Sunday, May 29, 2011

“Get Ready” Joshua 3 A Sermon in Three Parts

Prepare: Joshua 3:1-5a “Consecrate Yourselves”

Moses had led the people out of Egypt, brought down the Ten Commandments from the mountaintop, and had led them through 40 years of wandering through the desert. They had seen God part the Red Sea, provide bread from heaven, offer water out of a rock, and had led them as a pillar of fire by night. Moses brought his farewell speech and left the people in the hands of Joshua. They now stood on the edge of the river Jordan ready to go into the land that God had promised them. A buzz of excitement filled their air. Their future awaited them. You could also feel an ominous sense of fear and apprehension. Those gathered at the river’s bank was not sure what awaited them.

In a few days we will choose to leave behind the confines of this beautiful church facility and make our way into the heart of our community. For three evenings we will sing and play and connect with our community face-to-face, life story-to –life story at McKinley Park. For many there is a palpable sense of excitement about this three day event. For some others in the room there is a sense of fear and apprehension because they do not know whom they will meet or what they may experience. Joshua’s words to the people camped on the edge of the Jordan can speak with power to this moment in the life of our church family.

Joshua’s first words to the people were to “consecrate yourselves.” Other translations use the phrase “sanctify yourselves.” They mean the same thing, but candidly both terms are far from common in our every day conversations. What Joshua was telling them to do was to prepare themselves for the task at hand. This preparation was more than a “clean up, pack up, and get ready.” He was calling them to a ritual process of bathing and prayer that was to ensure that their bodies, their hearts and their minds were prepared for what God had planned for them. They were to make themselves physically and spiritually as pure and focused on the holiness of God as possible so that God might move among them and work through them.

I believe this call to “consecrate yourselves” is of equal value for us today. We do not need to simply pack up the church van full of equipment and food and head over to the park. This is more than a little mission venture. It is one step in our journey of acknowledging that the days of opening the church doors and saying “ya’ll come” has passed. If we want to be relevant. It we want be the church we need to be for this era we have to get out of the walls and into our community. We need to begin to prepare ourselves for God to move among us and to work through us. Our preparation process does not require a physical ritual bathing with water, but instead calls us to bath our plans in prayer. We want to make sure all we do in according to God’s will and God’s way. We need to pray for the kids we will work with, for the parents we will meet, and for ourselves. We need to pray that the games that are played, the songs that are sung, and the conversations we share together all are a reflection of God’s love and grace. We need to pray that God will prepare our hearts to meet new people and to engage in their life story. We need to prepare ourselves so that God might move among us and work through us.

Expect: Joshua 3:5-13 “for tomorrow God will do amazing things among you”

Joshua tells the people to prepare themselves – but he wants them to know that they are preparing themselves so that they might witness God at work. He tells them; “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” The people had witness the incredible work of God before, but Joshua wanted the people to understand that they needed to keep their eyes open and their hearts ready to see a fresh and amazing act of God.

I wonder how many of us expect God to do things among us that would amaze us. I wonder if we have become so comfortable in our religious routines that we fail to see God at work. Joshua tells the people; “Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God. This is how you will know that the living God is among you….”and he begins to describe the way that God will go ahead of them and make the way for them. Are we coming to S3 and our ministry at McKinley Park with the attitude that we will play some games, sing some songs, eat a bit of food, talk to a person or two and head home – OR are we coming to S3 and our ministry at McKinley Park with an expectation that God is going ahead of us – making the way – getting ready to do something among us and among the people we will encounter that will amaze us? Are we coming to this week in ministry with a sense of eager anticipation that we are about to see God at work? Do we come to worship expecting God to move? Do we walk with God expecting God to work in us – through us – among us in ways beyond our imaginations and limitations? We cannot, we must not, be content living faith lives that do not make room for God to amaze us. We cannot, we must not be content with a church life based where ever decision and every act is measured by our skills and our capacities. God calls us to more. God promises us more. “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

Follow: Joshua 3:14-17 “So the people crossed over”

When I was in my twenties I went with a group from our church in Raleigh, North Carolina to raft the rushing whitewaters of the Ocoee River. The morning of our day for rafting we got up early, packed up, and headed to the river’s edge. I was shocked when we arrived and all I could see was a dried up river bed with a little stream in the middle of it. Apparently I was not alone. Our guide for the day called out, “don’t worry, you will see a raging river soon enough. They have not turned in on for the morning yet. You just wait!” I did not think I had ever seen a dam controlled river before, and sure enough, promptly at 9:05 we were looking at a world famous roaring whitewater river.

The people gathered on the banks of the River Jordon experienced just the reverse. The Jordan was at flood water state and I imagine the people wondered just how they would get across. They had heard Joshua’s promises, but there was the water rushing by. Then, I can imagine that the word began to spread – the priests with the ark of the covenant were on the river’s edge – now they were stepping in – “can you believe it,” the cry goes out, “the water has stopped in its tracks. The path is clear. God is at work. ““So the people crossed over.” - The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stopped in the middle of the Jordan and stood on dry ground, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.

The task of the people of God was to prepare themselves, to come to this moment with expectation, and to follow the way God had made for them. We are not taking God to the Classen-Ten-Penn community or to McKinley Park for that matter. God is gone ahead of us. God loved the people of that community long before they became a focus for our church family. God had a plan for the people of that community long before we ever began to plan. God has gone ahead of us and calls us to follow the path he has set before us. Our task is to be faithful to follow – to cross over the path to the place that God has called us. We do not go alone. God goes before us and with us. I love how Eugene Peterson captures the heart and passion of Joshua’s call to the people in his interpretative translation The Message. Joshua calls out; Haven't I commanded you? Strength! Courage! Don't be timid; don't get discouraged. GOD, your God, is with you every step you take."

It is time to prepare yourself, to come to this place and to the mission and ministry where God has called us with great expectations to see God do amazing things among us – and to follow God to the places He has called us – whether across the street or across the world. It’s Time!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Food Court Worship - The Starvation of Church Unity - an article by Bruce Greer

At First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City we are blessed to have a remarkable husband and wife team serve as our Ministers of Music and Worship.  Below is an article that one of them recently shared with our church family and others that speaks with power to a healthy approach to music and worship.

Insights & Musings...from Bruce Greer Food Court Worship - The Starvation of Church Unity

As I sit here reading once again of a certain church making the ever popular decision to increase their options in worship styles by adding yet another service, I find myself asking the question, “Really? Another option is the answer?”Somehow we’ve decided that the ‘Food Court’ approach is the best way to reach our ever increasingly diverse world. You know what I’m talking about. Go to the mall and everyone divides up and goes off to eat a meal of your own choosing. It seems logical. Of course, there is no passing of the bread or the cup. No real supping together. And somewhere inside, my spirit is crying out, “NO!”

The obvious conclusion that churches make in reaching the world for Christ is to provide more options in worship styles. Of course, this is only in musical terms because in most cases every other part of the different worship experiences is identical, except for the clothes. The “church” vocabulary remains the same, thus assuming that the unchurched people they are trying to reach will understand their language as long as the music is rockin’ and the pastor and worship leaders are NOT wearing coats and ties. This is not an argument about which clothes are appropriate. I really don’t think God, our audience, cares what we are wearing. Nor is it an argument as to which musical style is best. It is, however, a pondering on the effectiveness of a single church body giving options based on personal musical tastes, as if it’s all about us and what our likes and dislikes are.

So what IS church about? Obviously, it’s about worshipping God through Jesus Christ our Savior and Redeemer. It’sabout lifting HIM up. Jesus calls us to love God AND to love each other as well. There is no formula to carrying out this mandate. There is no musical style that is ‘better’ of more preferred by God. I think it is about being authentic, worshippingin spirit and truth, when we stand before Him in worship as a family. We are family!

So if we are a part of a family, what is the best way to unite ourselves to one another and to Jesus? By standing (or sitting) together to worship God and fellowship with each other. A church body can no more divide itself up into groups and go off into different rooms and worship God separately and still be united anymore than your earthly family could. Imagine going to a family gathering for fellowship together and telling everyone they need to decide what they want to do. Play bridge? Video games? Talk? And then have them go to their designated rooms and remain there. Eat there. Share experiences there, with only the people who have chosen similar likes. That would be a tragedy. That’s not a family engaging together. Part of being family is that we share experiences…together. A grandmother will always choose to spend time with her grandchild even if the child wishes to do something she wouldn’t necessarily choose. The same for the son or daughter, they would choose to be with their parents even if the activity they are engaging in is not their preference.

So why do we think it is best to choose sides and divide up in to groups for worship? I guess we think it is easier that way. Corralling people together and not having to hear grumbling about a disliked song, or organ, or drums, or liturgical reading, makes for one less distraction on the way to proclaiming Christ…right? But what about the unity of the church body? I’ve been in thousands of different churches all over the country. I’ve led as an interim music minister in many, and what I have observed in those churches who fall into the ‘food court’ way is actually several different bodies living under one roof. They are no more connected to the people in the next room than they are to the people in the church down the street. Yes, we are all part of the larger Body of Christ, but we also need to hopefully come together as united church bodies as well.

One body…sharing the experience. I feel that even if there is the physical need for several services within a single church, they should be the same. Whether it’s gospel, liturgical, blended, contemporary, be united! Stop trying to play the role you think someone else wants and start being authentic. You say, well there is such diversity in our church. I know. My church might be the most diverse church I ever been a part of in terms of personal tastes. We try to worship God with whatever musical means we can find knowing that some things connect more with these people and others things with other people. But with each passing day I am surprised by the unity we experience in worship. We don’t do what I call blended worship, but more like a ‘converging worship’ where there is distinction in musical styles. Juxtaposing a grand hymn accompanied by pipe organ right next to a contemporary song led with guitars and drums. You would be surprise how supportive and engaged our people (young, old, rich, poor, black, white or brown) are to this approach. I wrote an article in 1999 for the Baptist Standard called, “Worship Wars”. Here is a passage from that article concerning the use of different styles in worship.

Some churches have tried to make peace by developing a "blended" worship style, Greer reported. "In theorythis works. However, in practice a lot of 'blended' music is scrambled music," he insisted. "Instead of being what it is--diverse songs in diverse styles--it's homogenized." Piano, bass and drums added on a traditional hymn is not a bad idea in and of itself, but worshippers who prefer traditional hymns are disappointed when they are never allowed to hear their favorite hymns in a traditional style. Likewise, sometimes the organ overshadows choruses, and they no longersound contemporary.

For example, praise choruses can be very effective when they are sung in a contemporary style with the use of keyboards, guitars and drums. Similarly, hymns can be just as effective sung in their simplicity without extensive instrumentation or arrangement. These beautiful melodies can be enhanced with just organ and piano.


"Churches can find that worshippers tolerate diverse musical styles when each style is presented with musical excellence," Greer said. "Think through the music regarding style and content, and let the music stand on its own."

Our problem is we try to literally ‘blend’ everything and we come up with nothing distinctly recognizable. It’s kind of like making blueberry muffins. You are supposed to gently fold in the blueberries so that you don’t end up with a purple mush. Or maybe it’s like a stew. The problem is we try to puree the pizza, hamburger and fries, and add it to a seafood gumbo. That way we’ve covered the gamut of tastes in our congregation. Really?

A great, well thought out meal requires a great chef. A great, well thought out worship experience requires a
gifted, creative spirit. It doesn’t matter if the leader is that young guy with hip glasses, tennis shoes and a guitar, or a middle aged person who recalls fond memories of jamming with his garage band, or one who has a doctorate in Choral Conducting, the job requires a heart for worship and a lot of knowledge about music and how to put it all together in a effective manner that speaks to the breadth of your congregation. Those leaders are out there. Don’t always necessarily follow the trail of glitter and rhinestones to those obvious choices. Look deeper for unpolished gems that will somedaylead with brilliance. There are a lot of good cooks but fewer great chefs. Being a great worship leader/planner requires education, experience, exposure to great and diverse music, a heart for God, and good planning. And like a great chef, a sensitive, refined palette helps.

Okay family; let’s come to the table and share the Feast.... together! Pass the Meat, the Bread, the Cup, and maybe a little something sweet! Bon App├ętit!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

“An Unexpected Gift” - I Kings 17:7-24 - May 8, 2011

Several years ago I began a tradition on Mothers’ Day to inviting us to look at one of the great women of faith that emerge from the Biblical narrative. Many of the names of these women are familiar to us. But, there are others whose names have been lost and whose stories are lesser known. I want to claim one of these women for our time in Scripture this morning. Her story is a story of trust and faithfulness, tragedy and the movement of God. The story of this widow, her son, and her encounter with Elijah can speak with power for us today. We find this story in I Kings 17, we start in verse 7. 7 Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. 8 Then the word of the LORD came to him: 9 “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” 10 So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”
12 “As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.” 13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD sends rain on the land.’” 15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.

The story begins with an almost scandalous fashion. God has fed the prophet Elijah with ravens from the sky. Now God sends his messenger to a Gentile widow – one outside the family – but who has a heart of obedience for God. The widow God chooses is not just a Gentile; she was a woman living in desperate poverty. The prophet finds her gathering sticks, scrounging for whatever she could find to sustain her cooking fire. It is interesting that even now statistically those with the least are most willing to share with others. Despite her desperate situation, the widow is willing to be faithful and to trust what little she has into the hands of God.

So, with her meager means she fashions a simple meal for the prophet, her son, and herself. I can imagine the fear she must of have been feeling as she mixed together the loaf of bread seeing how little was left. Can you imagine the look on the widow’s face the first day she went back for more and found it the jar of meal and the jug of oil did not run out? What about the second day? And the third? And after? I have to wonder if there came a point where the miracle became ordinary.

Do you think there a point where we take God’s provision for granted? Do we just assume we will have all we need? Do we really believe what we have is provided by God or have we become content to believe all we have has been produced because of our intellect and hard work? Have we been willing to have a heart of obedience even when the results seemed impossible?

To this moment the story has been a grand one. The widow was obedient – and God’s provision rained down on her and her household. But, our walk with God is not a “they lived happily ever after” story. It invites us into a relationship with God in good days and difficult ones. The widow found this to be true when a life and death crisis visited the house. 17 Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. 18 She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?” 19 “Give me your son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. 20 Then he cried out to the LORD, “LORD my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” 21 Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the LORD, “LORD my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”

A contemporary biblical scholar, D.A. Carson, offers a powerful observation on this moment. He states, “The Bible does not assume an inevitable cause-and-effect connection between sin and suffering (or between righteousness and blessing), but leaves room for suffering which is undeserved and, from the human point of view, unexplained. Elijah himself clearly had no idea why this tragedy had struck. His prayer in v 20 shows him bewildered and angry. Then he prayed for the boy’s restoration. His reason for stretching himself on the boy is not clear; perhaps he was simply trying to share the warmth of his body with the boy to encourage his return to life. But the boy’s restoration was God’s doing, in response to Elijah’s prayer.” (1)

22 The LORD heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. 23 Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!” 24 Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth.”

You must remember that stories like the one we hear today were not found in nicely bound books like the ones we hold in our hands. They were passed orally, word for word, detail to detail. I can imagine the shock on the faces of people as they heard this story pronounced aloud. The central character God chose to work through was not one of them – but this nameless poverty stricken widow was still one of God’s. When the telling of this story reached this moment of resurrection it would be amazing its own right, but here, the common cultural belief of blame is rejected in the loving act of God. The widow’s obedient faithfulness – not her sin – the humble prayers of a prophet – not his pronouncements - claims the day. God moved! God healed! Mercy rained down underserved. It was not a reward for obedience. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Her obedience had been acknowledged in God’s ongoing provision of meal and oil. This is a very different moment. It comes as an unexpected gift from God. God has made a way when there seemed to be no way. It comes from a God who responded not because of a transactional responsibility but instead responds out of compassion, love and grace. The widow’s obedience set the stage for God to something unexpected – to give a gift of life and joy. We chose to claim a heart of obedience, not out of promise for reward or from fear of the wrath of God. Our obedience is born out of a heart for God that invites us to trust God – in good days and difficult one. Our obedience flows from our love for God because of the countless ways we experience God’s unmerited grace and mercy.

A major local church has come up with a new campaign. I find it quite interesting. It reads; The word "tithe" literally means "a tenth." We return to the Lord 10% of what He's given us, because it belongs to Him. In Malachi 3:10-11, God says, "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in my house." The 'storehouse' is the Old Testament picture of the New Testament church. So as New Testament believers, we worship the Lord with the tithe; or the ten percent. But giving away 10% of your income can be a big -- and often frightening -- commitment! That's why we created the Three-Month Tithing Challenge: a money-back guarantee of sorts. Essentially, it's a contract based on the promises of God in Malachi 3:10-11. We commit to you that if you tithe for three months and God doesn't hold true to His promises of blessings, we will refund 100% of your tithe. No questions asked. (2)  While this might sound good, I believe that they are way off track. If we have reduced God to spiritual blessing ATM then we have sorely missed the point. Our obedience to God – our faithfulness in our stewardship of the resources God has given us – our generosity in the life of the church and beyond the walls of the church is cannot be seen as contractual financial relationship with God of giving based on the expectation of the blessing of God. How we give cannot be grounded in what we think we can get from God in return. It must be born in an attitude of faithful obedience that emerges from an authentic relationship with God.

What is your story? Are you willing to trust that God will meet your needs? Are you ready to be obedient to God regardless of price? This story of nameless faceless widow living on the edge of survival speaks across the generations to paint a picture of faithful obedience that creates the stage for God to give an unexpected gift of life and joy. I wonder that if we were willing to display the kind faithful obedience that responds to God regardless of the cost – what God might do in and through us?

(1) D. A. Carson, D., New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition. Rev. ed. of: The New Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer, (4th ed.) 1970, (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994).
(2) Available online at https://www.lifechurch.tv/giving/challenge on March 4, 2011

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

“The Mission of God: The Mission of the Church” - I John 4:7-12

The following message was brought as a part of the CBFO General Assembly with the theme Missio Dei. I share it with you because it lays out how I understand the Mission of the Church in the context of the Redemptive Sending Mission of God.

When T Thomas called and asked me to bring this morning’s message my mind began to immediately run through what passage to use. It is no secret that my heart beats for missions. So, the Mission of God and the Mission of the Church – or the Sending of God and the Sending of God’s People is theme that finds its way into my sermons rather often. I was tempted to look over my sermon files, find a favorite, dust it off, and be done with the task at hand. It was tempting – there are sermon titles that boldly read: “The Mission of Christ,” “Doing the Right Thing,” “The Call,” “Kingdom People,” “A Heart for Our Community,” “A Heart for the World,” “Accepting God’s Assignment,” and a host of others like them. The problem is that I thought this moment deserved better that a rehashed version of a sermon prepared for another people and another place. Next I thought about claiming one of the great missions passages; Genesis 12, the Great Commission, Acts 1:8, or others - and using it to claim a fresh interpretation of an old mission standard for this place and this moment. But I thought that others had so shaped what we hear in these passages that the struggle to bring some fresh could be lost in interpretation.

A little over fifteen years ago Robert Fulghum released a book entitled, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” As I thought and prayed about this morning, I had a Robert Fulghum kind of moment. The passage that played over and over in my head was the first verse I ever learned. It was John 3:16. I learned it out of the King James Version, so no matter what translation I have in my hand at the time I always hear it the same. How about saying it with me? For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. From my earliest memories of church this passage impacted my view of God. The God that love the world – and loved me – was not far way. This God was and is a sending God. It also told me that the God that loved me also loved everyone else in the world. It just made sense to me that we needed to make sure every knew that God loved them.

So, for the next few minutes I want to claim the heart of the passage I learned in kindergarten and look it its more expanded expression found in I John 4:7-12. Mary Hardin read this passage earlier in our service. Hear again verses 7 through 10. 7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. The redemptive love story between God and humanity is born in the heart and the nature of God. With the same love that moved God breathed the breath of life in the Genesis, moves God to send his one and only Son, his very incarnation, to the world that we might find our way back home to Him. The Mission of God is a reflection of the very heart and nature of God – it is the love of God that initiates the Gospel story.

Verses 11 and 12 makes the sending Mission of God personal. It reads; 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. This mission sending of the church is then born in the redemptive Mission of God. As we experience God’s redemptive love for us – as we experience God living in us and God’s love being made complete in us, the expectation is that we will become a reflection of that redemptive love for others. For God so loved the world he sent his one and only Son….for God so loved the world he sends His people – the Church into the world.

This Redemptive Sending Mission of God is at the heart of the Great Commission. When Christ commissions the Church on the Galilean hillside it transformed the scope of the disciples’ world and catapulted them into a global mission with God. The church was and is called to be at the center of missions. Bill O'Brien, one of my friends and favorite Baptist missiologist, introduced me to one of his favorite quotes. It says, "missions is to the church as flame is to the fire." When the congregation claims its place at the center of missions it is restored to its right and rightful place in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. In its living out of mission the church finds a central element of its “raision d’etre” or reason for being; its foundation its relationship with the world. (1)

There was a time when we as Baptist outsourced our place in the Mission of God to organizations and structures that required our cash and asked for our prayer, and sent others in our place. The missionary was called out of the church to fulfill their individual sense of call. They were on mission and the task of the church was to support them. We were thrilled to get to see occasional slide show and were enthralled by stories of people that lived far, far away. While this method was efficient and the church could celebrate its global impact in supporting others to serve in their stead, the Church failed to understand their mission as a reflection of the sending Mission of God. The Mission of the Church was not designed for the selected few; it was and is to be a reflection of the way of life of every believer.

We see this clearly played out at Pentecost. As this little band of fishermen, tax collectors, and other assorted followers leave the safety of the Upper Room and find their way into the streets they experience something incredible. They had spoken Aramaic their whole lives. Now, empowered by the Holy Spirit, they listened as other languages tumbled from their lips. I am not sure that they understood what was happening to them, but the scene moves from the Upper Room to the streets. Jewish from across the globe walked the streets, drawn to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple as a part of one of the grand religious celebrations. The crowd was bewildered – confused – even shocked – because they saw these simple Galileans speaking to them in their own language. “The Spirit-powered mission and the message of the church are clearly evident in the outpouring of these other languages. God’s action through Christ on behalf of the world is a proclamation that must be spread, to all people, in all languages, even to the ‘the ends of the earth.’” (2) The command they heard from Jesus on a hillside in Galilee to take the gospel “to the ends of the earth” suddenly was being realized before their eyes. In this moment the earliest “Church” inextricably discovered the living expression of the fact its mission and the redemptive Mission of God was the same.

It still is! It means that the missionary and the minister, the lawyer and the bricklayer, accountants and acrobats – all who are a part of the Church because of their relationship with God through Jesus Christ – are to be are to find their place in the living out of the Mission of God reflected in the Mission of the Church. When the Mission of the Church is the living out of the Mission of God there are no spare parts. Everyone matters and every disciple is called to engage – who they are and where they are- and wherever God might send them. Each will have a different place, but each has a place. While there is and always will be a place for missionaries, they must be tied to the living witness of congregations so that their mission expression is lived out as a part of an intentional corporate body of believer living out its part in the greater Mission of the Church. While there is and always will be a place for mission sending structures, their will and they way must begin in enabling the church fulfill its place in the Redemptive Sending Mission of God.

Even the traditional missional structures within the local church walls give way to a more organic movement of the people as the find their place and the voice in the mission of God. We looked to begin one congregation to meet a perceived need of the refugee community. That was three churches ago. We have gotten involved with Cowboy churches and the birth of an emergent church even before we fully understood how they worshipped. God brought opportunities to us without asking – and we said “yes.” This Kimberly Anno and Sarah Kroutil, two of our twentysomethings, are working on a summer medical mission trip to Haiti. They are moved by compassion by what they have seen and heard related to the ongoing tragedy in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. They have heard God call and have responded. They do not ask our permission to go. They ask for us to release them and to bless their Kingdom endeavors. Paul and Barbara Calmes seemed to always going somewhere –and taking others along with them. India, Guatemala, Ghana, Kenya, China, and who knows where’s next. We are asked to simply bless their Kingdom endeavors. A number of our youth and 20somethings are heading to Canada to work with refugees this summer because they have heard God’s call. Our task is to release them and bless them. . Cathy Manuel prayed that God would fill the shelves of the food pantry and through a Walmart Grocery store God has provided so much that we are now expanding the number of zip codes we are serving. God did not ask – God provided and called us out. In the days ahead we soon ahead we will open the doors of a furniture ministry for refugees and working-poor families; we are working with others in this room to help begin a new Ghanaian church; we will partner with a Korean mission to reach Hispanics because that is where God has placed them. God is calling out and sending out people to find their place in His Redemptive Sending Mission. Our task as church is to embrace them, empower them, and release them. It is not how missions was done in previous eras of church life here, but it is how God is moving, calling, and sending now. For God so loved the world that He sent His one and only Son – and now sends His church

But hear that embrace our place in the Mission of the Church it is no small task. When the church understands its place as a reflection of the Redemptive Sending Mission of God it will call it out of its comfort, into the difficult highways and byways of its community and the world. The Mission of the Church will draw it from the safety of its sanctuaries to rub shoulder to shoulder with the poor, the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, and with those who live their lives separate from a relationship with God. The Mission of the Church will compel it to learn to speak to a world that it not its own, even when rejection and suffering are a part of the package. The Mission of the Church will summons it to act as an agent of reconciliation, responding cross-culturally to the hurt and the hopelessness that captures the souls of those living a world of darkness. The cross-cultural response will be to the both to their own culture, and to those across the globe that do not have a personal relationship with God. It will move us from looking for like-minded Baptist to instead working beside like-hearted Baptist (and others) who will partner with us as we seek to live out our place in the Mission of the Church.

For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten Son…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.

(1) Wilber R. Shenk. Write the Vision: The Church Renewed in the Christian Mission and Modern Culture series. (Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1995) 90.
(2) From “The Interpreter,” Commentary for Acts 2:1-21, Homiletics, June 4, 2006. Originally published in Homiletics, May 23, 1999.