Monthly Archives: August 2016

ONE CHURCH

ONE CHURCH – The Joy of the Generous Impulse
2 Corinthians 9:6-11 (p. 807) August 28 2016

Introduction:

Impulses can be either good or bad…You can have the impulse to strangle someone, or you can have the impulse to hug someone…one isn’t such a good idea, and most of the time hugging someone is a good impulse.

[One day a while ago I had gone to the store to get some stuff for a little fishing boat I have (well, Jimmy my son in law actually has it). I got a floating container to hold papers, an anchor, and some rope. Oh yeah, I got this air powered horn…It was a can of CO2 attached to an orange horn….Regulations say you have to have one on the boat. On my way home I stopped at Mom’s to check on her…while I was there the phone rang…and it was one of the 300 people who call every day to ask her for money. (I’ve put her on the no call list…I’ve called the Better Business Bureau…and they still call.) While talking to the man from the “unnamed charity” I explained my mom’s circumstances and asked him to take her off the list. He continued at full pace…ignoring my information and then I had an impulse…I reached into my sack of boat purchases…pulled out the CO2 powered air horn…and blew it into the mouthpiece for 10 seconds and then hung up…He hasn’t called back.]

Now I’m not sure if that was a good or bad impulse…but it was one I listened to nonetheless.

I believe the word “impulse” is one of the best ways to describe how the Holy Spirit works in a believers life daily. Romans 8:14 tells us “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” The Holy Spirit leads many times by impulses.

The word impulse means “A sudden strong desire to do something.”

The most joyful and fulfilled Christians live their lives by being “impulsively generous” when the Holy Spirit speaks and says do something…when He creates a strong desire to act…children of God…Act.

I use the term “generous impulse” because for the 35 years Kari and I have been married we’ve had a rule…if one of us experiences an opportunity for impulsive generosity we try to be obedient to it…and the other one of us will not question it…we’ll share the joy of the opportunity…please know, we aren’t perfect at it…and its easier when you have 5,000 in the bank instead of $5. But we’ve discovered this rule has brought us great joy and great opportunities.

It’s important according to God’s Word to remember this:

I. WHOEVER SOWS SPARINGLY REAPS SPARINGLY…BUT IF WE SOW GENEROUSLY WE REAP GENEROUSLY

Many preachers use this scripture when talking about tithing or giving to the church. And I certainly think we ought to be obedient and generous in this way. But this scripture isn’t about regular tithing…it’s about a generous gift for hurting people.

Here’s a little background…many of the churches Paul had established were under great persecution. They were hurting in every way possible, especially the home church in Jerusalem. There has been a request for those churches that could contribute financially to do so. Corinth has said, “Yes, yes, we want to help” but they haven’t. Paul doesn’t want to rebuke them…but he does urge them to fulfill their commitment. He shares that generosity is where God creates great joy…and He doesn’t want them to miss out on the joy of generosity. He doesn’t want them to give because they “have to” reluctantly…for God loves a cheerful giver.

[There are two ways to look at all we possess…pretend you’re a farmer and you have a seed for each of your dollars…each of the hours of your life…and each of the talents you’re blessed with. Here are the two choices…both involve a field owned by God Himself. You can begrudgingly plant a few seeds in God’s field…because you don’t want to “waste them.” You’re afraid you’ll run out of dollars…hours…and talents. You see them as something you should “protect” for yourself. Or you can go into God’s field with your dollars…your hours…and your talents and “empty the basket.” Throw handfuls into row after row of prepared soil…after all God gives the increase…remember, God owns the field…each of us are just tenant farmers… But God is a generous God…an amazingly giving owner.]

“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written (Ps. 112:9) they have freely scattered their gifts to the poor, their righteousness endures forever.”
(2 Cor. 9:8-9)

It’s about who we trust more with everything we have (each seed). Many times we believe we can control our happiness by using the seed when and where we want…and yet true joy comes from trusting God with it all…in His field.

We can build bigger barns with the thought…I’ve got plenty of dollars…plenty of time…plenty of talents to enjoy my life as I want. Or we can use them to grow an abundant crop in God’s field…At least in my country boy mentality this is what I believe God’s Word is saying.

There is always an internal battle within our impulse between reluctance and generosity. And for the Holy Spirit led people we trust God and choose generosity…for worldly people we choose to walk away from these opportunities because “we have too much.”

SHOW PICTURE (MARK 10:17-31, p. 707)


“Give it all up…and come follow me.” But he couldn’t relinquish control of it all…He had too much…His face turned toward his sandals…and he left the presence of Jesus…sad.

Money, power, prestige give us control….It’s hard…impossible apart from God’s doing…to surrender that control to the Lordship of Christ.

The battle between reluctance and generosity is a fierce spiritual one which takes place in the human soul…especially for those of us who have a lot of seeds.

This week at Kroger maybe someone in front of you struggles to pay for their groceries and you feel the tug of the generous impulse…and reluctance…I challenge you to give into generosity and impulsively pay for their bill…and experience that joy.

This week at the restaurant you treat the waiter or waitress who’s in school with a listening heart…and when you pay your bill leave the equal amount as a tip.

This week when you fill up your car and you notice the old vehicle next to yours with a couple of kids in it and a guy with work scarred hands holding the nozzle, say…“Man, I just felt God give me a generous impulse…I’d like to pay for your gas today…God bless you in Christ.”

Sow some seeds as a cheerful giver so the Giver of all seeds can increase your storehouse and your opportunities…it will change your heart…it will change your life…it will “result in thanksgiving to God.”

“The children of God are led by the Spirit of God.” Let Him lead you and don’t be afraid to share who your Father is.

“Let God enlarge the basket of your righteousness…you will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.” (You trust God when He gives you a generous impulse…and He’ll provide the ability to do it every time!)

Let me end with this truth…

II. GOD IS ABLE

The real Christian life is about faith…it’s where real power comes from.

When Paul writes “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things, at all times, having all you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:8)

He’s saying…I believe this…I’ve experienced this…Trust God to be able!

He owns it all…“He is at work for good in all things for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

If we want the world to experience the good news, it’s righteousness must be revealed by those who live by faith.

Remember this scripture:

ROMANS 1:16-17 (p. 782)

Righteousness is “acting right.” “Doing right.” And it’s not those acts that save us…but when we are in “right relationship with God” they flow out of us because of our faith. It’s how the gospel is revealed…no matter who you are…first or last (feed your faith and your fears will starve to death.)

Kathy Escobar in the book “Down We Go” (Living into the wild ways of Jesus) writes:

Small, simple acts go further than we think, especially in a harsh and cruel world. Let us never underestimate what a kind word might mean for someone, or what a cup of cold water might mean for another. One is always better than none. Something is always better than nothing.

Everything begins with love. Jesus makes the command to love one of his most defining statements. He summarizes the entire law with it: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your soul and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30). We can talk about love, preach sermons about love, read books about love, quote scriptures about love and long to love. However, the bottom line is: The only way to actually learn the ways of love is to extend it, try it, do it, risk it, live it – to enter into another person’s life and let someone into ours.

Jesus multiplied 2 fish and 5 loaves into feeding 5,000 with 12 baskets of leftovers…Trust Him, He is able to take your “small gift of righteousness.” And use it for a harvest of righteousness.

Let’s pray.

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SO OUR WORLD CAN EXPERIENCE GOOD NEWS

ONE CHURCH

ONE CHURCH – So Our World Can Experience Good News
Romans 1:16-17 (p. 782) August 21 2016

Introduction:

[These two guys went fishing, one younger guy and an old crusty fisherman. The young guy started to bait his hook when all of a sudden the old guy lit a stick of dynamite, threw it in the pond and covered his ears as the explosion ripped the air. The young guy watched as fish came floating to the surface…and he said, “What are you doing…that’s against the law!!!” The old guy lit another stick of dynamite…tossed it to the young guy and said “Son, you gonna talk…or are you gonna fish?]

Dynamite’s explosive stuff…it will change your attitude and your altitude, if you’re not careful…whether you’re fishing for fish…or fishing for man.

I say that because when Paul writes to the Romans and says “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation.” he uses the word “dunamis” for power…It’s the Greek word from which we get “dynamite.”

This word isn’t used to describe strong things. It’s used to describe “something which houses mighty, explosive power.” There is within the stick of dynamite the potential power to really shake things up…to move mountains.

And one of the most freeing things for those of us who are Christ followers is this…The power to save doesn’t depend on us…This mighty, explosive, saving power comes form God Himself.

It’s the very reason Jesus told His disciples after His resurrection, and just before His ascension back into Heaven.

“You will receive power (“dunamis”) when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

This was the gift they were to “wait for.” “It was the gift the Father had promised.” The gift Jesus had spoken about often.

With the Holy Spirit housed in their souls they would become “dynamite” fishermen, so can we!

For that to happen we must choose to let…

I. FAITH CONQUERS SHAME

Paul tells the Romans later on in his letter that “Faith comes by hearing the message of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)

He asks this series of questions:

“How can people call on the one they have not believed in? How can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? How can they hear without someone proclaiming Him to them? How can anyone proclaim Him unless they are sent?” (Rom. 10:14-15)

God has chosen people to be the instruments that communicate His good news of salvation to other people.

Not only has He provided the power to His children to know when to speak and what to say…He has provided the same Holy Spirit to be convincing the world that they need a Savior…It’s a two pronged attack…The Holy Spirit filling and guiding us as Jesus’ disciples, but at the same time He is “drawing lost people to see their need for a Savior.”

The two most difficult parts about this plan is we don’t know when He’s going to give us these opportunities…and we don’t know what He’s been doing in the lives of those we encounter. So we have two choices…be bold…be unashamed about the message of Christ…or be ashamed or complacent about opportunities “as we are going” daily.

Those who expect nothing powerful to happen usually aren’t disappointed…and those who are living outside the will of God are too ashamed to tell people they know Jesus as Savior and Lord.

[I learned the lesson of God’s preparation in other people’s hearts early in my Christian walk…my mom had been actively involved in a group called “The Lexington Christian Women’s Club” and they had monthly meetings…during the summer months they had a “youth meeting” for teenagers and their families. And she asked me to speak at this meeting just months after my conversion. During this meeting they always had special music…and a speaker. It’s hard for me to tell you how scared I was…I was genuinely terrified…so when I got there I met the guy who was doing the music…His name was David…and when I sat down next to him he asked, “What are you doing here?” And I then proceeding to tell him my whole story…my childhood, my rebellion, my struggle and my surrender…I look at David and he was crying so hard he could hardly breathe…the lady introduced him to play his trumpet…and he stood up still crying and said, “I can’t play…but you’d better listen to this guy, he just told me my life and the answer for it.” He sat back down and I shared my story, again.]

I have no idea what God was doing in David’s life before this day…but I know what He was doing in David’s heart on this day…and because I choose faith over fear I got to experience His power.

Let me show you a video I saw recently…it features a magician Penn Jillette. He’s part of a duo called Penn & Teller…He’s an avowed atheist…and some of what He does in his videos is an attack on God and the Bible…but not this one:

SHOW VIDEO, https://youtu.be/6md638smQd8

You can tell Penn Jillette was genuinely moved by the sincerity and courage of a believer who believed fervently in heaven and hell…who believed enough to share God’s Word in faith…a businessman who wasn’t crazy…just one who believed God’s power can save anyone…and that he could be the instrument to bring the good news. Penn Jillette is still an atheist…but this encounter changed his view of believers…maybe the door opened just a crack.

There’s a song by Greg Long called Fifteen and it says:

I was sitting at the table
As the waitress took our order
In her eyes I knew that something wasn’t right
And before I saw it coming
I was caught up in her story
Of the storms that she had weathered in her life
My friend said can we pray for you
She said I think I’d like you to
She walked away, we bowed our heads
But then he turned to me and said

If it takes fifteen times
To hear about Jesus
For someone to believe
Wherever I stand in line
I’ve got to make a difference
In case it comes down to me
‘Cause, I may be the third, may be the seventh
There may be years in between
But what if I’m fifteen
What if I’m fifteen

Just a chapter in a story
With the ending still unwritten
Do they find the truth of Jesus after all As I listen for the whispers
And I follow where they lead me
I pray that I’ll be faithful to the call
If I’m who I’m supposed to be
I know that God can work through me
I may not understand it now
But I believe somehow

If it takes fifteen times
To hear about Jesus
For someone to believe
Wherever I stand in line
I’ve got to make a difference
In case it comes down to me
‘Cause I may be the third, may be the seventh
There may be years in between
But what if I’m fifteen
What if I’m fifteen

God I don’t want to miss the chances
When you open the door
What may seem so insignificant
You see so much more

What if you or I are 15 but what if we’re too busy, caught up in our own world…what if we are too apathetic…too scared…too unbelieving in God’s providence and power? If so, we miss the chance, we fail to go through the door…we think it’s too insignificant…remember “The one who is faithful in the little things will be faithful in the big things” according to Jesus.

The essential question I’ll end with today is:

II. DO WE BELIEVE GOD CAN SAVE ANYONE? (AND DO WE CARE?)

Can God save a murderer? Can God save a stripper? Can God save a drug addict? Can God save a proud violent blasphemer? Did God save you?

Paul’s entire point with this scripture in Romans 1:16-17 is “Salvation is possible for everyone who believes.” Jew or Gentile…it doesn’t matter. God’s righteousness is revealed in the gospel…and if it’s been powerfully revealed to you, then there’s no way you’ll be ashamed to share it.

So when we encounter people, do we allow our judgments about their value, worth, and ability to be saved be greater than God’s judgment about their value, worth and ability to be saved?

Do we see God’s power to be at work in us and others as a firecracker or a stick of dynamite?

Hebrews 7:25 says “Jesus is able to save completely those who come to God through Him because He always intercedes for them.”

You know what that means right? He saves, and can save anyone totally…and He continues to work in our lives pleading our cases continually…now and until we get to heaven. BOOM!!!

It’s this powerful truth that fills God’s people with a message of hope…a message we should be willing to share courageously when the Holy Spirit opens the door…It’s why the Church will always be a hospital of grace instead of a clubhouse…We believe God can save anyone…and we care.

[Brennan Manning tells the story of a recent convert to Jesus who was approached by an unbelieving friend…

“So you have been converted to Christ.”

“Yes.”

“Then you must know a lot about Him? Tell me, what country was He born in?”

“I don’t know.”

“How old was He when He died?”

“I don’t know.”

“How many sermons did He preach?”

“I don’t know.”

“You certainly know very little for a man who claims to be converted to Christ!”

“You’re right…I”m ashamed at how little I know. But I know this: 3 years ago I was a drunk. I was in debt. My wife and children dreaded the sight of me…and my family was falling apart. But now I’ve quit drinking. We’re out of debt. I have a happy marriage and home. My children eagerly wait my return each evening. Jesus did all this for me. I know this much about Christ!”]

Our unashamed relationship with Jesus is often the most powerful message this world can hear.

Let’s pray.

ONE CHURCH

ONE CHURCH – Committed to Loving
Matthew 22:34-40 (p. 692) August 14, 2016

Introduction:

Anybody here find it hard to love people who are mean to you or who try to put you down?

How about those who get in your face and try to prove how wrong you are and how right they are?

In the next 80 some odd days I promise you we’ll experience more of this in America than any other time in our history…at least in my lifetime.

We will hear 45% of our country proclaim that Donald Trump is a misogynistic jerk, a racist, a me focused egomaniac that should not have his finger anywhere near the red button…and 45% of our country will proclaim Hillary Clinton is a corrupt liar, a soldier abandoning baby killer who only received this nomination because the system was rigged…5% of the nation will vote for the independent Gary Johnson while the 2 major parties shout how can you throw away your vote for this “pot smoking” libertarian?

Instagram, Facebook, and protests will be inundated with caustic strong opinions about how right the posters are and how stupid the opposers are. Spit will spray from mouths shouting in anger…with ears firmly closed.

These are just the facts…It doesn’t take much of a prophet to forsee this truth.

And yes I realize all the important issues from Supreme Court appointments to social inequality. I’m human and have opinions just like every one of you.

But the most important question we as God’s people can answer is “How do I keep the kingdom of God as my priority? How do I seek His Kingdom first?”

Jesus gives us the answer:

I. LOVE GOD WITH EVERY PART OF OUR LIVES

In Matthew 22 Jesus is under verbal attack. Verse 23 tells us that a powerful group called the Sadducees…Religious leaders who took a stance that there would be “No resurrection from the dead,” came to Jesus with a question…I promise you that they weren’t seeking a real answer, they were seeking to make Jesus stumble. They didn’t want dialogue…They wanted His failure.

They call him teacher…And remind him of the Levite law which says…If a man dies, his brother should marry his widow. They then gave an impossible scenario…Suppose 7 brothers die one by one (I’d be a little cautious of that widow). They then ask, “Whose wife will she be at the resurrection?”

Here’s Jesus’ reply:

MATTHEW 22:29-33 (p. 692)

They don’t believe in the resurrection! And the scriptures, God’s Word isn’t their guide…but their fervent hatred of Jesus is…Jesus answers their question…but even more let’s them know God is “I Am”…not “I Was.” He is the God of life and the living. He is firmly saying “God will take care of death.”

When the crowds heard his answer they were astonished…this made sense powerfully.

And it shut the Sadducees up…at least for a while.

So another powerful political and religious group tried to take Jesus to task…The Pharisees, the law keepers and enforcers…remember Saul? He was one of them…They come and test Jesus with this question “Teacher (Rabbi) Which is the greatest commandment in the law?” Jesus answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”

I passionately believe that scripture teaches that life begins at conception because of what Psalms 139 says…I passionately believe that marriage is a union between one man and one woman because of what Jesus said in Matthew 19…I passionately believe that no matter whether you are black or white or male or female…Jesus can restore and make us one because of what Galatians 3:26-29 reveals.

But I believe this even more passionately. If our love for God and others doesn’t totally overshadow those individual beliefs then all those beliefs profit me nothing. I’ve become a clanging gong…a noisy cymbal…and so have you.

Jesus spoke truth to very political religious people…but in the midst of that truth He firmly stated, “our first priority is to love God with our thoughts…our spirit…our emotions to the core!”

God’s Kingdom is what we are to seek first…and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33). Because the eternal spiritual destinations of men and women will not be determined by Caesar…but by God.

I’m not minimizing the importance of individual issues…I’m maximizing the importance of loving God first, and allowing that “same attitude that Jesus has” to flow through our hearts and lives into a very lost world!

There is a more excellent way of life according to the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.

1 CORINTHIANS 13:1-13 (p. 800)

This love, agape, is an action word…and even if you think you have special insight and knowledge and can communicate that insight powerfully…you and I don’t see all that God is doing…just a little part of it…children focus on themselves and speak without thinking of others…but when we become mature…It’s not all about me…It’s about faith, it’s about hope…but even more it’s about love…or it’s worthless.

It’s why our mission here at GCC is to be “A family committed to loving Jesus and others so our neighbors, community and world can experience good news.”

Are we as Christians, or at least those who claim to be, as passionate about sharing the good news of Jesus as we are about elections?

It’s easy to stand on a soapbox…it’s a lot harder to help homeless men get clean. it’s easy to shout how horrible abortion is while holding a poster…it’s a lot harder to open your heart to young girls at Assurance who need someone to speak life and love.

It’s easy to talk about things you oppose…it’s a lot more difficult to get involved with real people. Posting a Facebook comment makes you feel like you’ve taken a stand…opening your heart and life to real people face to face fulfills the Great Commission of Christ.

Paul tells the Galatians “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.” (Gal. 5:6) John the Apostle writes in his first letter “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)

It’s why Jesus connects loving God with all our heart, soul and mind with loving our neighbor. “Loving God is the first and greatest command…but the 2nd is like it:

II. LOVE OTHERS LIKE YOU LOVE YOURSELF

All of us remember Jesus’ parable about the “Good Samaritan.” Once again he was being tested by the religious Pharisees.

LUKE 10:25-29 (p. 725)

He knew the greatest commandment and the second by heart. He quoted it perfectly…But Jesus said “Do this” and you will live. “Do this” is harder than memorize this…or post this…or teach this.

When the Pharisee wants to justify himself, have you ever wondered why he asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Could it be he wants a list of who he has to love and who he doesn’t have to?”

Could it be that’s exactly why Jesus tells this story?

LUKE 10:30-37 (p. 725)

2 religious people and one enemy…All three are going down the same road. It’s a normal day…when unexpectedly they encounter a naked, beaten, and bloody man in the ditch…But only the Samaritan helps him, and even goes the second mile.

When Jesus asks “Which of those three…do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” Even the Pharisee, who was testing Jesus, has to answer….“The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus says, “Go and do likewise.” Go and do.

You cannot truly love God with all your heart, soul and mind if it doesn’t affect your “Go” and “do.” If your knowledge about God doesn’t move you to be like God, or seek to be like Him…You’ll spend a lot of time trying to justify yourself and very little time showing broken and hurting people mercy.

Here’s the thought I’ll close with…when we as God’s people seek to love Him with every part of our being…it’s different than how the world loves…Jesus said:

MATTHEW 5:43-48 (p. 678)

God didn’t design His Church to be a country club where “good ole boys” get together…or a bridge club where “old friends” meet together for fun and cards…when this happens you’re a church by name only…and you’ve stopped being a lighthouse and become a beach club…when this happens “others” stop being as important as “preferences.”

Here are some specifics that can help us show our love for God to our neighbors, community and world.

1. Enjoy your friendships, but invite new people to be a part of your meals, activities and ministries…open your heart to those who need you more than you need them.

2. If physically you are limited, use the phone as an outreach tool…call and pray with those who are hurting…or just to encourage! Whether it’s their child’s award…or an upcoming surgery.

3. Carry a backpack or purse in your car loaded with things that would help someone who is homeless…use your discretion, but be prepared to show tangible mercy.

4. Look for new people at church and ask to help…Can I show you where your kids go? Can I answer any questions for you…Can I sit with you?

5. Live each day looking for Kingdom opportunities. Opportunities happen as we are going…This is true in parables and real life.

6. Pray…pray for not only those who are in the ditch, but for the insight and courage to get off your “donkey” and help them…scripture always connects real love with real service.

7. And finally, don’t live your Christian life as one who expects others to be neighborly to you…you be the neighbor first…and I promise you, “joy” will be God’s gift.

Even if you’ve been hurt…even if you built a protective shell around yourself…join in…join in the family…make the Church a priority…and move from the sidelines into the game. God is good…and our goodness should point others to Him.

Let’s pray.

ONE CHURCH

ONE CHURCH – A Family
Ephesians 2:19-22 (p. 815) August 7, 2016

Introduction:

Tony Compolo in Who Switched the Price Tags tells this story:

Miss Thompson taught Teddy Stallard in the fourth grade. He was a slow, unkempt student, a loner shunned by his classmates. The previous year his mother died, and what little motivation for school he may have once had was now gone. Miss Thompson didn’t particularly care for Teddy either, but at Christmas time he brought her a small present. Her desk was covered with well-wrapped presents from the other children, but Teddy’s came in a brown sack. When she opened it there was a gaudy rhinestone bracelet with half the stones missing and a bottle of cheap perfume. The children began to snicker but Miss Thompson saw the importance of the moment. She quickly splashed on some perfume and put on the bracelet, pretending Teddy had given her something special. At the end of the day Teddy worked up enough courage to softly say, “Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother . . . and her bracelet looks real pretty on you too. I’m glad you like my presents.” After Teddy left, Miss Thompson got down on her knees and prayed for God’s forgiveness. She prayed for God to use her as she sought to not only teach these children but to love them as well. She became a new teacher. She lovingly helped students like Teddy, and by the end of the year he had caught up with most of the students. Miss Thompson didn’t hear from Teddy for a long time. Then she received this note: “Dear Miss Thompson, I wanted you to be the first to know. I will be graduating second in my class. Love, Teddy Stallard.” Four years later she got another note: “Dear Miss Thompson, They just told me I will be graduating first in my class. I wanted you to be the first to know. The university has not been easy, but I liked it. Love, Teddy Stallard.” Four years later: “Dear Miss Thompson, As of today, I am Theodore Stallard, M.D. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know. I am getting married next month. I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit if she were alive. You are the only family I have now; Dad died last year. Love, Teddy Stallard.” Miss Thompson went to the wedding and sat where Teddy’s mother would have sat, because she let God use her as an instrument of encouragement.

God’s household is filled with Miss Thompsons! And it’s designed by our heavenly Father to be this way…What would have happened to Teddy Stallard if Miss Thompson had opened that brown bag and said, “This is the ugliest bracelet and worst smelly perfume I’ve ever seen?” and then thrown it into the trash.

We don’t know…we can be pretty sure that it would have devastated Teddy. But we can be absolutely sure she would have never set anywhere as his mother.

I. FOREIGNERS AND STRANGERS CAN NEVER BE FAMILY

The Apostle Paul talks about the bond that’s formed through the cross…whether Jew or Gentile. Jesus breaks down the dividing wall…Jesus puts to death the hostility…no matter who you are.

“Through Jesus we have access to the Father by One spirit.” (Eph. 2:18)

People become family when they are connected to the same Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

And the hard truth is unless we open our hearts and lives to new people they will always stay foreigners and strangers.

It doesn’t matter your race, gender, economic status…the simple fact is you cannot have a real and deep relationship with someone you don’t know. Pieces of wood that are never joined together will never become a house…They’ll always stay a stack of timber.

For the house of God, Jesus Christ Himself, is the Chief cornerstone…In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord…We have access to God through the One Spirit that makes true worship possible.

Church should never be a place you go to worship…Church is a family of people joined together in worship…not just on Sundays…but in life.

ACTS 2:42-47 (p. 759)

A devotion to God and each other…Monday through Saturday was as important to the bond as Sundays…And new people came into the family daily.

“A family committed to loving Jesus and others so their neighbors, community and world could experience good news.”

A church ceases to function as a family when it forgets this mission and preferences become more important than God’s purpose. Where people are viewed not as possible family but foreigners and strangers.

Established and comfortable members circle the wagons…Their focus turns to friendships and relationships that are safe…This way they don’t get hurt…This way they don’t have to go through the difficult process of building new relationships…I understand this too…I can protect my heart and I can be friends with those I like…The problem is when I do this my Christianity is about “ME.” And according to Jesus…it’s never about me.

[I remember reading this email of a godly woman who wrote…I decided to not let anyone new in…I wasn’t going to do it anymore…I’d been hurt too many times and disappointed too many times…I’ll have my friends and those I trust, but I’m not going to open myself up again!]

I get that!!! I’ve done that! (at least for a while, while I heal up) Relationships are always a two way street…and sometimes the ones you feel like are going somewhere, end up a dead end street.

But, if we close off our hearts to foreigners and strangers, they can never ever become part of the family of God.

If there are never godly teachers who will invest in the Teddy Stallard’s of this world, the potential of God for unkempt, slow loners will never be realized.

Never stop believing that God can build a temple out of a crackhouse!

[I’ll never forget filling out my entrance form to go to Bible College…It was only about 6 months after my conversion…I was working as the lifeguard at Blue Grass Christian Camp and on weekends I came home for church…It had questions on it like “Have you ever used drugs?” and “Have you ever been arrested?” “If so, explain.” I tried to explain honestly and share that that prison didn’t exist anymore. The application also required a letter of recommendation from a church leader…So, I asked one and He looked at me and said, “I can’t write that letter for you!” I felt the judgment and condemnation fall on me like a ton of bricks. So, I asked another…my dad’s boss Bill Buchannan, the President of Kentucky Utilities and an Elder. he said, “Ricky, I’d be honored to write that letter…I’m so proud of you.” It was an honest letter filled with hope, the belief in forgiveness, and God’s plan. By the way I’m the only person in Johnson’s history to enter on Academic probation and graduate as valedictorian…That’s a story of hope and grace…because God can turn potheads into preachers…and the Holy Spirit becomes our letter of recommendation.]

May God help us all have Bill Buchannan’s heart…It believes that those who are far from God can be brought near…Those who are foreigners and strangers can be adopted into the family.

“Anyone can find the dirt in someone…be the one who finds the gold.”

Let me end today with this challenge:

II. GOD’S HOUSE IS A CONTINUOUS BUILDING PROJECT

When Jimmy and Karissa were looking for their first home they found one they really liked, but it had a crack in the foundation…They didn’t buy that house!

The family of God is composed of “Living Stones.” It is people joined together in the Lord, and our foundation is built on the Word of God, through the Apostles and prophets. Jesus is the chief cornerstone that makes that foundation perfect, solid and crack free!

It’s absolutely essential for us who claim Jesus as Lord and Savior to keep Him as the chief cornerstone…It’s His perfection and love that cause us to be in right alignment with God. It’s His Word that is truth, and it’s this truth that keeps us in God’s will…and on point when it comes to His mission. And seeking His will through prayer is the only way our attitudes can be molded through the Holy Spirit.

When Paul finishes this section of scripture in Ephesians 2, he says “And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit.”

Are…being…built…together.

It’s a continuous project. It’s an ongoing construction…The foundation is Jesus…it involves you too…and it involves His family being unified around His plan together…By His Spirit…and…The Holy Spirit never speaks disunity…Never. He is the construction manager of God’s building project…He never deviates from God’s blueprints…he seeks to guide each worker to build towards the same plan.

But we workers can be an ornery…opinionated group can’t we? The Holy Spirit wants to build a temple of unity and praise…but we’d rather build a clubhouse.

Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin had every reason as teammates to be friends, but they were not. Incognito harassed and bullied Martin. He called him a racial slur in a voicemail played by every media outlet in the country. He threatened to kill him and his family. Incognito claimed all of this was just locker room talk. It is the way the guys talk to one another in the NFL.

Apparently, Martin didn’t get the memo. Martin left his lucrative job citing emotional issues and fearing for his life. Though we don’t know all the details, it appears as if Martin has some culpability, as well. He was far too passive in dealing with Incognito’s threatening behavior. As a teammate, it appears, he should have expressed how troubling Incognito’s threats were to him. These two men had many more reasons to get along than to have a toxic relationship. Consider all the reasons they had to be friends.

They were both football players.
On the same team.
Had the same coach.
Both were offensive linemen.
Both played on the same side of the line.
Both were starters.
Both wanted to win.
Both are big dudes.
Both were millionaires.

Yet somewhere along the way one or both of them forgot they played for the same team and began to treat the other like a New England Patriot. They forgot the enemy was in another city. They forgot enemy is on another team.

Similarly, we have many more reasons to honor one another than to dishonor one another.

We have the same owner!
The same Father cheering us on from the press box.
The same Savior who scouted us and forgave us.
The same Spirit within.
The same playbook.
The same purpose.
We are going to the same place when life is over.

We believe that God has called us to be one Church…One family committed to loving Jesus and others, so our neighbors, community, and world can experience good news.

I’m sorry if you don’t believe God and his Spirit can and should build us to be just this kind of house…I’m sorry if you believe preferences are more important than people…But please remember…It’s not my vision for the church or your vision for the church that makes it great…It’s His!

Let’s pray.