I recently attended my wife’s 20 year High School Reunion. That sounds odd, doesn’t it? Let me try that again… my wife recently went to her 20 year High School Reunion, and I went with her. That’s better. Because it would be weird for me to just wander on into a reunion for a school I didn’t go to. To be honest, though, it kind of felt like that. Let me tell you how many people I knew: 2. One of those two was my wife. (I’ll take this moment to say thanks a lot to some friends of mine who graduated with my wife yet didn’t attend. You know who you are.)
At this event, I was the outsider. Me and a bunch of other outsider spouses just hanging out and saying “nice to meet you” a lot, even though there were a few people who weren’t actually nice to meet. These kind of settings are awkward for me. I am an introvert. My worst nightmare is attending an event where I don’t know anyone and the sole purpose of the event is socializing. So ya. Good times. I was the outsider.
Now at this event, people were mostly gracious with non-school-attending spouses. But I’ve seen other social gatherings where outsiders aren’t treated so kindly. You know, settings like church. Wait, what? I mean, people are usually friendly, but don’t necessarily make outsiders feel like not-outsiders. It’s the courtesy “hello” then back to catching up with my friends. Not cool, church people. Not cool.
Exodus 22:21 Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.
That’s what God told the Israelites while they were wandering around in the desert looking for the promised land. Now I know that’s a specific instruction for a specific application, but what if it still applied to God’s people today? Because I think it does. Here’s the heart behind the instruction: “Hey people, you used to be outsiders, slaves, and oppressed. The insiders weren’t nice to you. They didn’t include you in their social circles. Did you like that? I didn’t think so. So don’t do that to others.”
In God’s church there shouldn’t be insiders and outsiders; there should only be family. I could elaborate on that, explaining what inclusiveness means. But I think I’ll just leave it there. Church = family. If you have attended 1562 services or 1 service, you are family. No outsiders. Church people, let’s see if we can make that happen.
I love being a pastor and I love my church! I love to see people’s lives redeemed and restored. I love it when people grow in their walk with the Lord. I love to see people step out in the calling God has placed on their lives. I love when people walk in the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given them. I love to see the church operate effectively and powerfully. I love watching the church grow as lives are turned over to Jesus. I love the church!
But after reading my Bible this morning, I’ve come to realize that I’m called to pastor more than one church. So starting today, that’s what I’ll do. My second church is a small church. In fact, there are only 6 people in it, including me. I have absolutely no plans to grow this church – I think 6 is a great number. Honestly, I don’t know that I would be able to manage more than 6 people in this church. “So,” you ask. “Why the decision to pastor a second church with 6 people in it?” Here’s why:
1 Timothy 3:4-5 He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?
Friends, God calls us to manage our homes. I’ve got to be a pastor at my “home church” before I can be a pastor at Abundant Life Church. It’s what the Bible says. How can I be a leader in God’s house if I’m not leading in my own house? How can I prepare sermons yet not lead devotionals? I can’t. So I’m pastoring two churches. Please excuse me while I give my children a Godly heritage that will impact generations of Grasleys to come.
*How well are you doing at leading YOUR family?
Acts 20:9-10 Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!”
Hospital emergency rooms hear a lot of strange stories, I am sure. We humans have come up with some amazingly creative ways to injure ourselves. You did what? How did you say you broke your arm? You cut your finger with a what? Tell me again how you managed to…? But I bet they’ve never heard this one: I fell asleep during a sermon.
Poor Eutychus. It was so late; he was so tired. The text says that Paul talked on and on. Can you blame the guy? I mean, this was a really long sermon! There he was, sitting in the window because there were probably no chairs left. The house was packed because Paul was in town and he ended up with a window seat. Next thing you know… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Three stories down… thud! Um, where did Eutychus go? Did anyone see him get up to go to the bathroom? There he lay dead, outside on the ground. So outside they all went and Paul raised him back from the dead.
This is a strange story to say in the least, and I wonder what the application is supposed to be. Maybe it’s, “don’t fall asleep during sermons.” Yes, that’s it. I like that one! Or maybe the application is, “preach shorter sermons.” I bet some of you like that choice. Or possibly it is, “don’t sit in an open window.” Mom’s across the world vote for that. But seriously, what do I take away from this?
I see a couple of things that strike me in this passage. First, God heals. Like supernatural, raised from the dead, healing. That’s pretty awesome! If you are going to die while listening to God’s Word, it’s possible He will raise you from the dead. But the second thing I see is what strikes me most. After Paul raised him from the dead, they ate some food, and then he kept preaching. He just about killed a guy who fell asleep during his forever sermon… and he kept on preaching! Why? Because he had more to say. They had more to learn. The Word of God needs to be taught! So don’t stop just because you are tired. Don’t quit because your listeners are weary. Keep on bringing the Good News of Jesus!
*Have you felt like giving up telling people about Jesus because they aren’t paying attention?
Micah 4:1 In the last days the mountain of the LORD’S temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and peoples will stream to it.
Streams don’t run uphill. After all that would be quite difficult given the law of gravity. Streams run downhill of course. This is something we all know. I’ve never seen a waterfall falling up. And a stream follows the path of least resistance. If there is a channel for it to flow, it will flow through that channel. It would be very difficult for water to stream up a mountain. Yet the wording the Lord uses in Micah 4:1 is that people will stream UP the mountain to the temple of the Lord. Here’s some truth: I’ve never streamed up a mountain. I’ve labored, sweated, and panted, but not streamed.
People will stream to the temple of the Lord. They will fight through the obstacles and keep going when they don’t feel like it. There will be so much hope there that gravity won’t matter. They will be like water traveling uphill. No matter what, they’ve just got to get where the Lord is.
I don’t think that defines our culture, does it? We are complacent, discontent, and cynical. We don’t like commitment and obligation. So we end up staying at the bottom of the mountain. It it seems too hard, we certainly won’t climb. And we definitely won’t be streaming! Unless…
Unless that temple is so right, so necessary, so compelling, so real! Unless that temple is the only chance at true hope! Unless the church – both the gathering and the people – are so full of life, the world won’t come streaming. We are the temple of the Lord! I want people streaming to us for life; but we’ve got to have life to stream to. There must be evidence that God is present in the temple or else it’s not worth visiting. I want people to stream to the house of God! So let’s show them real life and something worth streaming for.
Joel 1:14 Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD.
Israel was in trouble, God wasn’t happy, and locusts were everywhere. The land was being destroyed and things weren’t getting better. I bet the economy was a mess, leadership was corrupt, and people were frustrated. Can you relate to a world like that? Does it seem that things are falling apart and not getting better? Are you frustrated with leadership and the direction of your country? Then form a committee, talk about it on facebook, and complain like crazy! Wait a minute – I don’t see those instructions in the Bible.
The Word of the Lord came to the people of Israel through the prophet Joel. He said to cry out to the Lord. This was the response to bad leadership: Pray. This is how God told them to respond to locusts that were annihilating their economic growth: Pray. This is THE solution… pray. Call God’s people together and cry out to Him. That’s the answer. Isn’t that really how God would want us to respond today? In many ways, America is in the same boat as Israel was in the Old Testament. We are plagued with broken leadership, economic collapse, and spiritual bankruptcy. Yet God didn’t tell us to solve those problems by complaining. He told us to gather together and pray. Why is that?
I think there are two reasons. First, He wants us to gather together because He wants to see the church rise up in power. He has anointed His Body to be the change in this world. And it can’t happen just by flapping our jaws, it has to happen with our hands and feet. So we must gather and encourage one another. We must gather and gain strength. We must gather and be equipped for the unique calling that God has placed on our lives. Second, He wants us to cry out to Him because He wants us to see Him as the only answer. He wants us to acknowledge Him as our only Savior. And even though many of us are waiting around for our nation’s leaders to depend on Him as their Savior, He wants His people to lead the charge by making Him theirs. How will you respond to your country’s mess? I suggest you take Joel’s advice: be the church and pray. I believe that it is then and only then that we will see change begin to happen.
1 Kings 8:10-11 10 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the LORD. 11 And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled his temple.
I love this! Solomon finished building the temple and brings the ark (presence) of the Lord into it. The presence of the Lord descends onto the temple physically in a cloud. It was so thick, they couldn’t have church! Imagine their surprise as they tried to perform the ceremonial duties as required by the Lord. They wanted to make the sacrifices, say the prayers, and read the scriptures. But the presence of the Lord was too thick!
Today, most churches have a plan as to what their Sunday service is going to be like. There is a planned out worship set and a planned out sermon. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that those things are not inspired and anointed by God. Worship and the Word are good things! But what would happen if the presence of God came so strong that it began to mess up the plans? What if His presence was so great, we couldn’t have church?
Would we forge ahead with our structure and plans, or would we allow the presence of God to put us in awe of Him? Sometimes, I think churches administrate God right out of their services. Yet He is what they are supposed to be about. David wrote that better was one day in His courts than a thousand elsewhere. And I say that better is one day at church basking in the presence of God than a thousand days at church where He doesn’t show up!
If the church (and the church service) is going to be effective, He needs to show up! This should be our main concern: that the glory of the Lord fills the temple. I love it when God ruins the plan on Sunday mornings. It’s His church, His people, and His plans… not mine. As a pastor, I must keep this perspective. As His people, we must pursue the same in our own lives. Invite His presence to live each day in you. Plan for a cloudy forecast and cancel your religion. It will change everything!
Luke 22:4-5 And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. They were delighted and agreed to give him money.
Judas is a disappointment. He really blew it when it came to being a loyal disciple. And throughout church history we have been pointing our fingers at him for betraying the One who gave him life. We scoff at his choice to make a few bucks off the Son of God. Then we start to wonder how long he had conspired to betray Jesus. After all, he was the carrier of the money among the disciples. We wonder if he helped himself to the cash on occasion. We wonder if he ever really took part in any healings or if he stood by and just watched. He is guilty, for sure. He handed over Jesus to be executed. It was a decision that proved too much to live with, so he killed himself shortly thereafter.
But what about the church? What about the chief priests and the temple guards? Are we not as perplexed at their plot to murder a great prophet who was healing God’s people? They had been conspiring for years and we are mad at Judas. Friends, this is an epic fail for the church. Imagine if a person came on the scene that was prophesying and spreading the gospel today. In fact, let’s just hypothetically say that many churches aren’t real comfortable with Benny Hinn. Maybe they don’t like his style or doubt his healings. Should we conspire to hire a hit man and have him killed? That’s preposterous!
Jesus clearly stated that the church’s response to opposition is to love. Oh wait, they wouldn’t listen to Him. Will we? Will we love those who oppose us? Will we let God be the judge of those who seem to be blaspheming His name? Because it’s His job really, not ours. Yet we get so worked up about defending His name. We insist that people say “Christmas” instead of Happy Holidays. We ask people not to swear. We give disapproving looks to people doing things we don’t like. That’s not how we are supposed to defend His name. That’s just a modern day church fail. We defend His name by living a life that He would be proud of. We defend His name by loving, reaching, helping, and speaking life. It does no good to defend His name with our mouths, but not live it with our lives. So let your life line up with your mouth today. Let your love be the measure of your faith.