easy part; yet, so many put it off.  It is a sign of obedience to our Master.  How effective are we going to be as disciples, if we can get this simple part right?
Well, err, I’m following Jesus, but I’m not so sure on this baptizing part.  I need more time to think about it.  Before we can really get into discipling and training we need the obedience of baptism.  In the early church it came naturally.  Today, such an upfront commitment in a relationship runs counter to the culture.  But if you are part of the church, then you must be baptized to be effective as a disciple.
Teach what he has commanded us.  We may not all have the gift of teacher but we can all teach and lead by example in the greatest command that Jesus ever gave—that you love one another.
#2  And then we come to the yoke of the Master.  Some interpret this as simply the teachings of Jesus—the yoke of your Rabbi, but even that very dynamic interpretation goes back to the most basic meaning of yoke which is a means of burdening.  Sometimes the word yoke meant severe burden as in the yoke of slavery that the Hebrew people may have known in Egypt.
But Jesus said that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.  John would restate this saying that our love for God is shown in taking on his commands and they are not a burden.
Jesus said that his burden is light.  We are expected to follow but we will not be strained by what he requires of us.  Jesus accepts us as we are but it is not acceptable to remain unchanged.
That would be to say that the blood of Jesus was incidental—that we were on the right track all along and just needed to pick up some Jesus mojo to keep us going.
We now have a Master.  He is the Lord Jesus Christ.  What he commands is not only important to us, it is who we are.  We belong to him.  We are his to command.
His command is simple:  That we love each other as much as he loved us.
# 3  And then we come to this part about gathering together—a part that some people have forsaken in the current age.  I have been told countless times by people proclaiming themselves to be quite knowledable about the Bible, that the Bible doesn’t say anything about going to church.
I love these conversations.  It lets me indulge my ornery side.
Of course it doesn’t say you have to go to church.  That would be idiotic.  You are the church, but it does say do not forsake the gathering together.  In the context of encouraging one another and urging us on to continue our mission, we are admonished not to stop meeting together.
So there is a snapshot of the church.
Called out of the world, set apart from the world, and sent back into the world—with a mission, a purpose.
Commissioned—task and authority—to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, baptizing, teaching, and discipling along the way.
Yoked to our Master—obedient to his commands that do not come as burdens.
A continuous gathering of the body of Christ for worship, encouragement, and spurring on each other to continue our mission.
So does the modern church have a coffee bar or not?
Does it have big screen televisions?
Can you just catch the sermon on a download on Monday and put your tithe on automatic withdrawal?
The church is sort of like a football team.  It huddles, then it breaks the huddle and runs a play, then it huddles again.  Those who are very young, may not know what a huddle is as it pertains to football, especially in the Big 12.  Back in the day, eleven men gathered in a circle, talked over the play they would run, and then dispersed to their positions.  The team would repeat this process time and time again, except near the end of the game if time was running out.  Then they might call 2 or 3 plays in the huddle to save time.
Now teams seldom huddle.  The just go from play to play to play, perhaps changing the play two or three times before the ball is snapped.
Which one of these resembles the modern church?  They both do.  We have been sent into a world that does not stop.  Believe it or not, there was a time when Walmart actually closed late at night and opened the next morning.  Television channels used to go off the air for several hours each night.  If you stayed up to the end, you might get to hear someone read the poem “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

"Up, up the long delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
where never lark, or even eagle, flew;
and, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand and touched the face of God."

Wow!  The world sure has changed.
God is constant.  He is eternal.  He does not change, but he loves new things.  Remember the words from Isaiah:
Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
 See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
See, I am doing a new thing!
On any given Sunday, this small congregation has about 60-70% of its members in attendance at worship.  We have some visitors that come and go.  Some come and stay and become connected to this family.  We have some two-timers as well—the Easter and Christmas drop-ins.  We could become a little depressed when the numbers on the board say 85 or 86 for weeks in a row when we know they could say 110 or 120 without anyone new joining the church body.
On any given Sunday morning, somebody is somewhere else.  Some miles or states away and yes some just sleeping in.  It really feels good when we hit 125 or 150 at Easter, but that is the exception.  We are on the go and seldom all present for Sunday morning worship.
But Sunday morning worship is not the church.  It is a critical part of the church life, but the church is those 150 people that we know as our congregation going into the world.  The church is not something that exists for 3 hours on Sunday morning and a couple hours Wednesday evenings.
The church exists 168 hours each week.  In fact most of the work of the church takes place during those 160 hours when we are not in this building.
It is good that we huddle from time to time, but I have never seen a team gain a single yard while in the huddle.  Okay, maybe the referee marks off a penalty while the team is huddled, but nobody ever scored a touchdown or kick a field goal while in the huddle.
We need to continue to come together and encourage each other, worship the Lord, make offerings, enjoy meals with each other, have times and places for education, collect and sort food, have a place where we can put some food baskets, have a place with a piano or some sort of musical arrangements, and just have a place to plug in the copy machine, and much more; but the gathering place is not the church.  But you do need a place to plug in the copy machine.
The church of 2016—yes it is almost here—doesn’t look like the church of 1916.  It doesn’t even look like the church of 1966, just fifty years ago.
We worship the same God, follow the same Jesus, and are filled with the same Holy Spirit as our ancestors; yet our church looks different.
The pastor doesn’t stand on the street corner preaching but you might find most of his sermons linked to Facebook.
A third of the younger people that we have connected with, we only see on Wednesday night, so we worship more often on Wednesday night.
Egg hunts, candy, and bonfires seem to be the things that attract many, but when they come, they listen.  They hear words of truth and life and we show them the way.
Three or four members get together and visit someone in the hospital.  Someone is always taking food to hungry people.  We send shoeboxes to the other side of the planet and have saturated this neck of the woods with the Gospel of John.
Show me a house that doesn’t have at least two Life Books in it and I will show you a house available to rent.  If I know the realtor, we might put a set of 4 gospels in the house for whomever rents it next.
We have taken on the yoke of our Master.  We follow him where he leads.  We obey him.  The tasks that he gives us may take a little work but they are not burdens.
We put together a dinner for the family of someone who passed away and did not have a church home.  We challenge people to turn away from the world that is consuming them and know the God who will fill them with love and life and life eternal.
But we seldom have all the players in the huddle at the same time.
On any given day in this building, there is a door left unlocked and a light or two left on, and a couple toilets that needed to be flushed.  Why?
The church building has become something of a crossroads for the church.  And oh by the way, we are working on that last one.  Aim and flush should be a New Year’s resolution for anyone who uses the building.
We faithfully worship and follow Jesus.  We are so thankful to have a loving heavenly Father.  We have become quite conversant with God’s own Spirit who abides within us; but on any given day this thing called the church could look like 100 well dressed individuals singing Holy, Holy, Holy, and a few hours later could be a dozen people in jeans and tee shrits slinging beans and cornbread to help raise money for someone who needs an operation.
The church might look like a ten year-old boy leading the congregation in Psalm 100 or some eighty something folks lighting the candles.  It could be a hot day in July when 8 people are delivering hotdogs and bananas in paper sacks that say God Loves You all over them.
What did God say through his prophet?  Don’t dwell on the past.
I am not a big Troy Aikman fan, but I love his beer commercial where a fan wearing number 8 catches Troy at the counter and starts recounting his glory days.  Aikman, feigning modesty, says, “I don’t dwell in the past.”  Then Aikman’s phone goes off with the ring tone of “Aikman Touchdown, Aikman touchdown!” and Troy has to admit, “I dwell in the past.”
We are the church.  We are called out of the world, set apart from the world and sent back into the world.  We are on a mission from God, and while God is constant—his love endures forever and his faithfulness continues to all generations; we are blessed to try new things.
We have a mission and have been commissioned—that means we have God’s own authority to do what we are sent to do.
We have taken the yoke of our Master upon us.  We are serious about obeying his commands, especially the one that he gave before he went to the cross:  that we love one another.
And we will continue to huddle on a regular basis.  We may go no huddle for days at a time, but we will come together to encourage one another and urge each other to continue our mission.
Imagine graduating high school or college or getting an honorable discharge from the service and signing on to do something for the rest of your life and being told that it would be the same thing every day.
The day would change but you would do the same thing over and over and over again.
Same stuff, different day.  Now who couldn’t get motivated for that?
Now imagine being commissioned to take the good news of life in Jesus Christ to the world and then help people become more like Jesus while we learn to become more like Jesus; except in this case you were told to use your imagination.  Try some new things.  Get out there and make a few honest mistakes.
What if you were told to try new things?  Get together with other believers and try new things.
Try something new!
That’s a pretty good gig.
But I love singing Blessed Assurance.  I don’t want to stop singing it.  Then keep on singing it.  You do know that 142 years ago, it would have been considered “that new stuff” they’re singing now.
And just 20 years ago, Shout to the Lord would have been a new song.
And just 7 years ago a crazy idea like walk a block for Jesus might have been a little iffy.
Or just 5 years ago, something off the wall called Chewy Tuesdays might have seemed a little weird.
Or just yesterday when you stopped and talked to that person who seemed lost and lonely and you told them how much God loved them and that there was a place where people gathered to encourage each other before they go back into the world—for you that was something new.
Or on your flight to the other side of the country or the other side of the world, you gave a person a blue wristband for no other reason than to tell them that God loves them.
That without consulting the pastor or the session or the appropriate committee, you just shared the love of God with the person across the street that you had been meaning to talk to for a week or two or the past nine years.
That without any coordination with anyone else, you just took half a dozen gospels and gave them to people you knew needed to draw closer to God.
Then for no particular reason, you make hot chocolate for the neighborhood kids.
Somebody, without permission from the pastor or session or anyone for that matter, put up a flyer in the post office about how much they love this church and the hours that we worship.  Now there’s a new thing.  Somebody other than the preacher putting up a poster about what we are doing.
If God says, “Don’t dwell in the past,” could it be that he is talking to all of us and not just Troy Aikman?
If God says that he is doing a new thing, doesn’t that sound like a challenge for his kids to start trying new things?
Our faith and love and hope are secure.  God loves us.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God that we know in Christ Jesus.  That is constant.  That is our Rock.
Now, let’s huddle up and mix in some new plays with the old.  Let’s sing some new songs.  Let’s try some new ministries.  Let’s talk to some new people or even to the same people with a renewed desire to reach them with this joy of this abundant life that we know.
Let’s do some new things!
God who is constant still does new things.  He brings water and life to the wasteland.  He puts new life into old bones.  He still does new things.
It is time for his church to reach into this modern world and do new things that bring people to Christ.  It is time to do new things that let them know this God of love who we know so well.
It is time to find new ways to bring good news to a hurting world.  Let’s do some new things!

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