Friday, July 30, 2004

Decoding the DNA of the Church - Fellowship

Its Friday night and I need to start preparing a sermon. I work a day job and I have church meetings during the week so sermon prep starts on Friday on a good week. Sometimes I am forced to take a rest on Friday night and start Saturday AM.

I have preached two sermons on the end of Acts 2 (verses 41-47). The mini-series is called decoding the DNA of the Church. The first sermon was on the phrase, 'They devoted themselves to ...fellowship' . The idea is that the real life of the early church the key essence of who they were (which we often miss in the 21st century church) is that the early church practiced their spiritual disciplines in the context of community.

In modern society, how many people take their meals alone. The most common scene is of a young man, even a young family man is of him taking his meal alone. Prayer is the same. In the church we are taught to pray primarily alone. Spiritual disciplines are practices alone. We do our bible study alone. Devotions are something we do alone. But the scripture says, "they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching to the breaking of bread and to fellowship and to prayer. All these things are devotions practiced in community. The church was devoted to daily living their spirutal disciplines together. The early church practiced their spiritual disciplines in the context of community. This devotion manifested itself in the daily life of the beleiver. The frequency of their devotion to fellowship was daily. This devotion to fellowship is extremely liberating. We in the 21st century church struggle so consistently in our journal toward sanctification and personal transformation. We beleive something like the folowing. Healthy individuals make healthy families which make healthy churches. But the reality is more like the following: "Healthy churches make healthy families and healthy churches make healthy individuals." It is the community and the practicie of these uniguely Christian disciplines of prayer and corporate meals and corporate bible study that breeds healthy lives. The church is the disicple-making organism which transforms life. Spiritual disciplines and spiritual life practiced outside the context of community is not a spiritual life which is in line with the DNA of the early church. It is this life disconnected from community which undermines the growth of the individual and the freedom of the believer to enter the New Covenant Kingdom story.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

The Winsome Qualities of the Early Church

Well, this morning's idea is very simple. A verse in Acts 2 says (v 4orthy something) "They took their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and the Lord added to their numbers daily those who were being saved. "

When people are "happy" and "sincere' and "full of Praise" how can they help but grow.

What if the verse read, "They took their meals alone with depression and duplicity of heart, grumbling to the Lord. And the Lord _____________ daily those who were being saved." You think the church would prevail in its mission if the quality of their lives was depressed and divisive and grumbling.

Truly the power of the quality of a glad and sincere and praising heart attitude cannot be underestimated. The great method of church growth is to live together a morally beautiful life filled with joy and sincerity and praise.


Monday, July 26, 2004

Oikos and Koinania - sermon notes

Well, I do still stinck at blogging but here goes. Had just  a wonderful weekend. We baptized 5 folks and had seven new professions of faith (that's how we do it in the CRC). It is like bringing a new baby home. Everyone is so excigted to talk and throw a party.

i am preaching through the book of Acts and it is going great. This is my 8th nad 9th sermon in the series.

Decoding the DNA of the Church
The basic ideas are as follows:
Last night my son came screaming into the kitchen, "Dad, there is a spider in my room. It is on the wall above James' bed". "OK, is there just one spider or is there a long line of spiders crawling up the wall." "Dad, spiders don't crawl in lines. That's ants. Spiders have eight legs and two body parts, and ants have six legs and three body parts". "very good Son. And why do ants crawl in lines and spiders hunt alone?" I asked. "I don't know!!" "Because their genetic code is different. There genotype drives their phenotype." "You lost me Dad" :).

But this describes what Calvin ment by "Original Sin". Calvin doesn't mean that there was some first sin but that we are originated in sin or we start from an essencial place of sinfulness. We are if you will as differnet from good and pure as spiders are from ants. We have a sinful spiritual genotype. But then we are born again. Then we come to a new view of things and a new life and we are created anew. We are And new creatures in Christ the bible says. When we come to faith, we receive through the creative work of God a new morally beautiful and holy spiritual genotype.  We are saints if you will. This is our new spiritual genotype.

One big difference between man and the animals though is that we do not necessarily live out our genotype. In spiritual matters, we become confused. Our minds are not renewed, we have trouble entering the story of who we actually are. Our quest in studying the book of Acts is to help us see how we can discover anew what the DNA of the Church is. Because the first century church was closer to the story of Jesus and had been discipled by the direct observation of the author of the story, the author of the faith and the creator of their person, and through the work of the Holy Spirit, the first century church gives us a clearer picture of what God intended the church to be. By studying the book of Acts, we decode the DNA of the church.

Let me give an illustration from my manufacturing background.
The book of Acts is what I call, the prototype of the church. The mind of God through all eternity has had a plan to Glorify Himself and display His moral attributes, His moral beauty, to all creation and this revelation of Himself is the church. The first iteration, the first unit, to cme off the assembly line of God's eternal plan is the first century church. basically, from generation to generation there are slight revisions to the external form but the basic specification remains the same. As we look to the description of this 1st century church, we see the transcendant qualities of God's plan for hte church. We see the DNA of the Church. The intention of this series of sermons is to Decode the DNA of the Church.

So lets turn to our text from Acts 2 starting in verse 41:

41Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. 42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Today we are going to focus on verse 42:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” Acts 2:42

Our theme is that: 
The model church, in the Book of Acts, Continually Devoted themselves to the practice of Fellowship.

1. The structure of the though in this verse is that the early church "was devoted to:
                              - the apostles teaching
                              - fellowship
                              - the breaking of bread
                              - prayer
But i think it is best understood as saying the early christians were devoted to fellowship of which there are three types apostolic teaching, breaking bread or taking meals together, and prayer. So lets start by looking at this word fellowship:
The word used here is one of the more well known greek words in the bible. The word here is koinonia. This word koinonia comes from the same root word as we have here in the phrase in verse 44, All the believers were together and had everything in common. Here the word for common is the word "koina" from which we get koinonia, the word for fellowship. Fellowship therefore has something to do with sharing something in common. Another example of the use of this word "koinonia" in the bible is in the story of how the Corinthian church made a contribution to the poor church in Jerusalem. 2 Corithians 9:13 "Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all". The word contribution here is koinonia. The meaning is to participate in something together. The church in Corinth was participating together in meeting the financial need of the poorer Jerusalem church. They were participating together in a common cause and the fruit of this common cause and the unified gift it produced was called a fellowship or a koinonia, a cdontribution. So my definition of fellowship is  
Fellowship is assembling together to participate in particularly Christian practices or a particularly Christian cause.

This is important because fellowship is a uniguely Christian expereince. Fellowship is the corporate participation in a uniquely christian practice or cause.

Let me illustrate. I rememeber when I first became a beleiver. I was about twenty three or four years old and I had a friend who was getting his masters in economics in San Diego. I visted him and a few of his friends at their apartment at the university. These young college students took great pride in how they were independant thinkers. I on the other hand was a newly born evangelical Christian, which needless to say isn't probably the funnest guy to have around when you are hell bent on partying. So we were off to some party and I remember being in an elevator with this group when one sarcastic young man said, :the one thing i hate most about Christians is how they use that world 'fellowship'. What in the world is fellowship? Why don't they talk like regular human beings and just call it hanging out or something. Instead they say fellowship. How obnoxious."
Well, the reason we call it fellowshio is because fellowship is not "just hanging out". Fellowship is the Christian expereince of participating in something together that has a certain spirtual quality of unity. This expereicne happens when Christians do somethong together that is unique to the Christian expereince. In this passage we have three perfect examples of Christian fellowship:
The passage says the early Christians expressed their devotion to fellowship three ways:They devoted themsleves to:
1. The apostles teaching or bible study.
2. The breaking of bread which is basically potluck.
3. Prayer.
So the three disciplines here are; preaching, potluck and prayer.
I especially like the idea of potluck here..

A little aside: It is getting late and I need to go home to my wife and kids so I am gonna stop here. See you tomorrow.


Saturday, July 17, 2004

Welcome to 21st Century Reformation

Ok here goes. Let the blogging begin;
First, I have another blog:

That blog is more about how people don't think too good and the relationship between America's Mis-education and its effect on the current political scene. I really do think if we continue to be willing to believe conspiracy theories and hateful speculations about other groups of people that we could find our streets filled with politically and extremist driven violence.

This blog, on the other hand, is directly about the solution, which in my mind is the reformation of the church in America. Currently, wonderful changes are happening in the church in some corners. Some of these changes are happening in people's minds and hearts but are failing to produce the fruit that good implementation of these ideas should generate. Basically, the church is beginning to understand that being the church is about entering the "story" of the bible. To have a set of beliefs is not the defining characteristic of being Christian, though I contend this is very very important and foundational, but the key to being an effective people is to see the bible as a story to enter into. I like to explain this as an epistemological shift. Epistemology is the study of how people learn or what is knowing. The shift is that the church is realizing that to have the right "ideas" does not mean you know Christianity or the Christian faith. To know Christianity is to know it by your own personal doing or experience.

A simple way to understand this is to compare knowing gymnastics to knowing mathematics. A person is said to know mathematics when the person can properly manipulate the symbols and abstract ideas about numbers and come to the correct conclusions or answers. But "You don't learn gymnastics that way"!! A person knows gymnastics when they learn, through coaching and practice and often thinking deeply about their doing, to actually perform the activities of gymnastics. If a person can answer all the physics questions about doing a double back flip but cannot even do a cartwheel, we would never say that person knows or has learned gymnastics nor would we ever call this person a gymnast. Because the way you know gymnastics is simply different than the way you come to know mathematics. Well, the church has through the centuries come to think of Christianity much more like mathematics than gymnastics but this is not the biblical way to think about the life of faith.

Greek and Hebrew Education

Today, in the church, and for good reason, there is much talk about the rabbinic method of learning and how the Hebrew educational methods relate to discipleship and living the Christian life. This is indeed where the understanding of the answer to our problem can be found. The deep root cause of the current impotence of the church lies in our academic or Greek method of education - the academy. I do not want to go deeply into these ideas here today but suffice it to say that the Hebrew method of education starts by seeing knowledge as a skill for living (wisdom) and the Greek method sees knowledge and wisdom as the ability to manipulate ideas. The Hebrew approach views the life of faith like learning gymnastics while the Greek approaches questions of faith like one would approach mathematics.

So how does that relate to the "21st Century Reformation"

I would suggest that what Rick Warren and others and the post-modern theologians are all attempting to teach the church is to approach the Christian faith more like gymnastics and to "learn by doing" and less like a mathematical problem. This change is wonderful, and I would like to use my time, energy and money to promote the necessary changes in how we do church which will both unite the church and help the church return to her rightful place of effectiveness. As we learn to do church and enter the biblical story in earnest, then we will again be the "salt and light" of our land.

God Bless,