Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 68: Stories of Gathering and Going
Acts 2:41, 17:16-17
March 4, 2012
Scripture reading: Acts 2:41-47 (Marilyn)
Q How many of you have watched “Kitchen Nightmares”?
Chef Gordon Ramsey helps out restaurants that are complete train wrecks – inedible food, rats, drama in the kitchen.
Marilyn and I were watching it together a couple of weeks ago: It was a steakhouse outside of San Francisco run by a Greek immigrant named Seki.
* He had gradually lost his excitement for the restaurant and things were slowly sliding – old food, micromanaging, etc.
To make thing more complicated, he had married his cocktail waitress who was 30 years younger than him, and he avoided all conflict with her, so it’s not surprising that her $300,000 remodel project ended up costing $950,000.
I know get the pattern of what Chef Ramsey does: He first forces them to look at just how bad the problem is. This is the part of the show where a lot of words get bleeped.
* It looks like he is being a jerk, but it is actually the kindest thing he can do.
Then he finds out if they still care enough to do the hard work of turning the restaurant around. Then, and only then, does he help them.
* One of the most important ways he does is to revamp their menu – trim it down to fewer things than play to their strengths.
The effect is stunning – they find their lost passion, they see the light at the end of the tunnel, and step up to the plate.
Small Church Edition
I think there should be a “Small Church Edition” where Ramsey is forcing pastors to look at their declining budget, sloppy worships, and apathetic staff.
* I am still trying to decide who should play Ramsey.
But the timing of watching it was ironic for me: I had just finished preaching a sermon that I felt wasn’t as good as it could have been, and I found myself doubting I could preach, and feeling generally hopeless.
* I saw myself in danger of becoming like Seki, losing hope and just going through the motions.
That caught my attention and I asked myself, do I still care? Am I still passionate about The Gathering and what we are doing? Do I still want to grow old with the church?
* It was like God was talking to me with a faint British accent.
The answer was a resounding “Yes!” I may be tired and a little worn, we have been through a lot, but this is the only church I want to attend, let alone lead.
* With all that churning in my mind, I started to think about this sermon and God’s plan for the Church.
The Early Church
As I have said, there are some keys themes that Acts covers, not through teaching but stories. We are already talked about the power of the Holy Spirit in Peter’s life and God’s acceptance through Barnabas’ encouragement.
* Another key one is the building of the early church.
I want to be careful about the tendency to romanticize the early church. They were just trying to figure out what they were doing. They did some things right and others wrong.
* Acts isn’t meant to be the definitive guide on church.
For instance, some say, “The early church didn’t own buildings, so we shouldn’t.” They didn’t have indoor plumbing either. They didn’t own buildings because they were an illegal movement.
* But Acts does teach us a lot of principles about church.
As I read Acts, the early church was always doing one of two things: Gathering or going. Either they were gathering together as a church community or going out and spreading the Gospel.
* These two things represent the two missions of the church.
There are hundreds of ways to do church well. They vary from one place to another, they vary from one time to another. They vary from personality to personality.
* I have never thought that my job is to build this church but The Church; and am always free to send folks to better fits.
But at the same time, I am passionate for this church and how we do things. We describe our identity through our mission statement, it helps explains how we “gather” and “go.”
Q Have you gotten discouraged?
* I’ll play Chef Ramsey and remind of what we are doing and why, this time through the eyes of the stories of Acts.
Our mission statement is: “We are a Christian community striving to glorify God and engage our culture.”
Gathering as a community
Can you see which part of that is “The Gathering” part? “Christian community striving to glorify God.” Marilyn read from a passage that describes literally the first days of the church.
On Pentecost morning Peter preached a rousing sermon and three thousand became Christians, and Luke describes what church life looked like:
Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
This describes two key elements of what is means “to gather” at The Gathering is a great description of what “gathering” as a church looks like.
* It has become even more important because of two modern popular misconceptions about church.
1. Biblical preaching – “the apostles’ teaching.”
It is becoming increasingly popular to say that Biblical preaching doesn’t matter.
Not long before I became pastor of this church, I went to a conference with a couple different leaders in the Emergent Church Movement. On the far right of the stage sat Mark Driscoll and on the far left Doug Padgitt, which was very fitting.
Padgitt basically had this idea that preaching is a dying thing; that it is very authoritarian to have one guy do all the teaching when there are so many perspectives to hear from. He didn’t so much preach as lead a discussion on Biblical topics.
* Other churches (from the house church movement) believe that everyone should take a turn preaching.
Q I really struggled with this – am I in a dying profession and should I work more are being a discussion leader?
But the more I studied and looked at it, the more committed I am to Biblical preaching: “The devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings.” These guys had spent 3 years learning from Jesus.
* Whenever they can, the apostles are teaching and training believer (EG: Story of Eutychus, Acts 20:7-12).
Looking back at our mission: This is part of what we have loaded into “Christian”: We believe in the historic Christian faith. We deeply value the Bible and believe it should be understood with depth and clarity.
* The Gathering is passionate about Biblical teaching.
2. Devoted to fellowship.
Another common idea is that you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. While that is technically true, it goes against what the Bible believe about Christian life.
They devoted themselves to “fellowship and breaking of bread.” These folks hung out together and ate together. This means communion, but communion in the context of a meal.
* The word “fellowship” means a close mutual relationship, being a part of each others’ lives, being connected.
* This is the same word in the benediction.
The Gathering is a community – this is who we are and we are passionate about it. We are part of each others’ lives.
This doesn’t mean you are connected closely with everyone here, but that everyone is connect to several others, not as separate cliques, but as an interweaved web.
* We are all supporting some other and being supported by some others, and always welcoming others in.
Crowd or community
At my old church I saw the power of community to do what Biblical teaching couldn’t: A young teenage daughter of someone in the singles group was being pulled into a fellowship of Jehovah Witnesses.
The father had me speak to her because he as very concerned. I showed her how JW’s missed some very important things in the Bible, like Jesus being God and how important grace is.
* But I could tell she just didn’t care about that – she was being accepted, that is all that mattered to her.
The singles group has a more effective response – hey rallied around this young women, accepted her, and gave her community.
A church can have one of two attractions: Crowd or community. People will come to this church because they want to be part of a community. That’s why I am here, and why most of you are here.
* Community is our best strong point and how we can best reach out to others.
Potlucks are a great way to start, or community groups, or simply hanging out.
Shoved out the door
Moving on from “Gathering” to “Going,” there is a problem here, perhaps you noticed it:
Q Gathering pulls you in, going pushes you out.
In the beginning of Acts you have this idyllic world where the church is living out what God had intended for his people.
* The problem was Jesus had said something about “going into all the world.”
I read last week about when the persecution broke out. Luke wrote that everyone but the disciples were scattered through Judea and Samaria.
* I said God worked even in the persecution, but it seems closer to the truth that God had to push them out.
There is a constant tension between “community” and “engaging Culture.” As we grow in community, there will be a constant temptation to stay there. This is how the Christian subculture is created. We want to be with those who are like us.
* So even as we build community, growing closer to each other, we must be continually going out into the world around us.
We have been given this amazing fellowship, not just with each other but with God. That is the other part of the benediction.
Q Are we going to keep it or share it?
To quote Rick Warren, not wanting to reach out and bring others into community is effectively telling the world to go to hell.
Time to be going
There are many different stories of going, great missionary journeys where Paul saw thousands of converts, but I have always been most drawn to the one where he saw a handful.
I love the story because of how Paul engaged his culture, and it is from this story that we get our blueprint for how to “go.”
Acts 17:16-34 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.
This passage makes two important points about how we “go”:
1. Be distressed by idolatry.
It says that Paul was “greatly distressed” when he saw all the idols. It upset him, provoked him. Why was he distressed?
Because they held people in slavery to false gods, separated from the real God of love, forgiveness and righteousness.
* Idolatry is not just an ancient thing, anytime we value something as much as God, that is idolatry.
This word “distressed” only occurs on one other occasion in the NT, when Paul himself says that “love is not easily angered.” Here is the irony: It is Paul’s love for God and these people caused him to be angered.
Our society cares very little about sin. If it isn’t hurting someone else, then we don’t care. And too many Christians buy into that.
But that is the most unloving thing we can do – the longer I live the more I see just how destructive sin is. Sin is never something you get away with.
* It’s like Chef Ramsey telling the owners how bad things are.
Q Are you distressed by sin? Do you see the havoc wrecked by affairs, dishonesty, laziness, dysfunction and hate it more?
Or do you just call it good? If we don’t believe there is something wrong in our world, we have little reason to go.
But if we believe, as Paul did, that the world is all drinking poison we will be distressed and driven to do something. But what to do?
2. Respond respectfully and thoughtfully
Paul “reasoned with them.” He attempted to communicate and engage them respectfully.
From here he is invited to speak before the philosophers in Athens to defend his beliefs. He does so with respect and honesty, quoting from the pagan authors, but also corrects them.
* They listen to him until he talks about the resurrection, then they shout him down, but a few people listen.
The reason The Gathering describes “going” as “engaging culture” is because we think this is the best way to share the love of God and freedom from sin:
* We are to be like missionaries to our culture – learning their language and habits so that we can share God’s love to them.
In effect, I have just played Chef Ramsey’s part: Here is what we are about, here is what we are called to do.
Q Are you still excited about it?
I am, are you? If you are new, is this something you want to be a part of?
If you have been here for a while, is this something you still believe in and want to be a part of?
Q & A