Why Are We Ever Surprised By God?

“Some of the best things that ever happened to me are those things that I never planned for or pursued.”  My Dad has said this often and it is one of those things that has just stuck with me.  I think about plans and it is good to have plans and it is good to pursue those plans, but the things that I have not pursued really have been some of the best things that have ever happened to me.  This could not be more true than in this past year.

Tomorrow afternoon I leave for Mongolia.  It is a teaching trip.  I never ever thought that I would find myself in Mongolia and I never ever thought I would be endeavoring on a teaching trip to anywhere.  But here I am teaching and going to the other side of the planet to talk about and admire the gift of love that God the Father has given to His Son Jesus the Christ.  That gift of love is the church; all those whom God has called to belong to Himself.  That is incredible.

Get this: I will be teaching alongside a man who has mentored me for 32 years and has made more of an impact on me than I would have thought.  This has been more and more evident in the last 8 weeks.  And so God is sending my mentor (my Dad) and I together to Mongolia on a teaching trip.  A father and a son traveling 7000 miles to be co-laborers with our Father to strengthen men and women in their ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That is incredible.

God has done more than I could ever ask or imagine in this last year.  To be honest, it all has been a surprise.  Before sending me to Mongolia, God sent my wife, children and me to North Olmsted, Ohio. I never ever thought we would be in North Olmsted, Ohio to be a part of the gift of love that God has given to His Son Jesus the Christ – Calvary Community Church,  those whom God has called to belong to Himself.  We give thanks to God for them.

So, I wonder, “why are we (why am I) ever surprised by God?”  I think it is because He loves to surprise us.  I think God is blessed, is happy, when He surprises us and we say, “He has done more than I could ever ask or imagine.”  

Teaching, Serving, and Trembling

I began what I thought would be a one sermon focusing upon leadership needed and demanded in the local church for the local church.  I shared yesterday that this necessary aspect (church leadership) of believers who are together would take more than one sermon.  Perhaps I thought it could be done in one sermon because I want to see things get done.  This subject needs more attention than that, it needs more than an attitude of “get it done” or should I say, “git-r-done.”

God has intended there to be two unique positions of leadership for the local church: elders  (pastors) and deacons.  I chose in yesterday’s sermon to only introduce the leadership of serving (deaconing).  The other position of leadership is of course teaching (pastoring).  In studying these two unique positions I found that they both instill the same the emotion – trembling, fear.  The Apostle Paul says that those who desire to be a pastor (elder) desire a noble task and the Apostle Peter says that it should be done “eagerly” (1 Timothy 3:1 and 1 Peter 5:2).  And would you not worry about the pastor who pastors without energy, without desire, without feeling and believing that what he is doing is the greatest doing in all the world?! It is, pastoring is the greatest task!  Serving, leading the local church in serving (being a deacon) is just as exciting.  A deacon is following or imitating the greatest deacon, Jesus the Christ (Matthew 20:28).  However, each position of leadership causes some tremendous, godly trembling.  For we pastor and deacon those who have been “obtained with His own blood,” the blood of Jesus Christ who is God (Acts 20:28).  We pastor and deacon those who are God’s treasured possession.  This is so serious.

Think on these last few thoughts.  The very first local church in the history of the church is found in Acts 2:41-47.  This first local church had no name.  No one worked tirelessly to come up with some creative name for this dynamic local church.  Their identity was not in their name.  Their identity was in who they were – they were believers who are together called by God to be believers who are together.  This is true of every genuine church.  Every genuine church is believers who are together called by God to be believers who are together and it is exciting.  It is exciting because we are believers who are together building the church together with Jesus Christ and there is nothing greater to be doing with your life, but to be doing what God is doing and joining Him there.  This church with no name knew their purpose.  They were believers who were together for the purpose of enjoying God, enjoying each other and bringing others in to that joy.  This is the purpose of every local church on the planet.

Notice that the church with no name in Acts 2:41-47 set out to immediately accomplish that purpose.  They immediately set out to enjoy God, to enjoy each other and bring others into that joy. The way they did it, I believe, set a standard; a standard which said this is what a local church does to accomplish that purpose. And you see this standard throughout the letters written to churches in the New Testament.

Here is how they did it: I saw eight marks which distinguish a local church as a true church in their pursuit of this great purpose of enjoying God, enjoying each other and bringing others into that joy. 1). We see that the church was intentional about gathering together. They got together on purpose for purpose (Acts 2:44, 46). Now look at Acts 2:42 and mark the word “devoted.” This word describes how intentional the church was and is about gathering together. “Devoted” means constant diligence or effort that never lets up. 2). We see that the church was devoted to teaching and to learning. 3). We see that the church was devoted to remembering Jesus Christ (breaking of bread). 4). We see that the church was devoted to sharing their lives together (fellowship). 5). We see that the church was devoted to praying (together, for one another and just plain talking to God).  6). We see that the church celebrated baptism of believers (Acts 2:41 and therefore implied in verse 47).  7). We see that the church had a relationship to the outside world (Acts 2:47).  8). We see that the church was full of gratitude which was expressed in their response to God and in their reception to God’s provision (Acts 2:47, 46).  This first church on its first day had over 3000 members.

Do you know what you do not see in those seven verses? You do not see any mention of elders (pastors) or deacons. No mention of either one whatsoever. This might be a minute observation, but it caught my attention. And not only is there no mention of elders or deacons here, the church is functioning and one might say it is functioning pretty well. This church is on fire! In fact the first local church is numbered at over three-thousand members and it is functioning just fine. As you read on in Acts you see that things continued to go really well without any elders or deacons.

So, why do we need, absolutely need, elders and deacons?

The Church With No Name (Continued)

Who were the first people that the Lord called to come and enjoy Him? Who were the first people that God called and added to His gathered group of people? Read Acts 2:36-41.

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”

It is quite incredible to think about those who demanded that Jesus Christ be crucified were among the first that God called to Himself in establishing His church. But as Luke writes the book of Acts and especially as he writes Acts 2, how does he know what a church is? How is he able to spot that what God was doing was establishing for Himself, His own group of people? How did Luke recognize that these people in Acts 2 had been called by God to Himself? The answer to that question answers the question as to how Luke was able to pinpoint other local churches throughout the book of Acts. The same is true for the other writers of the New Testament. How were writers like Paul, Peter, James, John, Jude able to recognize a local church, a local group of “believers who are together”? The answer: The group was visibly a group that belonged to God. The group was enjoying God. The group was learning about Him (devoted to the apostles teaching, Acts 2:42). Notice that the church gathered together with glad hearts “praising God” (Acts 2:47a). The group was enjoying one another. The church, believers who are together, enjoy one another. The word for fellowship in Acts 2:42 indicates the relationship that takes place among believers. It is the Greek word koinonia and indicates that believers share in together this enjoyment of God.  How?  Remembering the risen Christ together.  Praying together.  Caring for each other together.  The group was bringing others into this joy. The group was out there with people (Acts 2:47)!  Notice what God does through people who enjoy Him and enjoy one another.  He brings others into this joy – “. . .and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

There is a great danger facing every local church.  It is the danger of not knowing why we have come together, of not remembering who we are.  There is the danger of not remembering that we are believers who are together building something with Jesus Christ.  We are believers who are together building something with Jesus Christ for the purpose of enjoying Him, enjoying others who enjoy Him and bringing others into that joy.  The way to guard against forgetting who we are is by living with the attitude of gratitude.  May each day begin and end and be filled with thanks to God for who He is and what He has done.  Gratitude for salvation is a gratitude that treasures the grace God has shown in taking life with all of its mistakes, all of its regrets, all of its shortcomings, and opening eyes to the grand purpose for which you and I were created.  Jesus Christ gave His life so that my eyes would be open to this purpose.  Be thankful.  Jesus Christ gave His life so that my eyes would see and know about this glorious purpose, this inheritance, that is in me.  Be thankful.  Jesus Christ gave His life so that my eyes would see and know the immeasurable greatness of the power of God that is toward me who believes!  Be thankful.  (Ephesians 1:18-19; 5:25).

The Church With No Name

There is a fifteen year old girl in Iceland who legally has no name.  On every official document when it comes to her name she is simply called “girl.”  In renewing her passport or any dealing with the bank she legally presents herself as “girl.”  It is obvious that she is a girl, what is not so obvious is what her name is.  And legally, in the eyes of the government, she is known as “girl.”  Now she really does have a name, it is just not recognized as her name by the government of Iceland.  Her given name, her birth name, is Blaer; pronounced “Blair.”   It seems like a great name!  Blaer means “light breeze.”  That is a lot better than having your name mean “liar” or “deceiver” which is what the name James means.  The government of Iceland refuses to recognize this young lady as Blaer.  The reason being is that in Iceland, and apparently this is true in Germany and Denmark, the government must approve your name.  So when parents name their child, in order for that name to be officially that child’s name, the government must approve it.  Parents are directed to pick their child’s name from the official Personal Names Register.  This register includes 1,712 male names and 1,853 female names.  These are official names because they fit pronunciation and grammar rules.  This fifteen year old girl cannot be named Blaer because grammatically the name requires a masculine article meaning that this is a boy’s name.  It gets stranger.  The name Elvis is a permissible name, but names like Cara, Cesil or Christa are not permitted names because those names begin with the letter “c” which is not part of Iceland’s 32 letter alphabet.

I think what is so neat about that story is that “girl” knows exactly who she is, she is Blaer.  Even though the government refuses to recognize her name and instead simply call her “girl” (which I suppose she should be grateful that the government does not go ahead and pick out a name for her), she knows who she is and her family and friends know who she is, they know her.

It made me think about the church with no name. The very first local church in Scripture is found in Jerusalem in Acts 2, specifically Acts 2:41-47.

“So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the 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.”

The church in Acts 2:41-47 had no name but they knew who they were.  Who were they? I believe the simplest yet sobering definition of “church” is Acts 2:44.  The church is believers who are together.  I said it is simple and I believe anything else that is said about the church has this supporting it.  There is something very exciting about that simple, sobering definition. The excitement is this:  the church is believers who are together building something.  The church is believers who are together building something with Jesus Christ and, get this, it is called the church.  “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18).  Jesus said those words.  I love the church and I love my local church.  I am a member of  Calvary Community Church and we are building something at Calvary in our time and we are doing it with Jesus Christ and it is because of Jesus Christ.  And what we are building has a three-fold purpose of enjoying God, enjoying one another and bringing others into that joy!  And we are doing it together.  Do not ever lose that for this is who we are! This is what the church is!  And I am stressing this importance because there is a great crisis at hand.  It is a crisis that I pray that we never face and that no local church will ever have to face.  It is the crisis of not knowing who we are.  The church in Acts 2:41-47 had no name, but they knew who they were.  The crisis is real and the crisis affecting churches is the church not knowing who it is.

So, the church, the Christian church, is called a church because that is what it is; it is just a gathered group of people. The difference is, the distinction is, as to the purpose of the gathering. Are you ready for this? Look at Acts 2:39. “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” Acts 2:39 says that the Lord is calling people from all over the place to Himself. The Lord is gathering people for Himself, He is grouping a people for Himself.  So, what are these people being added to in Acts 2:41-47? These people are being added to the group that God calls to Himself.  That is the church – a group of people that belong to God. These people are being added to the group that enjoys God, they are being gathered to the church that enjoys God.

Hold on to something. Who were the first people that the Lord called to come and enjoy Him? Who were the first people that God called and added to His gathered group of people?  Read Acts 2:36-41.

Words for the New Year

2012 is about to come to a close.  That sounds a lot better than saying that 2012 is coming to an end.  Perhaps that is all that the Mayans foresaw; 2012 was simply coming to a close, not an end.

I look at the year ahead as a great journey that God has already planned out for me and for you.  The journey is the purpose of life.  The journey is the reason that there is this gathered group of people called the church.  The journey is enjoying God, enjoying one another (joining with those who enjoy God), and bringing others into this joy.  This the reason mankind was created.  This is the reason that Jesus Christ said that He would build His church (Matthew 16:18).  We are placed here on this planet in this vast universe to enjoy God.  He made us and He made us to know Him.  We are His and the great need is to have eyes opened to reality and that reality is that God knows your name and He wants you to know His.  He has made you.  All those who realize this reality cannot help but be overcome with joy and find themselves worshiping God (Psalm 100).

So life’s grand purpose is to enjoy God, worship God, serve God.  Those are just three ways of saying the same thing.  And we are not isolated in this grand purpose.  There are others who are enjoying God and the point is that we are to join with them in this enjoyment by enjoying one another.  Enjoy one another by enjoying God together.  We want others to share in this same joy, to have this joy that is unmatched – a joy found in God alone (1 John 1:3-4).

So that is the grand purpose of our time on this planet.  Enjoy God.  Enjoy others who enjoy God and bring others into this joy.  Ten thoughts come to mind in fulfilling this grand purpose.  These are things to see and do for 2013 in view of this purpose.

1. Actively embrace and proclaim that God is here and He is in charge.

2. Fulfill the simple order of leadership that God has gifted to the church for the function of His church.

3. Grow – may there be gospel growth and relational growth (knowing God better and knowing one another better).

4. Get with a small group made up of those who enjoy God.

5. Know that you have value to Jesus Christ and a place and value in His church.

6. Be a part of the multi-generational ministry of the church; each generation transmitting truth to the generation after it.

7. Develop a special time of knowing God and His Word better together with those who are enjoying God.

8. Vacation Bible School

9. Be a reader and thinker.  Reading begins and ends with a thoughtful, daily reading of God’s Word.  Reading good books complements this.

10. Expand your missions outreach to the neighborhood and world around you.

Very First Words

I am blogging now.  It is actually rather exciting.  As of writing these words I have just one person following this blog – me.  I feel like I can say anything.

Life is such a precious gift.  I know that those words are not unique or dare I say profound.  Perhaps it is because the wonder of life has gotten lost in our pursuits in life.  The letter by James the half-brother of Jesus Christ writes what I think is probably the most staggering assessment about life.  Life is but a mist (James 4:14).  Should we illustrate this truth?  The next time you spray Windex on your bathroom mirror, count how long the mist from that bottle lasts before you go to wipe the mirror clean.  Or how about this, how often have you asked, “where did today go?” The brevity of life intensifies the value of life.

I will never have yesterday  back.  I love time travel discussion and time travel movies, but there is no flux capacitor to make time travel possible.  I cannot go back to yesterday and see the moment my parents fell in love.  I cannot reclaim yesterday.   However, there is God and He has reclaimed me.  He has opened my eyes and has given me perspective.  When I remember my past I now see His hand.  When I look at the days ahead of me I do so with a courage found in the promised presence of God.  In other words, I face today, tomorrow, and the regrets of my past knowing God has never left me.  He has never disappointed me.  He has never abandoned me.  Will there be trouble?  Has there been trouble?  Have I been depressed?  Yes. Yes. And yes.  But God has always been God.  And He has always been with me.

So, I must make the most of my life.  I must make the most of the life ahead of me.  And since God is always with me, I am always in His presence and He is God, I must know Him.  I must enjoy Him.  And the great thing is that He wants me to know Him.  He wants me to enjoy Him.  “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

Since I live in His presence and you live in His presence then the goal of life for both of us is the same.  This goal is three-fold.  We must enjoy God; we must enjoy each other; and we must bring others into this joy!