Make the Invitation | Wk 3

Growing up in Western PA I assumed that everyone had a seat at the same table I did…but I went to school with a hunting, refinery employed, hard working, catholic, ethnic group of people…they were loud but kind and very caring for each other. I didn’t even recognize there was a world so different than mine until college in Nashville. I’d been a fairly well behaved, white, middle-class, country, Christian boy. I had supported parents, a loving family, and by most measurement’s a child’s dream childhood, filled with pizza binges, hunting, sledding, playing b-ball till dark, spontaneous campouts in the mountains behind our house and epic hide and seek games at dark. When I think about those days now I recall laughing a lot, paying way too much attention to how I looked, the girls at school, and dreams of being a rock star…but generally feeling safe and secure in our cozy…often frozen corner of North western PA.
 
My mother loved to can vegetables out of our acre garden and the house always smelled of baked pies and bread. As it is true for most of us the heart of our home was the kitchen and dining room table…most of the family meetings, jokes and catching up happened around an all American meal of Roast/carrots and potatoes. It was a holy place…the place of our family connection… belonging… counsel… correction… homework… arguments…and love. Early on…it was religion, rules and rituals that were the foundation of our daily routines. It was woven into my everyday studies, athletics, music, and my social life by parents who valued structure and moral values they hoped they were giving me. As a result, this faith formed in the background of my life and I knew God was hovering over me like we see the Spirit of God hovering over the waters in creation…or like the parents I never wanted to disappoint or let down. So as long as I remember I had two stories going on in my head…
 
1. I had a family that loved and supported me(a place where I belonged) 2. I had a story about God and he was real, good, and I was fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of this good God.
 
These truths in my head steady me and challenge me to need the Lord more everyday…I was never alone, God has been with me. There are also times when He has corrected me… Because along with adopting these two wonderful truths, I also adopted some false stories…about people who were different than me, skin color, economic class, religion, maybe originally shared with me for my safety…but all the while I owned those things that today I don’t see as truth or my heart or the heart of God. In my handed down narratives, “These people” were to be avoided or feared, or at the very least approached with skepticism, and one of the most difficult thing to admit is that because of these stories I’d learned that I was just a little more deserving of the love of this big God than they were. I was “blessed”.
 
I think some here today can connect to this narrative…our faith story hears “If God is for me, who can be against me?” and we assume that there is some competition with others that we are required to win or secure our place in order to win our acceptance.
This thinking can make us experts at excluding people at our tables.
 
My story has told me I was “in” and those who were foreign to my experience all needed to do some work in order to earn a seat at God’s table.
 
The truth I later would learn was that I was just another religious begging Pharisee thinking of myself more righteous than I’m pleased to admit. As long as I never drank, smoked, cussed, dated inappropriately, I was set….I was HEAVENBOUND
False stories and small tables will do that to us…My prayer today is that we challenge the narrative of our upbringing and seek to hear from God’s narrative and listen closely to the spirit’s directions.
 
We love to party at the Harden house…we’ve had spiderman parties, cowboy, food fight, Dora the explorer, and even a glow in the dark dance party for 150 students… We love people coming together and God has given us a home that invites people to come join the fun…The huge table at the Chouse is often call the last supper – but it’s where everything happens…where we sit and talk and feast, and laugh and play games and so on…our favorite thing is hosting a dinner party…much like the one found in Luke 14:15-24 (The Parable of the Great Banquet) The unstated question that lies behind our scripture is, “What sort of person will be INVITED TO THE PARTY?”
 
What’s up with this PARTY? The feast, the party, the table—these were the settings for some of the most powerful and pivotal moments of the life of Jesus. He loved the table. It’s where he spent time with tax collectors and zealots, Pharisees and prostitutes, wealthy women and influential men.
At the table with Jesus, the powerful were confronted, the oppressed were uplifted, the outcasts were invited, the self-righteous were ridiculed and the seekers were given a glimpse of the kingdom of God. We can’t miss the significance of the table.
 
• He performed his first miracle at a wedding. • He called Matthew to be his disciple and then Matthew threw a party so all his friends could meet Jesus. • He invited himself to lunch at Zacchaeus’ house, and it changed the trajectory of Zacchaeus’ life. • He ate with sinners and saints and religious insiders and social outcasts. • After the resurrection, he appeared to the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Before the disciples could meet him there, Jesus was already cooking breakfast. • On the road to Emmaus, he revealed himself, not in his exposition of the Old Testament prophecies about him, but at the table.
 
Something Unique and Significant happens around the table. It’s there that we see glimpses of Jesus and experience transformation like in no other environment. ….It shouldn’t be surprising that communion—one of the two sacraments the church has observed for its entire history—takes place around the table.
 
In Luke 14, right after the healing of another man we see Jesus, once again, around the table—this time, not of a tax collector, but a Pharisee. The conversation turns to the future feast in the Kingdom of God, and Jesus tells a rather provocative story. A nobleman planned a party and sent invitations. People turned him down for a variety of excuses—needing to inspect some recently purchased property, needing to test-drive some new oxen, and needing to go on a honeymoon.
The excuses do seem a bit ridiculous. Or at least they lack any creativity or imagination. -You purchased a field before inspecting it? -You bought oxen without test-driving them?
But we have all turned down party invites for less compelling reasons, so it’s a little difficult to understand the anger of the host. Here’s where we need to once again remove our own cultural filters and enter the world of first-century Middle Eastern culture.
In Middle Eastern culture, there were always two invitations issued. The first was issued a number of days in advance so the host could get a headcount. But it was more than just a “save the date.” It was a commitment. These were extravagant events. The meats and the wines would have been carefully selected and matched. The amount of food would have been meticulously calculated to ensure there would be enough. An accurate headcount was important. Once the party was ready, a second invitation would be sent. A servant would be sent to declare, “dinner is ready, the table is set, it’s time to eat.” The servant would then escort the guests to the banquet. Often, the process of guests to the dinner would feel like a parade, accompanied by drums or musicians.
 
The guests were giving their excuses in the midst of the grand escort.
 
John 14:12
12 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers[b] or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
15 When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” 16 But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant[c] to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ 19 And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ 20 And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ 21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ 22 And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ 23 And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you,[d] none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”
 
Now, when we read this story in light of the cultural backdrop, these excuses go beyond just being ridiculous. They are insulting. The people listening to Jesus’ story would have recognized that these three excuses did not represent legitimate distractions or inconveniences that got in the way of something better. They didn’t even represent lame and pathetic attempts to get out of something they didn’t want to do. They were intentionally aimed at bringing public disgrace, dishonor, and humiliation to the host. When the servant returned with this news, the master boiled over in anger. If we don’t understand the cultural context and what’s really behind these excuses, we assume that the master is just having a super sensitive moment. But this isn’t a guy who has gotten his feelings hurt because his buddies found something better to do that night. He had been publicly humiliated, and his anger would have been culturally understood and justified. While contemporary readers May be shocked by the extent of the master’s anger, that would not have been shocking at all to Jesus’ original audience. What shocked the original audience was the way the master channeled his anger: not in retaliation, but an explosion of hospitality. The master is angry at the insult to his character. So his response is: “Go fill my house.” He tells his servants to go get the poor, crippled, blind, and lame.
 
This is difficult for us to understand, but in that society, the new invite list would be considered unclean. These weren’t just people who were uncomfortable to be around. You were compromising your reputation and your spiritual purity by sharing a table with them. And remember the audience. The Pharisees. The ones concerned about ritual purity and working so hard to preserve the right worship for God.
 
Jesus expanded the scope of what it meant to be a part of the family of God.
The master invited the people that were typically rejected to have the places of honor at his table. That is the heart of the master. In the face of public humiliation, he retaliated—with grace.
When his hospitality was rejected, he extended it further. When he was dishonored, he honored the least respected members of society.
 
God loves a full house and a diverse table. Do our tables reflect the table of the Kingdom of God? Who are you bringing to the table?
 
To catch the full flavor of this parable, you must understand the setting. Jesus was eating in the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath. They were watching Jesus carefully to catch Him in some violation of their Sabbath laws (14:1). They believed that to heal someone was work and therefore not permitted on the Sabbath. They probably planted this man with dropsy right in front of Jesus to trap Him. Jesus was not your typical, “polite” dinner guest who went out of His way not to offend anyone. So, He defied the Pharisees by healing the man (14:1-7).
 
Next, Jesus watched as these proud men picked out the places of honor for themselves at the table. Then He delivered a pointed message about humility, which must have humiliated the guests (14:7-11). Finally, as if the tension were not great enough already, the Lord told the host that he had invited the wrong guests! He said, “You should have invited the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind instead of all these friends, relatives, and rich neighbors who can return the favor” (14:12-14)! At this point you could have sliced the atmosphere with a knife!
 
At the end of Jesus’ rebuke (14:14), He mentions the resurrection of the righteous. To break the tension and to try to sound spiritual, one of the guests exclaims, “Blessed is everyone who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!” (14:15). He probably thought that both Jesus and all the guests could agree with this pious comment. Everyone around the table probably nodded in agreement and said to one another, “Amen! It will be wonderful when we’re all there, won’t it!” Perhaps there was some nervous laughter.
 
But Jesus wasn’t one to pass up opportunities! He was quick and ready to correct wrong ideas in the spiritual realm. And so He told this parable about the great dinner to correct this man, who wrongly was assuming that he and all of his cronies would be present at that banquet due to the fact that they were Jews, and not just any Jews, but Pharisees. They saw themselves a few notches above the common Jewish people, and not even in the same league with pagan Gentiles. Jesus shows them that many of them would not be in the kingdom because they were refusing the Lord’s invitation. To their great surprise, many whom they assumed would not be there would in fact be there because they responded to the invitation. The last would be first and the first last (13:30). The answer to the question, “Who will be at God’s banquet in the kingdom?” is, those who respond personally to the invitation.
 
To have dinner with Jesus in His kingdom, you must respond personally to His invitation.
Let’s look first at God’s invitation and then at the responses to His invitation.
 
A. GOD’S INVITATION IS A BROAD INVITATION. Verse 16 states, “He invited many.” In the imagery of the parable, the many who first were invited refers to the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day. These men had the privilege of studying the Scriptures. They had read Moses; they knew what the Prophets predicted concerning the Messiah. As Paul puts it in Rom. 3:2, they had the advantage of being entrusted with the oracles of God. When the dinner hour came, God sent His messenger, John the Baptist, to say, “Everything is ready now.” But the Jewish leaders made excuses and did not come.
 
So the Lord expanded the invitation to the “outcasts” of Israel. The Pharisees despised these people as “born entirely in sin” (John 9:34). Many of the prostitutes, tax collectors and other notorious sinners responded to God’s invitation and were following Jesus. This proud Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner would never have thought of extending his invitation to these outcasts (14:13), but Jesus is telling him that God’s invitation includes those whom the proud Pharisees had rejected.
But there was still room at the master’s table (14:22). And so the invitation goes still wider, outside the “city limits” of Judaism, to the Gentiles who are out in the highways and along the hedges (14:23). At His great banquet the Lord will have a great multitude which no one can count from every nation and tribe and people and tongue (Rev. 7:9). God’s invitation is a broad invitation! It includes every person from every race, no matter whether his or her background is very religious or completely pagan.
 
It’s up to us to offer the invitation…our story is the way we can connect (earn the right) to offer the invitation. To everyone…
We commit a great error when we make the church an exclusive club for the religiously inclined. Have you ever looked at someone and thought, “That person would not be interested in the gospel because he lives a very ungodly life”? Or, you see someone who looks like he belongs to a motorcycle gang and you think, “That person doesn’t look like a good candidate for a Christian!” Or perhaps we see a person whose attire identifies her as a Hindu or a Muslim. We think, “She has her own religion and way of life. The gospel is not for her.” Whenever we think like that (and we all have), we’re limiting God’s broad invitation of the gospel.
His gospel will transform every sinner from every background who will believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. To every person on this planet the Lord says, “Come, for everything is ready now.”
 
B. GOD’S INVITATION IS A FREE INVITATION. God provides it all, totally free to you, but at great expense to Himself. Human nature is so inclined to boast in good works that when you tell people the good news about Jesus, you must take pains to make it clear that God’s invitation is free and only free.
 
C. GOD’S INVITATION IS AN AMPLE INVITATION. What a great picture of the abundant salvation God so freely provides for sinners! When you come to His banquet table in Christ, He doesn’t just give you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. He gives you the works! He is a fountain of living water to wash away all of your sins. He gives you the indwelling Holy Spirit who gives you peace to replace your anxiety, joy to replace your depression, power to overcome your sins and wisdom to make the right decisions. You have fellowship every day with the gracious Savior and the promise of eternity with Him in heaven. The apostle Peter describes it like this: “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Pet. 1:3).
 
With that kind of offer, you may wonder, “How can anyone refuse?” But Jesus’ parable clearly warns that some do refuse God’s broad, free, and ample invitation.
 
The responses to God’s invitation: Some refuse with excuses, while others personally accept it. To ignore or postpone responding is to refuse the invitation, because the table is ready now. At some point soon, every seat will be full and the door will be shut. Those who procrastinate may miss the opportunity. Let’s look first at those who refuse: When we offer the invitation we will experience many of the same responses…there’s only 2 possible options yes or no (maybe is no, later is no)
 
A. SOME REFUSE GOD’S INVITATION WITH EXCUSES. Each of those who are first on the invitation list responds with an excuse for why he cannot come. The first man says that he cannot come because he has bought a piece of land and he must go out and look at it. This is a flimsy excuse! Who would buy a piece of land sight unseen? Besides, why does he need to go to look at it at the same time as the dinner? If he wanted to, he could plan to do both. Clearly, he did not want to come to the dinner. He represents the person who is tied up with his possessions or investments so that he has no time for God. He forgets that this very night his soul may be required of him, and then who will own what he has worked so hard to accumulate?
 
The second man says that he cannot come because he has bought five yoke of oxen and he is going to try them out. Again, it was a flimsy excuse. No one would buy oxen without first trying them out. Like the first man, this man was caught up with his possessions and his work. He can’t even take time off to have dinner with Jesus. He is living for the things of this world, but he is neglecting his soul.
 
The third man says that he cannot come because he has married a wife. Perhaps he is saying that he couldn’t bear to be apart from his beloved for even a few hours. Maybe his wife didn’t want him to go anywhere without her. At any rate, he was making an idol of his wife, putting her above his need for God. As Jesus goes on to say, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (14:26).
 
The interesting thing is that none of these excuses was sinful, in and of itself. There is nothing wrong with buying land or animals (or machinery) to work the land. The Bible commends enterprise and hard work. There is nothing wrong with marriage and the love of family. The Bible commands us to love our families. But the point is, things that are legitimate in their rightful place can be wrong if they hinder us from getting right with God. It is not just gross, flagrant sins that keep people out of God’s kingdom. Good things wrongly emphasized will do the trick just as well. If a person gets wrongfully caught up with these otherwise good things, he can invent all sorts of excuses for not accepting the Lord’s invitation to His dinner.
 
There may be someone here who is so caught up with your possessions or your life pursuits or your career that you are neglecting your soul. Perhaps you are single and longing for a mate and you would consider marrying even a non-Christian, because you think he or she would bring you fulfillment and happiness. You would put momentary pleasure above the eternal pleasure of dinner with Jesus. You’re saying, “Lord, I can’t come to Your dinner because I have married a wife.”
 
We have to be willing now…not like my kids say…”in a minute.” Like the diet we’re planning to start tomorrow. We are called to respond to Jesus now – and in the same way we are called to share the invite now. Where ever, when ever, how ever…we’re called to “be prepared to share the hope we have.”
 
To allow anything to cause you to refuse or put off accepting God’s offer of salvation is a foolish decision. The host gets angry at the refusal, because it was a rude personal insult to turn down such a bountiful invitation. God offered His own Son as the sacrifice for sinners to be reconciled to Him. As the author of Hebrews asks, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Heb. 2:3). As the host here declares, “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner” (14:24). The refusal of the first group led the host to send out the invitation to others who accepted his offer.
 
B. OTHERS RESPOND PERSONALLY TO GOD’S OFFER IN SPITE OF POTENTIAL EXCUSES. The striking thing is that everyone who accepted the invitation could have come up with seemingly legitimate excuses for not coming. The poor man could say, “I don’t have anything decent to wear to such a feast.” The crippled man could say, “I can’t get anyone to carry me there.” The blind could say, “I can’t see to find my way.” The lame could say, “It hurts me too much to walk on my bad leg.” Those along the highways and hedges, the street people, could say, “I haven’t had a bath in days and my clothes are dirty and ragged. I can’t come.” But they all accepted the offer because the servant convinced them that they were welcome and they clearly knew their own need; (we show people through our stories) they were hungry. They believed the offer and they responded personally to it in spite of the potential excuses they each could have come up with.
 
The servant didn’t run a background check on all these people before he invited them to the feast. Their background didn’t matter. He didn’t find out their nationality. He didn’t ask about their religious background or whether they even had one. He didn’t get a promise that they would behave and show proper manners at the dinner table. The invitation was not based on anything in the recipients; it was based totally on the goodness and bounty of the host. All that these people had to do was recognize their hunger, believe that the offer was true, and say, “Yes, I’ll come.” When they came, they found that the feast was far better than they had ever expected or imagined.
 
Closing
One of the main hindrances that will keep you from having dinner with Jesus is that you are so full of your own goodness that you won’t acknowledge your need for His banquet. Your pride will make you say, “I’ll bring the salad and dessert.” But the Lord says, “No, I provide it all. You just come.” Like my personal story at the beginning of the teaching…I thought I was “BLESSED” and everyone else had work to do…when in fact God wanted to work on me. And He greatly broke me and has given me a new heart and mind for others… and he continues to do that in ways that blow my mind.
Imagine a multimillionaire who sends his servant out in his limousine to the poorest section of town. The servant tells the chauffeur to stop by a bum in ragged clothes. He gets out and asks, “Would you like to come to a feast at my master’s mansion? We’ll take you. Please, get in.”
 
The guy on the street eyes the servant warily and asks, “What’s the catch?”
“There’s no catch; my master is a kind and generous man. He has prepared a meal like you wouldn’t believe. Won’t you come?”
“I haven’t had a bath in days. I haven’t washed my clothes in weeks, and these rags are all I own. I would feel out of place at a mansion.”
 
“There will be many others there just like you. The food is on the table and the dinner is about to begin. Just come as you are.”
It sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? It is good, but it’s also true, according to Jesus. The main catch is, we have to see and admit that we are that needy bum. Spiritually, we have nothing to commend ourselves to God. Salvation is not based on anything in us. In fact, it is offered freely in spite of us.
It is all of God’s free grace, not at all of our works, lest anyone should boast.
Jesus is saying to each person, no matter how great your sins, “Come, for I have prepared everything for you to be saved from God’s judgment and to dine with Me for all eternity.” Will you say, “Yes, Lord. I’ll come!” and then in that divine supernatural response we can say “Yes, Lord, I’ll make a bigger table and I’ll seek out those to invite”
Activate + Share a meal with a neighbor. Some ideas might be: Invite a coworker to coffee or lunch. Invite a neighbor over for a meal or to hang on your front porch. After a kids sporting event, grab lunch with teammates. Sit around a table and get to know one another. Plan a progressive dinner in your neighborhood.
 
Report back… – We want to hear your story – your life change – We want to hear your story – your “banquet” – We want to hear your story – your neighbor’s life change

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Change the Narrative | Wk 2

So what have you wondered about? What have you marveled at? Have you ever been in awe of God?
Have you ever wondered how God thought up everything He created? Have you ever learned about the power and authority of God?
 
Have you ever been curious about your place in everything God has planned for this world?
It’s pretty amazing to think about…it’s WONDER-ful…it’s MARVEL-ous. It’s worth learning and sharing. I think it can be pretty amazing.
 
So then why doesn’t everyone want to know about it? Why is it that some people have NO desire to walk through the doors of church, or sit and listen to a song about Jesus or give credit for a miraculous occurrence to our creator?
Why do people (our neighbors) dislike church so much?
This is the question we want to look at today – we think there’s an issue in our world and we want to attack it…we as a church need to combat it. I think there are misconceptions and misunderstandings that keep us separated. And today we
I think there are 2 general observations of NON-Church going – our “Neighbors”…most of them think…
1. Church is boring OR… 2. Church is Condemning
With most people that don’t attend church these seem to be the 2 most common views…
 
If you were to watch any sitcom you see the lead actor sitting with his family on a hard, uncomfortable pew listening to some soft spoken, monotone man usually with a southern accent…standing in a dull suit behind a wooden pulpit preaching that Jesus loves everyone – and lulling each congregant to sleep. Right? That’s what we see…
 
A quick search on Google pulled up some people’s thoughts about church…take a look of some opinions of the people that God has told us to be good neighbors to…
 
You would think Christians would be more excited and actually enjoy their “relationship” with God?
Church overall is pretty boring. … The churches around here are centered more toward the elderly crowd. Young people can’t express themselves here. I hardly see any young people who come to church around here anymore. It’s like watching the same TV show week after week for the rest of your life. Think how boring that might feel. All the actors are dead and they will never make a sequel.
 
Christians must be rather unintelligent. They are always practicing. You’d think they’d know all the stories by now.
 
People either think it doesn’t relate…it’s outdated…it’s irrelevant OR… It goes to the other extreme. If it’s not incredibly boring…Church is incredibly condemning.
 
If you aren’t sleeping on your wife’s shoulder than you’re squirming in your seat because the minister is speaking directly to you. That thing you said, the place you went, the money you didn’t give – church makes you feel bad about it all. Maybe they preach about Hell and you feel like you’ve got a one-way ticket. I mean who would want to choose to sit through that?
 
But sadly this is the view of how many of our “NEIGHBORS” around the world see us…and I think if we’re honest some of those people may be sitting in here. Some people may be dragged along with their spouse or their parents or maybe an overbearing friend – anyone brave enough to admit it?
 
So today we want to look at our neighbors. How do our neighbors view us as “Christians”? What is it we’re doing to create that perception? And then – how do we build a reputation that says our church is safe for your skeptical friend…your doubtful neighbor…it’s safe for you? What can we do to create churches that our unchurched NEIGHBORs would love to attend? Because something has to change…this reputation we have is not good. This boring – tired old church that the world thinks of is not what Jesus died for…
 
Matthew 16:18 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.
 
Jesus’ church is so strong and bold that NOT even hell can bring it down. Jesus laid the foundation with His disciples…and Peter became the starting point. And I don’t think the church was boring or condemning then…because when Jesus left and put these guys in charge we saw it grow. It grew it size and in impact. It was a place that attracted it’s neighbors.
 
Acts 2:42-47 42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
 
People came for friendship, for community, for support in hard times. A new community of believers was formed because the “non-church goers” saw life change…they saw transformation…they saw excitement. The church was a place where people desired to be…and not just for a good nap.
 
We could probably look around at the places where people are, and like Mr. Rogers recommended…we can wonder…what brought them in, what kept them there…what is it that makes some places desirable and others not? One man thought about this… Leonard Sweet wrote in his book called The Gospel According to Starbucks… he said… “Starbucks knows that people live for engagement, connection, symbols, and meaningful experiences. If you read the Bible, you’ll see that the people of God throughout history have known the same thing. Life at its very best is a passionate experience, not a doctoral dissertation.”
People want to be where things happen. Neighbors want to get involved with something that’s exciting. No one is interested in doing the same thing over and over…with no impact or effect.
So how do we do this? How do we change the view from the outside? We have to stop making God boring! Jesus didn’t.
Jesus was a master storyteller. He was captivating and engaging, he spoke to relevant issues. Jesus connected with people right where they were. He didn’t pull any punches or make things tame. And yet people wanted to hear what was going on.
And yet somehow today we’ve messed things up…
 
Either we dumb things down and soften his message. We focus on “Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”
Or we go to the other extreme and condemn people… “if you don’t follow the plan, you will burn in hell forever.”
And although this is Biblically accurate…it’s not the way Jesus would have done it.
 
As THE church (UNIVERSAL) community we have reduced the Gospel to a snoozer that will occasionally scare the pants off you. We need to change the narrative. We need to do what Jesus did…we need to connect people to the exciting, life changing story of Jesus…starting where they need it the most. Isn’t that what he did?
 
The woman at the well needed to know she was loved,
John 4:39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.”
 
Zacchaeus needed to know he was important,
Luke 19:9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
 
Matthew needed to know he was forgiven. Matthew 9:12-13 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
 
If we want to change the perception about us…then we need to care about them!
Jesus met people where they were and addressed their needs first. Before preaching the gospel, before speaking about hell, before anything else Jesus connected with what they needed…
 
Starbucks preaches its “Four Pillars: anticipate, connect, personalize, and own. The first pillar – anticipate, is the pursuit to live hospitably, anticipate the needs of the customers. This is what Jesus did. And as Christians, we have to anticipate the needs of our Neighbors…reaching beyond the sanctuary walls into our community. What does my neighbor need right now…today? When we care – our neighbor’s natural response is exactly what Mr. Rogers started with – they will WONDER. They’ll wonder why we care? Why we responded? Why we went out of our way to meet their need? When we act with the genuine love that we’ve received – it opens the door to share our story about when we first received love. We can earn the opportunity to share what God has done…and what He is doing in our lives – when we FIRST meet people’s needs.
 
Part of the problem with our stories is that we have reduced the story of God to something like this: Adam and Eve sinned. Jesus died to make it right. We acknowledge sin and point to redemption but it keeps the story centered around us. We forget what came before and what comes after.
We see over and over that it starts with sharing Jesus and we need to share what Jesus shared…compelling stories of life change. We need to share with passion and purpose…excitement and energy…we need to speak of church as a place for restoration…not just “rest”. Rick Warren claims the purpose or mission of the church, itself, must drive all things connected to the church life. While this mega church pastor would never claim that method is more important than the message of the Gospel, and believing the message never changes, Warren does, however, emphasize the importance of the church in understanding that the methods of reaching out to the community must change with each generation. What has worked in the past may or may not work in the future…the message doesn’t change…just the presentation.
 
This morning we’d like to reminisce a bit about the life change and transformation that has happened right here in the church. We too quickly forget what God has done…and so we don’t share it. I want you to watch these stories and remember what God has done…and even think about What God IS DOING in your life right now…
How did you do? Do you see what God has done? Are you seeing what God is doing in your life right now?
You might not…it’s very possible that you’re struggling right now to know what God is doing in your life…and so you’re struggling to know what story you have to share.
 
Let me tell you – if you want to understand YOUR story – we have to understand God’s story. Only when we understand what God is doing will we understand WHERE we fit in.
 
In the beginning, God created us in His image…both us and our neighbors are created in the image of God. And then fast forward to the end of the story – in Revelation in the end, God will create a new heaven and new earth. Everything will be restored to its original goodness.
 
And all that’s important because – we are invited to play a role in that restoration work.
 
When we remember how the story begins and ends, we find connection points with our own individual stories. When we remember the author and the protagonist of the story, we better understand our place and role in it.
It’s a story of bondage to liberation. It’s a story of isolation to reconciliation. It’s a story of darkness to light and good defeating evil.
 
The story of God reminded people who they were, whose they were, where they were going, why they were going there, and how they were supposed to live once they arrived. It reminded them they were no longer enslaved, but free. They were no longer isolated, but connected. They were no longer walking in darkness, but light. God was not far, but near.
How well do we know the story of God? Are we able to tell the story of God?
 
So if we know where God started and where He’s going…how do we fit in? What story is He writing in our lives?
When has He shown up? Where has he given you a glimpse of His character? His grace? His mercy? When has He invited you to partner with him in the work he is doing around the world?
John 9 talks about a man who was born blind. A man that was healed by Jesus with a little mud. Then the religious/political leaders call this guy in to make a statement about who Jesus’ was. Interestingly enough he said…
 
John 9:25 “I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!”
 
He didn’t make some grand declaration…he told his story and let them decide.
When Paul was dragged in front of the King to defend his teachings, he didn’t give a sermon; he told his story about meeting Jesus on the road side. Just like Stephen in the book of Acts, he didn’t defend himself with theology Stephen shared his story – his testimony. It’s all about letting people see LIFE CHANGE!
Steve Hayner – (Retired President of Columbia Theological Seminary and former Pres. Of The Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship) He points out, “The church must remember just as we have received [the love of Jesus] so we are called to give. It is not that what we have to offer makes us better off than the world. It is what we have to offer has made us better and we want those in the world to experience the same joy.”
Most people outside the church engage the church when they’re invited by someone within the church. And the invitation is not necessarily to come to church for worship, but to experience church in a nonthreatening way and that is through your story.
 
David Platt, (Camp Speaker this summer and current the president of the SBC International Mission Board,)
In Jesus’ simple command to “make disciples,” he has invited every one of his followers to share the life of Christ with others in a sacrificial, intentional, global effort to multiply the gospel of Christ through others. He never intended to limit this invitation to the most effective communicators, the most brilliant organizers, or the most talented leaders and artists—all the allegedly right people that you and I are prone to exalt in the church.
When we tell our stories, do we make them compelling, inviting, and relevant? Compelling stories cause people to lean in and listen more. Inviting stories give people a role to play. Relevant stories make sense in the world we live in.
Changing our reputation with the world around us begins with knowing the story of God. Then it becomes personal when we understand the chapters He’s writing in our own lives, but all of this is powered by prayer.
 
Walter Wink a New York theology professor says, “History belongs to the intercessors.”
 
When you pray things change. People that pray don’t watch history happen. They make history happen. And when you think about the impact of prayer in your life, do you realize that it fuels God’s story?
Prayer moves God’s story down the road. It’s our prayer that impacts our story.
Pray. Pray together. Pray through the scriptures. And don’t forget to give thanks to God for answered prayers. For us to change the view from the neighborhood we have to know the stories around us. We have to know our stories and our neighbor’s stories so we can see God working everything together. We won’t relate to people if we don’t understand the environment God’s been creating. And people won’t relate to us if we aren’t interested in their stories.
What’s the history of our neighborhood? Of our neighbors? Of our offices?
 
Where has God already been at work? How can we make the story of God relevant to the stories of those around us? Only when we can connect – when we live life together – and show the love we’ve received will the church grow like it did in Acts.
 
I want to re-introduce to you Brandon and Deborah…when they walked in this morning most everyone here had no idea who they were. When they stood up to sing the majority of the people in this room likely didn’t pay attention to the new faces up on the platform.
 
But now…having heard their story, their passion to serve God, their struggle to grow a family, their willingness to follow God wherever…will you pray for them? Will you meet their needs, will you be their neighbor? God is at work in their lives.
God has been at work writing your story, the miraculous life change. Will you share your story? Will you reach out to the neighbors in need…meet their need and share your story?

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Who is my Neighbor? | Wk 1

Years ago PBS featured a new show where the host entered the studio, took off his cardigan sweater, and his dress shoes and put on some sneakers – while singing the theme song…
 
(Sing) 😉 “It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood A beautiful day for a neighbor Would you be mine? Could you be mine?

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God’s Money | Wk 5

Through out the book of Proverbs, King Solomon is helping us understand HOW to live this life. What can we do on Earth to fulfill what God has called us to do?
 
And so far, over the last few weeks we’ve talked about “Growing in Knowledge”, then we looked at “Trusting in the Lord” and “Following God’s Plan”…so what are some practical ways for me to do that? What does Solomon say we can do here…what tools can we use to trust and follow?   Solomon teaches us about the tool God gave us – our finances. The wealthiest man on Earth leads us in our first ever “Financial Peace University”…but he challenges us on whose finances we really have to use.

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The Lord Determines Our Path | Wk 4

Getting lost is a thing of the past. Do you realize that? It’s nearly impossible to “get lost.” I mean sure – there are times where you can’t find the exact building you’re looking for…and typically you’re standing right in front of it…or is that just me? It’s usually not because you were lost…more like you can’t see. At this day in age you really have to work hard to NOT know where you are or where.

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Growing in Knowledge | Wk 1

That song is such a proclamation. Proclaiming glory to God…thanks and praise to our Savior. Honoring God for who He is. In fact this song resembles much of what you read in Psalms…beautiful, poetic, celebratory praises to God. His greatness, his power, his beauty…all incredible things to celebrate.
 

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