Monday, April 18, 2005

Teaching Summary (4/14)

Rediscovering Church:
Being a Compassionate Church
Acts 3:1-12

What is it that the world wants and even expects the church to be active in?

It's not politics, that's for sure.
It's not the school system, either.
And it's definitely not the courtroom.

No the place the world expects the church to be is on the street. In the prisons. With the homeless. At the soup kitchens. The very places Jesus commanded us to go (Matt. 25). When we stay in our comfort zones and neglect acts of compassion, we not only miss out on what God wants for us, but we also miss the one area that the world will still respond to the church's impact.

There are countless strategies for evangelism:
The "go-door-to-door-handing-out-pamphlets" strategy
The "stand-on-the-corner-telling-people-they're-going-to-hell" strategy
Or the "be-really-really-nice-to-everyone-and-maybe-they'll-come-to-church-with-you" strategy.

Now, all of these options have their pros and cons. The only problem is that none of them is the strategy Jesus used. Sure, he was nice to people, he told them about hell, and he clearly laid out the truth to people, but the primary strategy he used to impact the world was to humble himself and compassionately meet people's needs.

So why isn't the church doing a better job at compassion ministry today? Are we afraid? Probably. Are we stuck in our comfort zones? Most likely. Plus, we're great at coming up with excuses: "He'll just use the money to buy more booze." "I wrote the check to the organization- it's their responsibility to get involved." "Ah, the government'll take care of it. That's what Welfare's all about, right?"

Wrong. The hurting in the world are the church's responsibility. Period. And we should never underestimate the reputation we will gain when the world sees us leading with compassion.

In Acts 3, Peter and John are on their way to the temple. They are willing to get interrupted from their prayer business to meet the need of a lame man. He thought his need was money. But Peter saw the real need (which was good because he didn't have any money anyway). He healed the man, and as a result, crowds gathered in astonishment. Peter then had the opportunity to point people to Jesus and many were saved. All because Peter and John were willing to show compassion to a hurting man.

God's heart is for the beaten down and the victimized. Jesus viewed his ministry as one of compassion. And acceptable religion is rooted in bringing comfort to those in need.

Here at Harvest, we are committed to reaching people through Compassion. We know it's tough to fight the inertia of suburban life and engage in the work of Jesus. But lives are changed and we are truly fulfilled when we are serving others and using what we have to meet their needs.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

What about the Pope?

The blog universe has been overrun in recent days due to the Pope's passing. It seemed people needed something equally controversial to run to after the whole Terri Shiavo mess. And it wasn't all respectful, as there was plenty of backlash from the anti-religious folks. But for now, it seems the media frenzy is starting to fade. At least until the white smoke is seen at the Vatican, signifying that the Cardinals have picked the next guy.

Conspiracy theorists, such as Dan Brown, like to convince impressionable people that the Catholic Church is corrupt in a highly organized way. Some Protestants regard the Catholic Church as a cult that we need to rescue people from. But most people just figure that we're all the same, that Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, Muslims, Mormons, and everyone else should just ignore their differences and celebrate humanity.

The truth is that we do have differences that will not go away, although faithful Protestants and Catholics agree on most of the essentials: Jesus is God, Jesus is eternal, Jesus is the only way to salvation, the Bible is God's word, etc. However, the Papacy reveals the biggest difference: Authority.

Is God's written Word the full authority of His revelation? Or does a man also have the authority to speak for God, adding to, and possibly changing, what the written Word says? Catholics believe that the Pope has such authority.

Pope John Paul II was a good man. He had startling integrity. Never once did he compromise to be politically correct. He stood for the dignity of human life in an era where that is frowned upon, constantly challenging world leaders of every political color. And he had tremendous impact. He was centrally responsible for the freedom of Eastern Europe and the fall of Communism. He garnered respect even from people who didn't agree with him.

There is a good possibility that the next one picked won't have as much backbone or compassion. The next Pope may decide to "re-interpret" what the Word says about sexuality, life, or even Jesus. If that happens, we need to stand firm as Protestants on what the Reformers called sola scriptura, that Scripture alone is our authority.

In the meantime, we need to pray that the Cardinals pick another man of integrity.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Teaching Summary (4/7)

Last Thursday, we had another great night of getting together and connecting with one another. We continued our series through the book of Acts. This time, we looked at "Being a Connecting Church", based on Acts 2:42-47, a pivotal passage about what a church should look like:

"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved."

From these verses we see that the early church learned together, spent time together, shared meals together, prayed together, shared resources together, and worshipped together. Through their unity and deep connection, needs were met, they had glad and generous hearts, and they had a favorable reputation with outsiders. No wonder so many were being added to their number. What they were experiencing- genuine relation connection with each other and with God- meets the deepest need in the human soul.

Too many people grow up in dysfunction. Too many are stuck in relationships where they aren't treated as anything but a hassle to the other person. Too many of us are convinced that this is all we will ever be. So we run to psychology and brain medication. We run to the internet and television to feed our escapism. We run to the store or the fridge to spend or eat ourselves out of our funk. But what we really need is to know that someone cares that we're more than what we fear we are. Or as Larry Crabb puts it in his book Connecting, "[When] someone sees us as we are and still delights in us, still believes that we could become responsible, giving people, that someone sees us as fundamentally acceptable. Courage develops, hope appears...a hope that exists because it sees something in us that is absolutely terrific- a belief that there is life in us."

That's connecting. And that's what every soul is searching for. And that's what so many churches do so poorly.

Too many Christians are known for how judgmental they are. As a result, they don't know how to "delight" in other people and give them hope because they can see life in them- even a future life.

While some churches fail in their judgmentalism, many others fail in superficiality. Too many Christians think that "community" is a matter of coffee after a service. That we've "fellowshipped" if we've talked about the weather or our kids.

Real community comes from really connecting. One of our mottos at Harvest is "a place to connect and go deeper." We cannot earn the right to go deeper until we connect with people. But unless we go deeper, we haven't truly connected. At Harvest, we are committed to avoiding both judgmentalism and superficiality in our quest for authentic community.

Join us this week as we proceed to Acts 3 and look at "Being a Compassionate Church".

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Teaching Summary (3/31)
Being a Supernatural Church

Last Thursday we began our new series entitled, "Rediscovering Church". We started with a lesson on Acts chapters 1 & 2 called "Being a Supernatural Church". The following is a summary of that teaching.

How does God lead us? How do we know when he is speaking to us? Those are some of the questions every church must be able to answer. The early church knew the answers because they experienced the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Pentecost was the day that everything changed. From that point forward, the Holy Spirit empowered His church through personal and permanent indwelling of every believer. He distributes supernatural gifts to every believer for the sake of building up the church.

In the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit specifically led the church by performing personal transformation in the lives of believers like Peter and John (Acts 4:13). He also led the church in selecting servant workers like Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:2). Sometimes He would lead people by opening doors for the Gospel, as with Philip (Acts 8:26 and following). And He even sometimes led by closing doors (Acts 16:6-7). We know the Holy Spirit leads us the same way. He has already transformed lives, called people to serve, opened and closed doors for Harvest in our first month.

Jesus also explained how the Holy Spirit leads the church in John 16. He points out that the Holy Spirit is our Counselor, an advisor in time of need. He is also our Convictor- the one who reminds us of what's right and what's wrong, who (through the church) provides the moral compass for the world, and judges the enemy. Thirdly, the Holy Spirit is the Clarifier- the one who helps us understand the truth of God's word and who guides us in that truth. And lastly, the Holy Spirit is the great Glorifier who exists in the church to help us glorify Christ. In fact, everything He does is for the glory of Christ, which is the sole purpose of the church.

When the early church was meeting persecution, they prayed for boldness. When their persecutors got together, a Pharisee named Gamaliel spoke unknowingly wise words. He advised the council that if the purpose or activity of the church was "of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them; you will only find yourselves fighting against God." (Acts 5:38-39).

Gamaliel's words provide the direction for Harvest. If this is just a pipedream or whim of ours that we accomplish through human means, we're dead before we start. But if this is something God is doing, that He has called us to, and that He is empowering supernaturally through His Spirit, then we cannot fail. And we'd better hold on tight.