Grow It 5

Luke 22:15-20

It may seem a deviation from the theme to present the message of the Last Supper, but Luke’s version uses words of inclusion, so important to the idea of growing a church.

How does Jesus greet his disciples? In this “Communion” story, what is the first thing Jesus offers? Verses 19-20 may seem more familiar to you. What two things does Jesus offer?

It is clear from verse 15 that Jesus and his followers are taking part in a Passover meal. The Passover meal is an ancient Hebrew tradition dating back to the Exodus, commemorating God’s deliverance from slavery. The meal has many rituals, including four glasses of wine, each with its own meaning.

The four cups are the cup of Sanctification, the cup of Deliverance, the cup of Redemption, and the cup of Acceptance. The second and third cups frame the time when the meal is eaten.

Based on verse 20 we can determine that the cup in verse 17 is probably the cup of Deliverance. What strikes me is Jesus’ comment that he has “eagerly desired” to share this meal with the disciples. After that he shares with them the cup of Deliverance, a cup that represents and reminds us of suffering. Jesus was showing them that he would share in their suffering.

But his message is also for us. Each of us must partake of a cup of suffering in our lives. The good news is that we are not alone. Jesus eagerly joins with us in our suffering and helps us through it.

We are to imitate Christ. We are to share in the suffering of others, to be there with them in the difficult times, to help them make it through to the next step – redemption.

Our view of others, whether in the church or out of the church, should be the attitude of Christ. His disciples were not left on their own. He would be with them. We need to have that attitude of inclusion, of invitation, of sharing – suffering and salvation – for those who should come be part of our worship.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Do you eagerly desire to share in another’s struggles? How can you gain that attitude?

Grow It 4

Matthew 20:1-15

Our Christian faith presents us with many challenges. Some of the hardest challenges are the requirements that we be humble and that we be accepting. Jesus humbled himself here on earth, working to serve others, ultimately giving himself completely for all the world – for me, for you, for everyone you know.

He also accepted people, accepted them where they were in their knowledge and in their beliefs. Then he elevated them and educated them and enlightened them, but he did it in love and not out of a patronizing spirit.

Today’s passage is the parable of the workers in the vineyard. It is a difficult parable to understand and accept. What does the landowner do? What agreement is made? How many more times does he hire more workers?

At the end of the day, what is the reward for the last workers? What do the first workers expect? What do they receive? How do they react?

I cannot read this without picturing the church congregation. There are many in the church who have been members since childhood – raised in the church, always attending, always believing. What motivation do they have for believing? Perhaps one motivation is the promise of eternal life, a life of bliss in heaven.

Still others have been members for years, but joined later in life, after getting married and having children. Their motivations may be the same as the first group. Another group of the congregation are those who have started attending and joined since I have been the pastor.

Then there is another group – those people who do not come to church, who have never come to church, who do not know about Jesus.

All of these groups are like the workers, coming into the kingdom at different times. But the result is the same. All who come to Christ, who accept his sacrifice and forgiveness, who work to live a Godly life, will be rewarded with a rich relationship with God and the promise of eternal life.

But there are many who struggle with humility. Rather than celebrating that more have been brought in to find Christ, they grumble. “I have been a member longer.” Is there a higher tier of heaven for these?

They struggle with acceptance. They resist the new members and they treat the stranger with contempt. Their attitude that these un-churched are dirty and unworthy is evident to everyone.

These are the attitudes we need to remove. Is Jesus being unfair to those who have been faithful the longest? Are we envious because God is generous? If we answer “yes” to either of these, then we have more work to do, but the work must be done in our own hearts.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What is your attitude to those who have not believed in God as long as you have? What can you do to make it a more holy attitude?

Grow It 3

Romans 10:11-15

My friend, Bill, stopped by our house one evening on his way to a gaming group he was involved in. “Why don’t you come with me?” he asked. I had never done it before. I didn’t know what I was doing. What if the others didn’t like me?

He said it would be fine and that I would enjoy it. He was right. I had a great time getting together with all those other guys, such a great time that I went back every week for years. The group eventually dissolved but I still have an interest and a passion for the war-gaming that I got involved in more than 25 years ago.

How would I have ever known that such groups existed? How would I have ever learned all that I did with those other men? I wouldn’t have if Bill had not suggested that I come be a part of it.

Our faith and our relationship with Jesus Christ are more essential and more powerful than a group of gamers. And Paul, writing to the believers in Rome, points out what we as believers are to do. What assurance does he offer? How does he address different faith backgrounds? What logical explanation does he provide for the need to share our faith?

We have examined this passage before. It has a simple progression of logic. For someone to know about God, to believe in God and be saved by the grace of Jesus, we must first send people out into the world and tell others about God. Once they have heard, these un-churched, un-saved people have the opportunity to believe and then call on God. It starts with someone who is willing to go “out” – out from the safety of the church walls, out from the comfort of the home, out into the world.

And those who are willing to step out and share, those who are willing to tell their own story and invite others to come be a part of this wonderful kingdom of God will be blessed. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Yet, we are afraid. We continue to be silent when given opportunities to invite others in. The story of Jesus is a story we keep locked inside of us. We fear that we will be rejected or made to look like a fool.

But the Bible promises – “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

How can we continue to fear when we have received such a promise from God? If we are willing to be open in social settings, to share our hospitality in common things, why can’t we share our faith?

DAILY CHALLENGE: Who do you know who needs to call on the Lord? When will you tell them about Jesus?

Grow It 2

Acts 13:42-44

Peggy had dinner with friends last winter at a new restaurant called “Cafe Verandah.” She liked it so much that the two of us went back and ate there another time.

The other day I was in the bank and one of the employees was going on and on about a great restaurant with incredible food. The restaurant? Cafe Verandah.

Any business person will tell you that some of the best advertising is word of mouth. Those who are happy with your product or service will tell others, and that is more convincing than any ad.

In today’s passage, Paul and his companions have traveled to Pisidian Antioch where they attended worship in the temple. Paul was invited to speak, which he did (Acts 13:16-41). What reaction did he get from those listening? By the next week the impact of Paul’s speech is seen by the crowd. Who is attending now?

These three verses don’t spell it out plainly, but the unwritten story can be deduced. Paul was so persuasive with his speech that many who heard him wanted to hear more. They followed Paul and Barnabas and were encouraged by them. By the next week almost the whole city had come to hear Paul preach again.

What happened? Those who heard Paul the first time were obviously so moved and so excited by the message that they told everyone they knew. They spread the word and encouraged others to come hear this incredible message – the message of Jesus Christ.

What an incredible story. Nearly an entire city turned out to hear the message of salvation. Could it happen again?

Yes, of course it could happen again. But such an event relies on the listeners spreading the word, stirring up enthusiasm, urging others to experience the same thing.

Many churches have the same lament – I wish more people would come. Well, they will come, but you have to invite them. If you are faithful to God and faithful in your attendance at worship there must be a reason for it. Isn’t the reason that you value the salvation of Christ?

Isn’t the reason that worship gives you that opportunity to intentionally be in the presence of God?

We can be so willing to share the good news of a nice restaurant, or talk about a great book we just read, or expound on the fine qualities of our new car. Why can’t we share the best news of all, that of Jesus?

DAILY CHALLENGE: Invite someone to worship with you.

Grow It 1

Acts 2:42-47

In a book on pastoral counseling, the author, Howard Stone, suggests using as part of the counseling experience an approach called “exceptions.” When there is a problem with a person’s life they may need to think of exceptions – the times when the problem did not or does not exist.

A prominent problem with many churches (maybe NOT yours) is declining enrollment. Fewer people seem to be attending mainstream churches. Even many of the successful mega-churches have encountered a plateau, where their growth suddenly levels off.

If you sense your church may not be all that it could be, you might try imagining an exception. When was the church strong and vibrant? Did it look like the church described in today’s passage?

These six verses in Acts 2 are the verses on which this spiritual check-up is based. Look over what is being described. The criteria for a healthy church are throughout. What are the signs of a healthy church presented here? What is the end result as described in verse 47?

Over my lifetime I have seen a church grow, plateau, decline, grow again, and decline again. I am sure over your own lifetime you have witnessed similar events. The times of growth were marked by an excitement, whether excitement over a fresh, new pastor or the Holy Spirit breathing new life in ministry and outreach.

Growth all by itself is not an indicator of a healthy church full of spiritually healthy people. A church may grow for all the wrong reasons. But a church that can live out what was being lived in Acts 2 will grow. When we as Christians devote ourselves to hearing and understanding God’s message, to genuine and caring fellowship among ourselves, and to sincere prayer the church will be given a new spiritual vitality.

When we can give with a glad heart, when we can commit to regular and frequent fellowship – a fellowship marked by genuine love and companionship, a fellowship intent on giving God praise – the Lord will indeed add to our numbers just as he did with that first church.

If your church is not experiencing healthy growth, think of the exception. When did it grow? What would it take to make it grow again?

DAILY CHALLENGE: Give your church a check-up in your own mind. Which of the criteria presented in Acts 2 needs the most work? What can you do to help change that? (“Nothing” is not an acceptable answer)