Somebody Does It

Posted by on March 31, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

The Jerusalem church was an incredibly large congregation. It began with 3000 (Acts 2:41). We average around 700 Sunday morning-we are not nearly as “big” as they where when they began! That number grew daily! By Acts 4:4 the number of men was about 5000. After the Christians Ananias and Sapphira died for lying, multitudes of men and women became disciples (Acts 5:14). The group was still increasing in number in Acts 6:1. By Acts 21:20, Christians in Jerusalem numbered in the tens of thousands.

An incredible fact: they did not define congregation as we define congregation. Though bigger than most of us can imagine, they had no building-as far as we know, they never had one. The church in Jerusalem was Jewish people who were called out from those who did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah in order to be Jesus’ disciples. He was their teacher and example. He taught them how to live as they focused on God’s purposes.

In this incredible growth in just Jerusalem, followers of Jesus Christ developed and maintained a sense of community. They cared about each other. When that caring was threatened in Acts 6, the twelve challenged the church to resolve differences effectively as they maintained caring. I wish I understood how they developed and sustained this sense of community. I wish all of us better understood how to be a genuine community of disciples who let Jesus be Lord as God’s promised Christ as we seek to serve.

I deeply love my country. I frequently wonder why I am so blessed to be a citizen of this nation. However, I grieve when our culture dictates the nature of Christian-Christian relationships. All of us could cite both the good and undesirable in our culture. A common undesirable characteristic of our culture: we are an extremely consumer-minded people. For many, the first thing considered is this: “What is in it for me? What will I get out of it?” Thankfully, Jesus did not look at life as many Americans do. What was “in it” for Jesus was a cross. What he “got out of it” was death.

When anything happens in this congregation, someone does it-teaching, song leading, preaching, leading, van driving, visiting, encouraging, temperature control, leak stoppage, repairs, sermon tape duplication, quilting, cooking for fellowships, setting up for fellowships, storing after fellowships, office work, planning, etc. Nothing just happens.

Jesus Christ made us a community of disciples who realize only he can show us (1) how to care and (2) the way to God. Please, help “make it happen.” Sure, it takes funds. It also takes manpower. Give generously. Serve thoughtfully. As in any thriving community, both expect and give, but never abuse. Do not attempt what you cannot do, but do what you can-many will be encouraged and blessed. Included in that “many” will be you! Be a good American, but also be a good disciple of Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:12-14 “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.”

A Matter of Life and Death

Posted by on March 27, 2005 under Sermons

    Song – “Jesus Loves Me”

    Welcome and Call to Worship

    Song #2 – “We Praise Thee O God”
    Song #3 – “Hallelujah Praise Jehovah”
    Song #4 – “To God Be the Glory”


    Song #294 – “You’re the One”
    Song #296 – “We Have Come Into His House”


Part 1 – This reading and reflection should prepare us for the Lord’s Supper. It should gather us around the table and proclaim encouragement and hope! What is proclaimed in the bread and the wine? What is preached? What do we believe?

Reading and Reflection: Acts 20:1-12

Luke takes up the account of their journeys after a riot in Ephesus …
      When it was all over, Paul sent for the believers and encouraged them. Then he said good-bye and left for Macedonia. Along the way, he encouraged the believers in all the towns he passed through. Then he traveled down to Greece, where he stayed for three months. He was preparing to sail back to Syria when he discovered a plot by some Jews against his life, so he decided to return through Macedonia. Several men were traveling with him. They were Sopater of Berea, the son of Pyrrhus; Aristarchus and Secundus, from Thessalonica; Gaius, from Derbe; Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus, who were from the province of Asia. They went ahead and waited for us at Troas. As soon as the Passover season ended, we boarded a ship at Philippi in Macedonia and five days later arrived in Troas, where we stayed a week.
      On the first day of the week, we gathered to observe the Lord’s Supper. Paul was preaching; and since he was leaving the next day, he talked until midnight. The upstairs room where we met was lighted with many flickering lamps. As Paul spoke on and on, a young man named Eutychus, sitting on the window sill, became very drowsy. Finally, he sank into a deep sleep and fell three stories to his death below. Paul went down, bent over him, and took him into his arms. “Don’t worry,” he said, “he’s alive!” Then they all went back upstairs and ate the Lord’s Supper together. And Paul continued talking to them until dawn; then he left. Meanwhile, the young man was taken home alive and unhurt, and everyone was not just a little encouraged.

For many of us, verse 7 of this chapter is quite familiar – "On the first day of the week, we gathered to observe the Lord’s Supper." It is an important scripture that we have used to verify why we observe the communion supper weekly. But do we anticipate our gathering on the first day of the week to break bread? I am glad we have this story, not only to give us a glimpse into how important the first day of the week was for the early church, but also so we can anticipate that day as they did. I am glad we have this story, not only to show us how the gathering to break bread was something the early church did frequently, but also so we can anticipate the eating and drinking of the Lord’s Supper together, just as they did. Luke does not end with a simple instruction in verse 7; he records an event of special significance. I believe the sharing of this story should help with more than knowledge of what to do, it also builds our anticipation of what we do.

Don’t misunderstand, anticipation cannot be manufactured. It is not something we can produce with a crafty build up or emotional pep rally. Anticipation is the experience of waiting for something that is truly special. In Troas, the anticipation of the Sunday gathering is there because the church gathers together to be encouraged. These spiritually hungry souls long for the common meal that sustains their faith in the harsh environment where they live. Stories will be told around the Lord’s Supper table. Not idle talk, but experiences of how the living Lord has challenged and blessed them during the week. For many of the believers in Troas, this is the first honest and sincere talk they have encountered all week. They will share, along with the bread and wine, confession of weaknesses and need for help – sometimes real material needs. This is a new kind of family and in their eating and drinking together, in their honest talk they enact and embody the gospel. And they encounter the spirit of Christ in their midst.

As much as they anticipated every Sunday, on the Sunday Paul spoke at Troas they were reminded that communion is a matter of life and death – not just Christ’s but their own! The atmosphere of worship changes when someone falls out of a window to their death. Death has invaded the environment of encouragement. Like a sniper’s bullet that tears through a schoolyard or a holiday parade, death sneaks into the church house and makes its presence known. All hope would seem to be lost. A special Sunday is ruined. No pep rally can sustain artificial joy and enthusiasm at that point. But the gathering in Troas is not artificial. The real presence and spirit of Jesus Christ is there. They speak his words and eat his meal. Not even death can interrupt or distract a worship that is focused on the living Christ.

After his miraculous resuscitation, every eye must have been on Eutychus as he ate the bread and drank from the cup. He became a symbol of the meal and a very real participant in the significance of the meal too. His revived life was a testimony to the gospel of Christ and the power of the resurrection. Sunday after Sunday in Troas they must have told this story – and here we are telling it this Sunday! How has the power of the gospel and the presence of Christ revived you? How can he revive you? Death is all around us and it does more than yank us out of three story windows to our death. It can poison us slowly with fear, lies, guilt, and sin. Our worries and anxieties cause us to fall asleep and grow deaf to the truth, so much so that death creeps into our lives as a paralysis and we are dead long before our funeral. But, into our immobility and deadness comes a reviving embrace. It is the love of God. In Christ, there is life and hope – and that hope can grow Sunday after Sunday. Our meal witnesses that death does not hold a monopoly on the future. In Christ there is life and the worst things are never the last things!
Let us also be revived as we gather to hear the truth, to remember the promises, to eat and drink. Let’s anticipate new life and also anticipate the hope of eating and drinking in the kingdom that is to come.
"On the First Day of the Week, we gathered to break bread."as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup we preach – we proclaim – the Lord’s death … until he comes!"

    Song #356 – “I Believe in Jesus”
    Song #364 – “Come Share the Lord”

    Communion Prayers


    Song #1015 – “Jesus Loves the Little Children” [dismiss for Children’s Worship]
    Song – “Days of Elijah”


Part 2 – This sermon should call us to respond to the word of the gospel. What have we just proclaimed? What encouragement do we need? How have we grown weary, tired? How have we fallen? How have we been mortally wounded? What forces conspire against us? We can be encouraged – "not a little comforted."
Eutychus went home alive and unhurt (see NLT). How will you go home today? The Lord is risen.

It is all about encouragement. That’s the beginning and end of this text. Paul starts off on a journey to encourage the churches. Encouragement is not secondary to evangelism. It is a vital part of the evangelistic mission. Christians are not simply birthed, they must also be nurtured. (Let us never forget that the Great Commission involves "making disciples" which includes baptizing them and teaching them.) This is why God has given us not only baptism, but also preaching of the Word and the Lord’s Supper – the word and the meal sustains and nurtures those who have been baptized. It shapes our faith and our life together. It encourages us.

Paul and his associates came to Troas from Greece via Macedonia. That is like going from Texas to Florida by way of Ohio. Why? Because Paul was a wanted man. There were plots against him and his life was in danger. The Christians Paul meets with live in hostile environments. The encouragement they need is found through encountering Jesus Christ in the preaching and the common meal. They are strengthened spiritually and sustained. Paul does not preach for a long, long time because he cannot get to his point. Paul preaches until midnight because these Christians who live in unfriendly territory desperately need this encouragement. They are not concerned about how late it is – – persecuted churches don’t watch the clock, they watch the door.

It is ironic and tragic that the gathering for Sunday worship is sometimes viewed as (at worst) a necessary intrusion into "our time" and (at best) an obligation. When our persecuted brothers and sisters gather in their various meeting places around the world, many of them in secret, I suspect that they long for the fellowship. They welcome the opportunity to breathe a sigh of relief, or to gain encouragement for as long as possible. I suspect they linger in the place where they meet for nothing is better than what they are doing now.

We are not persecuted by the government in our own nation, but here in our own community, there are some of us who feel that way. For some of us, the places we reside during the week, the places we work in during the week are not places of encouragement. At best they may be stale and neutral environments. They are a network of uninspiring connections in which we fit like a cog in a machine or a worker bee. We plod through the aimless chores and responsibilities without much encouragement. At worst, our connections are sources of discouragement. We are filled daily with anxieties about the future. We are distressed by the inappropriate and unsettling behavior of others. We may even feel threatened or alienated. We come away from these connections wounded and hurt.

Remember that I said that this is how some of us feel. Praise God if you are blessed to dwell within an environment in which you are often inspired, encouraged, and given purpose. Perhaps what you have experienced is the result of God working in your situation to revive and resurrect. Perhaps you know the joy of having God transform your connections with your family, your work, your neighbors, even your brothers and sisters in the church. This is the encouragement of Lord. Do not feel guilty. Only give thanks and seek to extend and share the blessings and the word of encouragement that you have with those who are still dying for hope and meaning.

When Eutychus falls out the window to his death, everyone is ready to give up on him. But not Paul, he knows his Bible. He’s heard the stories of a widow in Zarapheth and a prophet named Elijah. He has heard the stories of a Shunnamite woman and a prophet named Elisha. He knows the story of a woman from Nain and a Messiah named Jesus. He has heard of Mary, Martha and how Jesus wept when they told him Lazarus died. Paul was surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. They all received back their dead – now are these just myths? Are these just wishful thinking or does the gospel really have power over death? Paul knows his gospel. He knows that death’s top agent – the cross – has defected to the other side. Paul knows that the purpose of gathering to break bread is about more than keeping a duty. It is about sustaining life and restoring health. This is why he is bold in his proclamation (really just a continuation of his sermon) that "The boy is alive." I love it that people don’t just get up and walk out after this – they eat the Lord’s Supper together. What better things do they have to do? And the result of the gathering for worship in Troas is encouragement. Luke is the master of understatement when he says, "they were not just a little encouraged."

Eutychus went home alive and unhurt. The disciples were encouraged. Perhaps you have fallen. Perhaps you’ve been hurt. Perhaps you dwell in an uninspiring or hostile environment. Maybe you have some connections with others that are hurting you. Did you know that you can leave here today alive and unhurt? You can find here the spirit that revived Eutychus. We preach and proclaim the story and the faith that Paul preached. We eat the same spiritual food that sustained the churches in Troas. None of have to leave here today dead, dying or wounded.

    Song for Responses – #533 – “I Am A Sheep”

    Scripture Reading – I Peter 1:3, Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

    Sending Out Prayer

Discussion Guide

  1. Read 1 Kings 17:21-24 and 2 Kings 4:34. How are these stories like the story in Acts 20:1-12? What other stories follow this similar theme?
  2. What role does encouragement play in the nurturing of disciples? How do you define encouragement? Is it just complimenting people or is there much more to it?
  3. The verb for “encourage” in vss. 1-2 of Acts 20 is the same verb used in v. 12 (comforted, relieved). What do these have to do with one another? How could the reviving of Eutychus “encourage” the Christians in a hostile environment? How can it encourage us?
  4. Does this text increase your understanding or appreciation of the Lord’s Supper? How can we prevent it from becoming a meaningless routine?
  5. Why would Paul preach until midnight? What was so important that he had to speak for so long? How does preaching and the proclamation of the word of God encourage the church?
  6. Who encourages you? How do they do so? What is “godly” about it? Who do you encourage? What is “godly” about that?

That Cannot Possibly Be Correct!

Posted by on March 24, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

The above reference represents a majority opinion of Jewish Christians regarding the salvation of gentiles (most of us!) and the acceptance of gentile Christians into the Christianity community (church). In your studies of the New Testament, have you noticed the majority of Jewish Christians rejected gentile Christians? Most Jewish Christians accepted the salvation of gentiles only if those gentiles adopted Jewish forms, customs, and traditions. To raise your awareness of that fact, read Acts 11:3 concerning the reaction of apostles and Jewish brethren to the conversion of a gentile. Read about the Acts 15:1 debate Paul and Barnabas could not resolve. Read the concern of the Jerusalem elders in Acts 21:20-22. Read Paul’s confused reaction to some gentile Christians who yielded to Jewish Christians’ demands (Galatians 1:6, 7.)

Jewish people knew gentiles could be saved. They converted gentile God fearers to Judaism before Christianity existed. Read Matthew 23:15. The issue was not can gentiles be saved? The issue concerned what is the proper method for saving gentiles? The position of many Jewish Christians: God’s grace declared in Jesus’ sacrifice combined with immersion into Christ is not enough. It is only enough if gentiles first are indoctrinated in and accept Jewish ways prior to entering Christ.

A typical mindset of Jewish Christians in the first century followed this reasoning: Gentiles are immoral people who worship weird things in weird ways (read Romans 1:20-23). Saving gentiles requires two things: (1) First, they must be taught to abandon their pagan ways. (2) Second, they must be taught to adopt the ways of the living God. Only if they are taught our ways can that happen.

When Peter understood that God accepted gentiles as quickly as He did Jews (Acts 10:34, 35), and when Paul evangelized gentiles to Jesus Christ without imposing Jewish ways on them, many if not most Jewish Christians reacted in horror and disbelief. The thought that people could belong to God without following Jewish ways was unthinkable in most Jewish minds! Not only was it unthinkable, it was repulsive!

These Christians made Paul’s life miserable! They questioned his credibility (read his defense against such accusations in Galatians 1:11 through chapter 2.) They accused him of things he did not do (read Acts 21:20 and 21:28). They even attempted to kill him (read Acts 9:29, 30 and Acts 20:3). Paul spent his life passing from one awkward situation to another. Though he loved his people deeply (Romans 9:1-5), his own people constantly threatened him and his work.

Jewish people knew beyond all doubt their way of living, worship, and doing things was the only way God noticed and accepted. That is the way Paul thought before he understood God’s work in Jesus Christ. Read Acts 8:1-3 and 1 Timothy 1:12-16. Paul finally understood (1) who Jesus was and (2) God’s achievements in Jesus. Those realizations turned Paul’s understanding and life around-180 degrees! Never stop growing in your understanding of God’s work in Jesus Christ.

Representing God

Posted by on March 20, 2005 under Sermons

This evening I want to do something I have wanted to do for some time. This evening we will discuss the concept of integrity.” I want us to think from the scripture together much as we would in a class. I want you involved in our thinking together. I want some verbal response from you–I want you to talk to me. I am not looking for any specific response. I just want to stimulate your thinking.

If speaking to me violates your conscience, do not speak. All I ask you to do is to listen carefully to the responses. If sharing with/speaking to me does not violate your conscience, speak to me. I want all of us to focus on our personal concepts of integrity. If there are differences in our concepts, I want you to note them.

This evening as we think about the concept of “integrity,” I need you to get your minds in gear by thinking about what “integrity” means to you. I want to give you a specific context, and I will ask you what “integrity” means to you in that specific context. I want you to share with me your perspective.

Let’s begin with a simple one: when you think of a person’s work, his or her job, what does the word ‘integrity’ mean to you in a job situation?

When you think of making a purchase, when you are buying a car or a heating system or a new appliance, what does the word ‘integrity’ mean in regard to someone selling you something?

Think with me just a moment about friendship. What does the word ‘integrity’ mean to you in friendship?

What does the word ‘integrity’ mean to you in regard to husbands? In this situation, I want you to note that a woman’s concept and a man’s concept of ‘integrity’ in this relationship are often quite different.

What does the word ‘integrity’ mean in regard to wives?

What does the word ‘integrity’ mean in regard to being a parent?

In the dictionary I use, “integrity” is defined as “1. soundness; 2. adherence to a code of values; 3. the state of being complete or undivided.” In “every day” terms, it is an honest person who is true to his or her honesty and consistent with what his or her values are all the time.

  1. When I use the word “blameless,” what do you think?
    1. Everyone who thinks this, hold up your hand: “When I hear the word ‘blameless,’ I think of a person who is never guilty of making a mistake.”
    2. Everyone who thinks this, hold up your hand: “When I hear the word ‘blameless,’ I think of a person that no one justly can find fault with.”
    3. Everyone who thinks this, hold up your hand: “When I hear the word ‘blameless,’ I think of ‘integrity.'”
    4. The Hebrew concept of “blameless” is being a person of integrity.

  2. I want to call your attention to several scriptures.
    1. Consider these scriptures:
      • Genesis 6:9 (Noah) These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.
      • Genesis 17:1 (Abraham) Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless.
      • Deuteronomy 18:13 (Israel’s Levitical priests) You shall be blameless before the Lord your God.
      • 2 Samuel 22 (a psalm of praise to God from David):
        24 I was also blameless toward Him, And I kept myself from my iniquity.
        26 With the kind You show Yourself kind, the blameless You show Yourself blameless;
        31 As for God, His way is blameless; The word of the Lord is tested; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.
        33 God is my strong fortress; And He sets the blameless in His way.
      • Job 1:1 There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.
        1:8–The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.”
        2:3–The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil. And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause.”
    2. Note these things:
      1. Noah was a person of integrity in a world without integrity.
      2. For Abraham to walk with God, he must be a person of integrity.
      3. For the priests to minister before God, they must be a people of integrity.
      4. When David praised God, he spoke of the importance of integrity to God.
      5. The book of Job verifies the importance of integrity to God.
      6. In being this person of integrity, God’s values and character are the standard.
    3. There are at least four Greek words translated ‘blameless.’ Consider some of the uses of ‘blameless’ in the New Testament.
      • 1 Corinthians 1:8 (Christians at Corinth) who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
      • Ephesians 1:4 (Christians at Ephesus) just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.
      • Ephesians 5:27 (the church) that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.
      • Philippians 2:15 (Christians at Philippi) so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world,
      • Colossians 1:22 (Christians at Colosse) yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.
    4. The emphasis in the New Testament is a carry over from the Old Testament with a focus on the nature of sacrifice.
      1. Sacrifices presented to God must come from the best because He is worthy of the best.
      2. Only people who are devoted to integrity can present themselves to the God of integrity.
      3. God made the person who enters Christ ‘blameless’; it is our responsibility to become what He made us.

  3. The God Who justifies me purifies me; as the justified and purified, we are consistently devoted to good.
    1. Because God calls me to integrity, the world is blessed through my existence.
      1. My family should be a better family because God directs me toward being His person of integrity.
      2. My neighborhood should be a better neighborhood because God directs me toward being a person of integrity.
      3. My workplace should be a better workplace because God directs me toward being a person of integrity.
      4. My friends should receive a blessing in their lives because God directs me toward being a person of integrity.
      5. The church should be a kinder, more thoughtful, more caring group of people as a Christian community because God directs me toward being a person of integrity.
    2. Who should be blessed because God has called me to integrity?
      1. Everybody who has contact with my life should be exposed to potential blessing!
      2. Look at Jesus our savior and guide to God: contact with him always was a potential blessing to others–if the blessing did not occur, it was not because it was not available!
      3. Even people who do not like me should be blessed because of me.
      4. I want us to consider a statement made by Jesus.
        Matthew 5:44-48 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
        1. Jesus is not talking about our acting belligerently.
        2. He is talking about our being a different kind of people.
        3. He does not compare his disciples to ‘good people’, but to what his audience considered extremely ‘bad people’.
        4. Those who follow Jesus are different.
          1. They are not like society–culture does not give them their values.
          2. They are not like people who do not acknowledge God and are not known for their compassion.
          3. Their standard is Jesus; they want to reflect God in their lives as did Jesus.
          4. They do not want to be like everyone else–they want to be a blessing to everyone else.

One of the treasured gifts and blessings God has given me is to be a part of this congregation. You commonly express great compassion and generosity. This is a truly caring community of Christian people.

I am also just like most of you. There are some things that deeply grieve me. Let me share three.

  1. It grieves me when Christians are kinder to people they do not know [and likely never will know] than they are to Christians they do know. That is not consistent with Christian integrity.

  2. It grieves me when Christians fail to realize different Christians have different needs. I commonly see two major groups among Christians. I see Christians [this is not an age matter!] who are blessed by circumstances that permit them an existence that does not have to interact with a godless world on a daily basis. I also see Christians who have no choice. They must interface/interact with a godless world on a daily basis. The first group of Christians is rarely bruised and battered by the godless world. The second group of Christians is bruised and battered almost every week by the godless world. Rarely is there a week that passes that does not demand that I encourage and seek to help a Christian who is bruised, battered, and blooded from doing battle with life in a godless world. Needs in those two groups of Christians are very different. Christian integrity gives us the responsibility to recognize those differences.

  3. It grieves me when a Christian fails to distinguish between preference and God’s will. Having preferences is quite okay. Imposing personal preferences on other Christians as if those preferences were God’s will is extremely destructive. Christian integrity demands that we allow God to teach us to distinguish between preference and God’s will. The issue is never, “What do I like,” but the issue is always “What does God like.” Too often things that are emotional matters to us are not matters of concern to God.

Are you a person of integrity? Are people blessed because you follow Jesus Christ?

Embodying the Gospel: The Structure of Worship

Posted by on under Sermons

Review: Content, Structure, Context

  • Worship is response
  • Worship has three layers that involve our heart, mind, body, and collective
    In worship we not only enact the gospel (re-experience it), we also embody it what we do in worship. We are able to do this because worship has a structure, but what do we mean by structure? Are we talking about a set program for worship? Are we talking about certain elements or acts of worship? We are going to look at some scriptural examples for our final answer, but before we do that let’s introduce the concept with some examples of structure from God’s creation and then from our “everyday” experiences as embodied creatures.

    Structure in Nature and Experience
    Structure of trees (same but different)
    Structure of human skeletons, human bodies (same but different)
    Structure of time and seasons (Read Genesis 1:14-19) – In the creation of all things tangible and intangibleGod is bringing structure to the shapeless and dark earth – [In the beginning when God created theheavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while awind from God swept over the face of the waters – Gen. 1:1-2

    Structure creates certain boundaries than define and shape objects and events. But within and around thatstructure there is still variation and uncertainty. This combination of unity and diversity is what makessomething natural and wonderful. This is the secret that good musicians know. They can improvise, butthey don’t just play anything. They follow certain patterns, scales, and modes. Even musicians whocannot understand musical notation follow these structures. And even if an orchestra plays a veryprecisely laid out piece of sheet music, they must still interpret what it sounds like because there are somany variables in musical performance.

    The combination of structure and variety is what makes sport and games interesting. Take March Madnessand basketball as a current example. Basketball is a game with defined rules. We give a referee a hardtime when he makes a bad call not simply because it is against our team, but because we know he isfollowing the rules. We know the rules and we want him to enforce them – unless the bad call favors ourside and then we ignore it! The referee is there because the players have to work within the rules andboundaries. But within those boundaries and rules there is opportunity for great variety, and chance, andplay. (This is why predictable games or simple games are boring – there’s no creative element). Thetournament is another example of structure and variety. The tournament of 64 teams begins as a veryprecise structure. The #1 plays the #16, #2 plays #15, etc. and so on. Yet, the uncertainty and themystery of it all that creates the great moments high and low – the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat!

    Now let’s go from the lesser to the greater. If there is such a wonderful and beautiful and combination ofstructure and variety, unity and diversity in nature and human experience, shouldn’t we expect that we willfind and even more wonderful combination in worship. I think we should. And if we ignore this, then weignore the combination of structure and variety, unity and diversity that allows the human and the divine tointersect – what allows us to encounter God! As a result we reduce worship to a ritual or an obligation. Ourworship has a structure because we are embodied creature. We are bound by time and space. But theGod we praise is not limited in that way. Our worship embodies the gospel because the gospel itself is anintersection of the certain and the unexpected.

    Consider the gospel event: Jesus is crucified, he is buried. Every explanation we give for that part of thegospel simply affirms the reality we know – we are sinful, we do not recognize God’s love, there is sufferingand cruelty in the world. But what part of the gospel event did I not mention? The resurrection! Theresurrection is unexpected and surprising! It is mysterious and powerful! Now there is hope where we hadnone. Now there is possibility where previously we had despair. And it is all because of God and who heis. (See Romans 11:33-36, the precursor to our spiritual act of worship)

    Our worship embodies this experience with a certain structure. But we cannot experience the depth andthe riches of God’s grace if we are just ticking off a list of worship duties. Those are just daily chores – [Isn’t it interesting that a child that will balk at doing routine chores and will finish those chores off only to goand submit himself or herself to the rules of a game with other children – or the rigid structure of a videogame or the chapters of a book!] Without some understanding of how we “move” within the structure, wewill miss the opportunities to encounter God and enact his gospel together.

    As an illustration, let’s talk about what we do when we have guests over to our house for dinner. There arecertain structures that are basically the same no matter the occasion. And we can even think of these interms of movement through the rooms of a house . . . Foyer, Living Room, Dining Room. Consider the waywe talk and converse in each of these. We move and talk in appropriate ways as we move from the foyerto the living room. Then we move in certain ways as we go from the living room to the dining room. In thefoyer we greet. In the living room we share news and tell stories. When do you bring up a serious subject? Certainly not in the foyer! Whether it is a cookout, a formal dinner with new friends, or PBJ sandwicheswith old friends, we have these little conventions that allow us to commune. Why? Because we arebodies, not shapeless minds floating thru space.

    There is a basic structure of worship that enables us to encounter the God who is spirit and to communewith one another. Story and Feast. – Exodus 24:3-11 and Acts 2:42-47 demonstrates this basicstructure.

    The “field of play” (or boundary) for worship that embodies the gospel is, I suggest, sort of like agravitational field. That is to say that it is the structure that orders the elements of worship in a naturalstructure that is sensitive to the gospel and our experience and we move through this field. We are shapedand order by it, even as we are allowed to move in it (like gravity). The structure of word and suppercommunicates our embodied similarities. It also enables us to embody the gospel and thus enact thegospel.

    The gospel is real and so worship should be real. The death burial and resurrection of Jesus are real. Itwasn’t a myth or an act or a dream. God went through physical actions; he made a movement to show hislove. And we do the same in worship and mission (discipleship). Our faith is not just something to agreewith. It is an agreement that demands action. The images we use to describe our relationship (sheep andshepherd) are bodily, physical images. Just as our real baptism is a death and new birth.

    Recommended Reading: I am indebted to Robert E. Webber for recognizing the Story & Feast structure ofworship in both the Old Testament and New Testament. Dr. Webber has discussed this structure in manybooks and seminars. Among these is Worship Old & New, Zondervan, 1994.

  • God, Jesus, and Peace

    Posted by on March 17, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

    An incredible bond exists between Jesus Christ, his disciple, and peace. Paul’s epistles’ emphasis coupling peace and existence in Christ is astounding! There are far too many examples to note all of them in this brief writing. Consider just a few examples.

    Paul commonly opened his letters with a greeting of peace-peace and Christian existence belong together! (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:2; 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philemon 1:3.) He also frequently mentioned “peace” when he closed a letter.

    Romans 5:1 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”
    Romans 14:17 “… for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
    Romans 14:19 “So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.”
    1 Corinthians 7:15 “… but God has called us to peace.”
    Galatians 5:22, 23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
    Ephesians 4:3 “… being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
    Philippians 4:7 “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
    Colossians 3:15 “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.”

    Existence in this physical world is filled with anxiety! All of us experience the anxiety of failed promises, hostile circumstances, and defeated expectations. Physically speaking, what we “want” is forever out of alignment with what we “have.” Our world, our circumstances, our possessions, our earthly ambitions, our education, our jobs, our accomplishments, or our leisure are never an enduring source of peace. Inwardly there is this unsettling sense of turmoil that seems to constantly haunt us, constantly call attention to our emptiness, and constantly remind us of why we should be afraid.

    Being in Christ will not change the world, or circumstances, or possessions, or ambitions, or educations, or jobs, or accomplishments, or leisure. Being in Christ changes us. Even when all about us rages in the winds, waves, and mists of uncertainty, God grants us peace in Jesus Christ. In Christ there is a sense of calm when all else is in turmoil. Why? In Christ we live for something bigger than the moment of “now” called the eternal.

    The Width of Separation Between Compliment and Insult Is Small!

    Posted by on March 10, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

    A knowledgeable friend suggested “proof sets” of American coins as a suitable gift. A “proof set” of coins is a valuable collection of specially minted coins. With confidence I presented my first “proof set” of American coins to an important person in the area. With delight, he immediately asked, “What are these coins worth?” I misunderstood his question. The correct answer was, “Only your banker knows the worth of the set.” However, I thought he asked about the common value of the individual coins. As I explained the common value of individual coins, he obviously was offended. Delight instantly turned to contempt. A gift intended to honor quickly become an insult.

    Humans and God radically differ. Humans frequently misunderstand intent. God always knows motives. God knows the difference between worship coming from the heart as an expression of appreciation, and worship “going through the motions” to satisfy a perceived demand. God knows when a person worships Him and worships for self! God easily is honored by expressions of faith rising from a heart of gratitude. God quickly is insulted by a heart devoid of faith and gratitude. What God wants from His children is simple: profound respect arising from deep appreciation. Because he expressed His love for us in Jesus’ death, we rejoice in His blessings and proudly honor Him.

    Grow in your understanding of how to honor God in your worship! Never insult God! Always honor God! May He and we be delighted when we praise Him!

    Enacting the Gospel: The Content of Worship

    Posted by on March 6, 2005 under Sermons

    Review: Worship is "because of." That is to say that worship is our response to what God has done/is doing/will do. Not only do we respond to what God does, we respond to who he is. Our Response to God involves three elements. On the one hand we have the substance of worship. On the other hand, there is the experience of the worshipper and the worshipping church. When the substance of worship and the experience of the worshipper combine, worth is ascribed to God. Combined, these elements represent our way of participating together in our worshipful response to God. For simplicity we will call these the content of worship, the structure of worship, and the context (or style) of worship.

    Preparation for worship is to prepare us as a collective group to participate. We are not always good at coming together. We have different opinions and different ideas, different tastes and preferences (which we often project on God assuming that he likes what we like). But our response is not simply individual. (If this were the case, then we could all "home church" and be done with assembly). God, however, intends for all of us to come to his banquet table. We experience his presence and activity among us not only as persons, but as a people.

    The content, structure, and context of worship are layers of worship. Content is the most essential layer – the core or kernel. The content of worship is the gospel – we enact it. The structure of worship embodies the gospel we enact (or participate in), and the context is the level or layer at which we engage the specifics of our culture and context. This involves language, style, time, seasons, etc. (One of the amazing characteristics of the gospel is that it engages any culture, not without challenges, but the gospel is an "incarnated" witness and message from God. It can be translated into any language; it can speak hope and promises in any culture. It challenges all earthly powers and institutions. It is not bound by temporal or regional limitations.)

    Content: Enacting the Gospel. In worship, everything we do "enacts" the gospel. By that we mean that everything participates in and communicates the gospel event. Baptism is connected to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of the death, burial and resurrection. Preaching affirms the gospel event and gives testimony to how that gospel power is worked out in our lives. Likewise, prayer and praise proclaim the gospel and affirm it. They assume it! We also re-experience the gospel that saves us and we are challenged to continue living it out so that we become better people.

    • Do we believe that a dead marriage can be resurrected? When we enact the gospel in worship, we do.
    • Do we believe that broken relationships can be reconciled? When we enact the gospel in worship we do.
    • Do we believe that God can give us strength to endure suffering? When we enact the gospel in worship we do.
    • Do we have hope that all things can be made new? When we enact the gospel in worship we do.
    • Do we know that God’s power can help us overcome sin and temptation? When we enact the gospel of Christ in worship we do.

    When we enact the gospel in worship we participate in the same gospel that is at the heart of God’s missions. We encounter the risen Christ whom the gospel proclaims. Read Luke 24.

    Notice what happened as the gospel is enacted in this Journey to Emmaus: They encountered the risen Jesus. Before they recognize him are sad and downcast (v. 17). Their hope is expressed in the past tense (v. 21). There troubled and disturbed by the news of resurrection, they are not able to hear it as good news (v. 22 – 24); they are confused. The women saw him raised but our companions did not. What’s going on? They wonder.

    1. Jesus teaches them, he opens the Scriptures to them. Through this teaching the news that Cleopas and his friends assume everyone knows is transformed into "good" news. Later they will remember that this encouraged them and their hearts were burning within them.
    2. Jesus fellowships with them. It takes place in the context of hospitality and an invitation for continued company. He takes the bread, he blesses it, he breaks it, and he gives it to them. These are the same verbs used in describing what Jesus did with the apostles at the Last Supper. ("Do this in remembrance of me!") And they do remember him; it is at this point that they recognize him as Lord and Messiah.
    3. Everything comes together in these events: meeting Jesus, teaching from the Scripture that explains their experience, the substance of the meal and the remembrance of Jesus. The action of God, in the gospel is at the center of this event. The presence of God in Jesus Christ is real. God’s action determines whether or not these disciples can see Jesus as Lord and Messiah. Just as the Holy Spirit empowers the hearing of the word, so the Spirit of God empowers the "seeing" of Jesus in worship.
    4. The disciples ascribe worth to God and respond to what God has done. They are filled with faith and hope – consider how different they are now after encountering Jesus than how they were before. They are sent out to tell the good news that they not only believe, but that they themselves have experienced in worship. Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?" It is a gospel moment!

    We respond to the gospel that is enacted in our worship. Who enacts it? God enacts it and we participate in it just as Cleopas and his friend did. Why do we get obsessed on what others are doing in worship? Do we ever consider what God is doing? Consider how we are surrounded by the gospel in our worship: We remember what God has done. We anticipate what he will do.
    We may journey to worship downcast or confused. But the encounter with God and our re-experience of the gospel has a way of changing us and changing how we feel, what we do, but most importantly who we are!

    Why Content is Important … (So What?)
    Encounter with Christ.
    We often try to respond to human needs with the gospel, but the gospel – what God has done and is doing – has a way of drawing out needs we didn’t know we had. (Just as it did with Cleopas and friend). If the gospel is the content of worship, then all needs will be met by God and just left up to us! When we invite each other to prayer and baptism and confession, we invite people to get right with God and we invite people to be ministered to by God and the Spirit of Christ. Worship isn’t our time to take care of "church business."

    The gospel content affirms what God has done, is doing and will do. Our worship will be a response to God’s action rather than an experience of our self-interests. The gospel meets us in our culture and in our context, but it also challenges our context and culture also. When we come together in worship, the living Christ meets us on a journey as he did the Emmaus travelers, and we may find that our hearts are burning within us as the Lord opens the gospel to us!

    Discussion Guide

    1. Why is it important that we respond to God as a collective people? Why can’t we all just worship individually? Does it make any difference? How concerned is God with our relationships with one another?
    2. Last week, Dr. Phil gave a feuding family advice on how to get along. His last piece of advice was that they should try to worship together. Is that good advice? Why or why not? How does participating in worship with one another change the way we treat one another? Does it have anything at all to do with the presence of God among us?
    3. Why is the content of worship so essential? What happens if we have the “correct” structure but no content or bad content?
    4. How does enacting the gospel in worship give us new hope and call us to live different and holy lives? How does it enable us to serve one another? How does it draw us closer to God?
    5. Do you think the gospel is just for beginners? Does Paul think the gospel is just for beginners in 1 Corinthians 1?
    6. Read Luke 24:13-35. Describe Cleopas and his friend before they meet Jesus. Describe them after Jesus vanishes from their sight. Why are they different?
    7. Jesus taught Cleopas and the other disciple from Scripture. Can we accept that Jesus still teaches us? If He is dead, then we can only learn about Him; but if He is alive then we can learn from Him. Do you agree? (See Luke T. Johnson’s book, Living Jesus).
    8. Have you ever come to worship with a set of needs only to find that the gospel confronted you with your real needs?

    Exciting Challenges Become Exhausting Demands

    Posted by on March 3, 2005 under Bulletin Articles

    Recently I had specific reasons for recalling past times “when I was (or I did) ?” Often when occasions for recalling come, it seems like a dream about times that never existed-“did I ever do that?” Now I marvel I ever had the energy for “tireless devotion.” My mind feels young, but my body talks to me. “You plan to do what? Oh no, you are not!” Unfortunately, with increased frequency, my body “has the last word.”

    Why is this happening? There was a time when I changed as fast as my world changed. Yet, the world never stops changing. We do, but the world does not! In our youth “keeping up” was natural. Then came the day when “keeping up” required conscious effort. Then came the day when we realized we were not “keeping up.” At first we were only “a little” behind. Inevitably the day comes when we know we are much behind!

    For the wise, experience replaces exuberance with patience. When I was a young adult I wanted everything to happen now. With age, I realized a startling difference between “changes for the better” and “growth that produces development.”

    Increasingly I marvel at God’s patience:

  • About 2000 years between promising Abraham, “In you all nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3) and sending Jesus to be the Christ?
  • A century after Jesus’ resurrection to convince believers that God loves all people-regardless of their past or background?
  • Delaying the return of Jesus Christ to provide more opportunity for people to repent (2 Peter 3:9)?

    Somewhere there is a balance between the youth’s exuberance and the fears of the older. As God’s people, we neither wish to discourage youth’s exuberance nor be controlled by the fears of advancing age. God uses youth’s exuberance! As we grow older, it is not our fears God wants-it is our patience. Even in aging, patience as surely reflects God’s purposes as does exuberance in our youth!

    May we never confuse exuberance with good or patience with discouragement! Dare have the faith and courage to be exuberant! Dare have the faith and courage to be patient! Let God Himself teach us both! He was both in providing us a Savior! May we be both in being His people!

    1 Timothy 4:7, 8 But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.