A Vision Sermon Series
September 18th, 2016 - Real Steps: The Good God has for You
We completed our vision sermon series by looking at what it means to take real steps as a community of believers. Pastor John read Ephesians 2:1-10 and started by noting that Paul begins with the Gospel. He made the point that everything that we do must be anchored in and motivated by what Jesus Christ did for His people. It is the Gospel that gives us the proper perspective and allows us to move in the direction that God wants up to move, rather than what is in our own will. Furthermore, Paul emphasized in verses 8-9 that the Gospel saves us not because of our works, but because of the work of Jesus Christ.
From that starting point, Paul then explains in verse ten, "For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Pastor John defined good works as; 1. random acts of kindness, 2. timely acts in response to needs, 3. holding onto what you believe, and 4. your life efforts (working as a student, an engineer, a mom, etc...). He explained that all of these good works were meant for you to live out so that God could be glorified. Pastor John repeated the following phrase throughout this section of his message, "Good works, real steps, are what we were saved for."
However, we were not just saved to do good works (to take real steps), Pastor John asserted, we were made to do good works. He explained that there is tremendous significance in being "God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus." This means that you were carefully crafted by the master, making you and I, a work of art. And yet, being God's masterpiece and being responsible to do good works, can cause us to feel a lot of pressure---which can sometimes make us feel like it's an impossible task to take these real steps for God's glory. Pastor John responded to this concern by explained that the term, "handiwork" is a Greek translation of a Hebrew word that is translated the same way only two other times in scripture (Numbers 8, 1 Kings 7). In both of these instances, it has to do with something that is created to house the presence of God. That means that we are not just a work of art meant to take real steps, but that God made us in a way that He could be with us as we lived out our calling--able to help us, able to encourage us, able to strengthen us. God does not abandon us in what He calls us to do.
Pastor John concluded by explaining that the end of verse ten should give us confidence, because what God has called us to do, He prepared for us a long time ago. In a sense we were destined for this purpose--even before we were born, these real steps are what we were made to do.
His big idea was, Taking real steps means walking into the good God has for you.
September 11th, 2016 - Real Life: Living out our Faith
Here at West End Community Church we're spending three weeks talking about our motto: Real Talk, Real Life, and Real Steps. Those are the three things that we're about at this church; the things that make us who we are. Last week Pastor John spoke about Real Talk: speaking truthfully and genuinely, just like Jesus did. This week Pastor Pierce spoke about Real Life: not just talking about faith, but living out our faith. Not just putting on a spiritual act, but living what the Bible teaches. He preached on the Real Life of a disciple of Jesus, speaking from Romans 12:9-21. He broke down Paul's words to the Roman Christians in order to determine what the Real Life of a Christian entails.
First, though, he told the troubling stories of two men: Frederick Douglass and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Frederick Douglass was a black man who was born a slave, but he escaped from slavery and wrote some books about his life. One of the things he writes about most is his experiences with Christians while he was a slave. Douglass tells the story of his master finding religion -- his master started out cruel, so Douglass hoped that following Jesus would make the man more kind. Instead, once he became religious, he became even more cruel. Every Sunday he went to church, and every Monday he worked his slaves half to death. Douglass says that this master would pray and sing hymns in the morning, and in the afternoon he would whip a slave girl who couldn't walk, just to entertain himself. The master and his wife would pray for plenty of food from their harvest while they nearly starved their slaves to death.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor in Germany around the time of World War II. He preached a lot about how the national church in Germany was turning a blind eye to all of the terrible things the Nazis were doing to the German people, especially the Jews. The churches had their worship services while the Nazis dragged Jews off to concentration camps. At their pastors' conferences they would announce that politics was none of their business; they were "spiritual" people. These Christians would say that they were too busy with "spiritual" things to help the people whom Hitler wanted to kill.
These stories give us a bad feeling, not just because these people didn't do the right thing, but because they called themselves Christians without acting like Christ. They acted religious without truly obeying God. They did "spiritual" things in church settings and did evil in the rest of their lives. These stories sound wrong because God calls Christians to love people inside and outside of the church with a love that calls for action.
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, tells us how to really live this Christian life. This life is not complicated. It's not super-spiritual. It's not "holier than thou." It's simple. It's practical. It's about how we treat others. The Bible tells Christians to live this way because that's how Jesus lived, and that's how he taught his disciples to live. Jesus lived a simple life of loving the people who had it worst in society and teaching them how to get right with God. Jesus was practical: He met people's real needs. Jesus was intent on treating others the way that his Father wanted Him to treat them. The Bible calls us to live out the things in listed in Romans 12:9-21 because we're disciples of Jesus -- we're people who imitate Jesus and follow his example.
Living the Real Life of a disciple of Jesus means loving others sincerely, the way that God first loved us. It means allowing God's Word to define what we consider good and evil in our lives. As brothers and sisters in Christ we must love one another like family, honoring each other before we worry about getting recognition for ourselves. The Bible calls us to be enthusiastic and passionate about serving the Lord, and to have joy and patience in both good times and bad ones. In everything we do as a Christian we need to pray faithfully, because prayer keeps us in tune with God's will.
If we want to live the Real Christian Life, we need to be quick and joyful about sharing our time and resources with those in need, and we need to be hospitable. The Bible calls us to bless those who curse us, just like Jesus blessed the people who crucified him and asked God to forgive them. We need to empathize with people, just like Jesus empathized with us when he sacrificed himself to save us from sin. God wants Real Christians to live happily with each other, because the love and joy we have for each other is a reflection to the world of God's love and joy for us. We can't be too conceited to associate with someone whom we consider to be beneath us, because the perfect and holy God did not consider Himself too good to associate with us.
Living the Real Christian Life means doing good to the people who do evil to us. Imagine if God did evil to us every time we sinned against him. Just like God repaid our evil with good, He calls us to do the same to other people. He also calls us to live so righteously that no one can truthfully accuse us of wrongdoing. He commands us to live peaceably and to actively make peace with the people around us. By being peacemakers, we reflect the character of the Prince of Peace, Jesus. In order to make peace, we can't be bent on revenge and judgement. It's God's job to judge -- it's our job to love. When we live the Christian life, the Holy Spirit empowers us to overcome the evil of this world with the good that comes from Jesus.
Pastor Pierce closed by clarifying that we can't be saved by doing the good things listed in Romans 12:9-21 No matter how many of these good things we do, we can never be righteous enough for heaven on our own. The only way for us to be saved is by putting our faith in Jesus. We can't earn salvation by doing good things; we can only accept it as God's free gift. Then, once we're saved, we live the Christian life out of thanks and praise to God.
If you're reading this today and you feel as stirring in your spirit; if you feel like this Christian life is a life that you want to live, but you've never accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you can do that today. Repent of your sins, put your faith in Jesus, and start living the Real Life of a follower of Jesus.
September 4th, 2016 - John 8:1-11 - Real Talk: Talking Like Jesus
Pastor John began our vision sermon series by asking the question, What does it look like to be a people that talk like Jesus? He started by explaining that this world is complicated and difficult and at times it can be very hard to know how to respond to situations. Still, it is essential that in the confusion of sometimes not knowing how to react or not knowing what to say that Christians remember that they must walk as Jesus did. This means that Christians must also talk like Jesus did and does. And Jesus engaged in real talk--a direct, honest communication with people.
One example of such is found in John 8:1-11. Pastor John read this passage and discussed Jesus' response to a very complicated situation. He began by explaining the motives of the religious leaders in the story--a desire to trap Jesus, to show Him to be a hypocrite. Just like in this story, he mentioned that as Christians the spotlight is always on and people are always watching to see how we will respond. Pastor John then desribed in detail the emotion and intensity of what was happening as this women caught in adultery was dragged and thrown before Jesus. We've all been in intense and uncomfortable, chaotic situations and it is important for us to recognize just what was going on in this story.
Pastor John then looked at Jesus' response and explained that in this complicated situation, He was both bold and forgiving. He started off by looking at the boldness of Christ's response. It all started with His actions. Jesus made a statement by His actions. The text indicated that He began by writing in the dust, which Pastor John indicated was a reference to Jeremiah 17:13, which reads, "LORD, you are the hope of Israel; all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water." Through this action, Jesus was boldly addressing the religious leaders. As doing such, He was taking the attention off the accused and onto the accusers. Jesus continued to make a statement by His actions by "straightening up." By standing up to talk, Jesus was non-verbally communicating authority. This is a bold move before the more influential religious leaders of that area. Christ continued in his boldness by addressing very simply, very directly the sin of all of those who came to accuse this woman and who came to accuse Jesus of being a hypocrite. He essentially said to them, what about you? Jesus was looking at these people of power and saying "don't judge." Pastor John quoted Matthew 7:1-5 and expounded on the idea that God has always called us to mercy and not judgement.
He then looked at how Jesus was forgiving. Pastor John talked about how Jesus again "straightened up" to talk to the woman. Speaking forgiveness with authority. He explained that Jesus was showing the woman that He was the ultimate judge by having her look around to see if there were anymore accusers around her. He was the only one left who could judge her, and Jesus gave her forgiveness and mercy. Pastor John explained that when Jesus forgives, there is no one who can trump that. He also noted that Jesus didn't just give out mercy for mercy's sake, but He forgave the woman with a purpose in mind. He forgave her so that she could be free. Pastor John referenced John 8:36, "and if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed." He continued to say that she was set free to live a life of freedom and abundance in relationship to Christ. In the same way, we too are saved by Jesus, forgiven by God for a purpose. Pastor John encouraged us to let the chains fall and pursue our purpose in God.
He concluded his message, by saying that as a people of God we too are to be like Jesus and respond to situations in this world by speaking the truth with boldness and forgiveness--not timidity and judgement. He asked us to consider our own lives and ask the question, which of the actions of the characters in the story is my life most commonly like? Am I like the religious leaders, accusing and judging? Are we constantly comparing, evaluating, critiquing others? Why is that? Pastor John suggested that it could be pride and insecurity, which comes from a lack of understanding who God is and who we are to Him. Am I like the woman, caught in sin and too afraid to speak at all? Are we still living afraid and unaware of the freedom that comes from Christ? Pastor John encouraged us to take hold of the Gospel every day and walk out, and speak up like Jesus. Am I like Jesus, being asked to judge? Sometimes people come to us and want us to validate their accusations, their anger and they want us to judge in their favor. Sometimes people come to us and they want us to pile on and support their opinions. In those moments where we find ourselves in the same situation, are we responding like Jesus? Are we engaged in real talk? Are we speaking with boldness and forgiveness?
Pastor John challenged us to imagine what it would be like if people knew us as a people that engaged in real talk? Imagine if we were a people that were known for standing for truth boldly, but with mercy instead of judgment. His big idea was, "Talking like Jesus is both bold and forgiving."