"The Church You've Always Longed for - Works at Being a Caring Family"
May 1, 2011 Acts 2:42-47 50-Day Spiritual Adventure Week 1
(adapted with material by Rev.Lou Diaz)
ARE YOU ON THE 'GHOST LIST' FOR THE ROYAL WEDDING?
Canada was all a-buzz this week, with something bigger than the election - bigger even than the NHL playoffs! The royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Even at Wingham Hospital, someone had gone to the trouble of announcing the event on a sheet of bristol board complete with a couple of Union Jacks. Now, I can see the Royal Wedding being a big event in Britain: but what's the connection with North Huron? Why would CBC news find someone from Grande Prairie camping out along the ceremonial parade route days in advance? The "Royal Wedding Fever" is pretty amazing, when you think about it. What connection do we Canadians have with this couple of noble birth in far-away England?
Well, we do see the Queen's profile on the back of our coins. Some of us recall licking the back of Her Majesty's head every time we went to mail a letter. In the olden days as school children we used to sing "God Save the Queen" fairly regularly. But it's more than that. Something about the monarchy stands for order, structure, regularity and stability in life. There's a security factor; anarchy makes most of us nervous. Perhaps there are enough echoes of Christendom to suggest to the general population it's a decent thing to honour our Queen and the royal family; after all, Paul in the Bible instructed the Romans (13:1), "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.The authorities that exist have been established by God."
So, even though Will & Kate's ceremony seems far removed, it becomes an excuse for a party; people want to watch it, celebrate it, and somehow join in and participate.
For Christians, there's something that has much more far-reaching effect and implications: this is involvement in a royal wedding of a different sort. Acts 2 describes the birth of the church at Pentecost. There's a very deep sense of sharing and participation and joining together in celebration in verses 42-47. But the basis for this is actually, not a royal wedding, but a coronation. Peter declares to the crowd that has assembled wondering about the tongues of fire that have descended on the gathered disciples, "Exalted to the right hand of God, he [Jesus] has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear...God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." (Ac 2:33,36) Jesus has 'received coronation' - been installed on the "throne of highest honour in heaven" (NLT), and in conjunction with that, crowned those who believe in Him with the Holy Spirit.
When Peter's words convict his hearers and they want to know what they should do, he replies, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Ac 2:38) Before this newly-installed King, they need to outfit themselves appropriately - wash away their sins, make themselves clean through the blood of His sacrifice. And receive the promised Holy Spirit.
The radio commentators were having some pun-fun talking about the history of Westminster Abbey and deceased members of royalty buried there, such as Henry VIII's first wife - they quipped about 'wedding guests' and 'wedding ghosts'. But when it comes to the grand wedding of the exalted Risen Lord Jesus, to be present you need not to be on the 'guest list' but the 'ghost list' - the Holy Ghost, have the Holy Spirit in your life.
And marvel for a minute, if you are a believer, at the closeness God calls you to share in the royalty of His Son. As Canadians, we are members of the British Commonwealth and subjects of Queen Elizabeth. But few of us have any closer claim than that: we're not blue-bloods, we're not family. Yet with regard to Jesus, yes we are subjects to Him as Sovereign Lord and King of Kings, but more than that. Trusting in Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit makes us 'family', born again; Galatians 4:6, "Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father.""
Subjects - sons and daughters - it gets even better than that. For Christians, for those who are 'in Christ', those who are the church - the Bible describes us as the BRIDE of Christ (Rev 19:7; 21:9; cf Eph 5:23ff). Would anyone in the British Secret Service interfere with Kate getting to the side of the Prince? No, they would stop anyone who might try to keep them apart!
Jesus used parables that described the Kingdom of Heaven as a sort of wedding banquet, a party celebrating the union of the heavenly Bridegroom with His Bride (Mt 22:2; 25:1) So when we see the early church described by Luke in our Acts 2 passage, they are revelling in the new reality and realization of being included in the divine wedding feast. What characterizes this scene? I see at least 3 things...
A reverent focus on God's precepts, Presence, and supernatural power: "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching...to prayer...Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles...praising God..."
Also - a sincere desire to meet together for fellowship and common meals: "They devoted themselves...to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread...All the believers were together...Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts..."
And - a spontaneous generous outpouring of their own goods by sharing with others: "All the believers...had everything in common.Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need."
Today in our 50-Day Adventure about "The Church You've Always Longed For", we focus on the latter two of these: meeting together - relating in true fellowship; and, sharing - genuine love expressed by listening and responding to others' needs.
GOD MADE US TO RELATE TO ONE ANOTHER
Just like the disciples in the early church, our decision to receive Christ puts us into a relationship with Him and with all who believe. God made us to be relational beings; we need to be loved. God did not make us a new creation in Christ to be alone.
When God saw Adam, His first creation of the human species, He said, "It is not good for the man to be alone" (Gen. 2:18). God made us to be relational beings who live in relationship with Him and with others. Our greatest need, then, is to grow as relational beings. The only way we can do that is through loving God and loving one another. 1John 4(7-12) says, "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love...This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us."
In other words, we can become complete by loving with God's divine love. We can become real. Many of us are asking about life, "Why am I here?" The answer: Because we need to be loved, and we need to love. "How can we become real?" By loving others.
Margery Bianco's classic story The Velveteen Rabbit talks about becoming real this way: "The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their main springs and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it. "What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?" "Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real." "Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit. "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt." "Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?" "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.""
Our greatest need is to see the kind of loving that occurred in the early church as recorded in our passage in Acts 2(42-47). In addition to committing ourselves to obeying the Lord and His Word, our desire for this church is that it be a place where people are "becoming real" by loving one another while loving our great Saviour, Jesus Christ.
The problem is that we isolate ourselves from one another. We separate ourselves from each other by putting a layer of protection around ourselves so that the real "us," our needs and anxieties, never touch the real part of anybody else. Facade meets facade, we exchange pleasantries, and we talk on a superficial level. We talk about 'safe' stuff, filler-cliches, like the hockey scores or weather. By taking the time to ask caring questions and to be active listeners, we can communicate to one another the love and compassion of our Lord. How about meeting more often informally like the early church - such as get together with other Christians during the week, call them up on the phone, and ask how you can pray for them.
A Christian who was fed up with the "cliche" level of communication in her church decided to conduct an experiment. To everyone who asked her, while passing in the hallways of the church, "How are you?" she replied, "Lousy!" Many missed the cue that she needed some tender loving care. Let us break through the "crust-to-crust" fellowship and have "heart-to-heart" fellowship. Too often - and men are particularly guilty of this - we protect ourselves so securely that we put our hearts in a box. We don't want to be hurt. We don't want anyone to know the real "us," because we're fearful that they won't accept the real "us" if they knew us. We do not realize that when we put our hearts in that box, sealed air-tight, no one can get in there. That box is a like a coffin in which we deaden ourselves by isolating and withdrawing from one another.
We have to make time for loving. Our habit is to say, "I don't have time to care. I don't have time to get involved in other peoples' lives in the church." Isn't that almost instinctual or habitual? We look at our watch or our calendar every time someone asks us to do something, and we say, "I'm too busy; I can't give of myself to anyone else." If we really examine our lives, can we honestly say that we are giving our love to other people? Probably not. We are in the habit of saying that we are too busy.
There was a student who used to say, "I'm too busy to get involved in my church or other people's lives.I work, in addition to going to school.I just don't have time." A funny thing happened, though. He met a woman and fell in love. Somehow, he found the time to meet with her 3 or 4 times a week. We say that we don't have time, but when we truly love one another, we make the time. Acts 2 shows us that the disciples spent a lot of time together. Verse 46 says, "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts." If we are going to build a quality fellowship here, we need to make one another a priority. We need to spend time with one another. The three "T's" of relationship building are time, talk, and trust.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 tells of the benefits of friendships and why we need to be the body of Christ, woven together in enduring tapestry. "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."
Not all of you every week are doing hunky-dory. Some people under the surface are on the verge of giving up. Some of us feel like we're down for the count and lying on a stretcher. We are experiencing a crisis that we think we can't get through in our lives. In the gospels, there were four friends who brought their paralytic friend to Jesus and lowered him through the roof; is there somebody who will grab a corner of your stretcher and bring you to Jesus? You never know how God is waiting to love you through His people until you become vulnerable. Don't let selfishness and pride separate you from others in the body of Christ. You need that encouragement and support.
PRACTICAL STEPS TO CARING
Don't hog the banquet to yourself. Here are six important steps in sharing God's bounty and help with others - loving someone practically. First of all we can sit down and identify those people who specifically need our love. There are distressed people all around us. Don't forget your family members. We may need to act first. Take the initiative to show love to that spouse, church member, or neighbour.
Second, don't wait for people to come up to you; reach out to them. Shake their hand and introduce yourself. Get to know them.
Third, communicate with them. Begin on a surface level if you like, but then pursue depth and meaning by asking questions.
Fourth, empathize with them. Figure out what their fears are and say, "I'm with you." And make sure your actions back you up.
A certain man was going through chemotherapy. In the hospital, he shaved the patches of hair that were left on his head, and that made him completely bald. Before he went home, he was afraid he wouldn't be loved and accepted. But when he was released from the hospital, he was met by his family members. They had all shaved their heads and were completely bald. When he returned to his neighbourhood, all of his neighbours had shaved their heads. A newspaper report quoted a neighbour as saying, "I've known this guy for 15 years and he's always loved me and shared with me, and I just wanted to show him that I feel what he's going through." The joy and comfort this man felt from the empathetic demonstration strengthened and encouraged him.
The ministry of empathy is as practical as you can get. It means walking in another person's shoes. If you spend time communicating with a person that you have chosen to love, and you empathize with this friend, he or she is going to open up and show you his or her hurts and fears. That will give you a window of opportunity for touching that person's heart as Christ ministers through you. You may find out that your friend is lonely or feeling guilty or is very concerned about a family member.
Fifth, actively listen in a non-judgmental manner. Good listening requires concentration. It involves eye contact and body language. It means focussing exclusively on what the other person is trying to communicate. In this way, you can hear a person's heart, needs, and anxieties. Our suggested 'action step' in the Adventure this week is, "Learn to Listen with the ears of Jesus." The "Listening with Jesus Prayer" goes like this: (SEE INSERTS) "Lord, I long to be part of a caring church family, But often I'm not sensitive to what people are really saying. Please teach me to listen with your ears of compassion. I pray for [fill in a need you've heard recently]. Lord, help me respond with a heart that cares the way you do. Amen."
Sixth, respond with a caring gift. This can be in the form of something tangible that says, "I'm thinking of you," or "I'm with you," or something intangible, like the gift of forgiveness or the gift of encouraging words. You can do that. If you follow this approach, you are showing practical, Christ-like love. We need to do that, because Christ commanded us to love one another as he loved us. Love is the oxygen of the kingdom of God.
WHAT'S IT TAKE FOR A WINNING TEAM?
The early church was a winning team; they had a winning combination. Luke notes in v47, they enjoyed "the favour of all the people.And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." Who can resist genuine loving fellowship and sincere sharing in response to felt needs? Unlike some of our favourite hockey teams, they had a winning combination.
Lee Iacocca once asked legendary football coach Vince Lombardi what it took to make a winning team. The book Iacocca records Lombardi's answer (it may surprise you): "There are a lot of coaches with good ball clubs who know the fundamentals and have plenty of discipline but still don't win the game.Then you come to the third ingredient: if you're going to play together as a team, you've got to care for one another.You've got to love each other...The difference between mediocrity and greatness is the feeling these guys have for each other."
Who'd've thought that loving one another was the key to success on the football field?! We long for the church to be a winning team. That can only happen when we become a truly caring family - when we take seriously Jesus' command, "Love one another." Let's pray.