Posted tagged ‘Acts 6’

Every Blessing Leads To A New Problem/Challenge

November 15, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        November 15, 2018

                            

Recently I was worshiping at a church my daughter attends. The pastor talked about blessings, being blessed and the gratitude of experiencing the blessings of God. In the midst of his message he made a profound point that struck me so much I wrote it down!

He said every blessing leads to a new problem! 

I’m sure we could substitute the word ”challenge” for blessing if need be, but I’ll stay with problem just to press the point.

The first gathering of Christ-followers, who became the first church, prove it. Acts 6 begins with these words:

“In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews[a] among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” (Acts 6:1)

To break it down it would read like this: The number of disciples increased, and the number of problems increased as well!

At stake was the very reputation of the first church. Like a restaurant getting a bad Yelp review they were at risk of being labeled as uncaring, “all words but no action”, fake, a flash in the pants. Their blessing led to a new problem.

I wonder if there were some “who wished for the old days” when you didn’t have to stand in line and there was room in the meeting room? Kind of a New Testament version of the Hebrews longing to return to bondage in Egypt!

Going back to when Jesus traveled from place to place healing people and speaking truth, he kept drawing larger and larger crowds. The blessing of a healed life was accompanied by twenty more people following Jesus looking to be healed. Jesus didn’t see it as a problem, but his disciples sometimes gave the impression that they were at their wit’s end because of it. Like the employee of a major retail store on Black Friday…a sense of dread about the next twelve hours or so!

Every blessing leads to a new problem. In Colorado Springs the blessing of having a mission that is concerned about the homeless and impoverished, called the Springs Rescue Mission, has led to new problems. Perhaps this is where the word “challenge” would fit better! The mission has almost always been at capacity in the housing of the homeless in its shelter. They’ve expanded the number of beds with a new facility. It still can not accommodate all of those who need shelter, but it’s a blessing to the city. The blessing has come with new challenges, like opposition from those who are concerned about public safety and having a large number of homeless people in a certain area of the city, increased health issues that the homeless population brings, and the increased challenges of leading homeless people back to a more settled life.

On one hand Colorado Springs thanks God for the Rescue Mission, but on the other the effectiveness and caring of their ministry and mission has resulted in more challenges for them and the city.

Blessings do not lead to an eased existence and a comfortable life. Blessings are simply a step on the road that stays obedient and faithful as it follows the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

It’s like our family gathering last night! We had dinner at our house, all ten of us- our three children, two son-in-laws, three grandkids, Carol, and I. What a blessing to have family tonight! Carol fixed an amazing dinner, that culminated a couple of days of anxiety and worry 

about whether it was going to be okay; the grandkids ran around like they were on sugar-highs; the noise level was sometimes deafening and the number of conversations going on at the same time were plentiful. We had to put up another table alongside the dinner table to fit everyone. The dishes were piled up afterwards, and Grammy and Granddad’s energy had been consumed!

And we knew we were blessed! 

We wouldn’t want it any other way! Blessings bring problems and challenges, and we’re smiling in the midst of our exhaustion!

Muttering and Complaining About Church

July 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 20, 2018

                         

My friend, Ed Stucky, recently preached a sermon on the “First Church Business Meeting.” Coincidentally, the small town small tiny congregation where the two of us speak and worship was scheduled to have a church business meeting that morning after the worship service. 

Ed used the text from Acts 6 that tells of the crisis that the first congregation in Jerusalem had to contend with: the taking care of a group of widows who were “different from the rest of us!” These widows were Jewish, but had come to Jerusalem from other cultures and regions. At some time and place they had become followers of Jesus. One of the repercussions of that was the loss of a care system that the Jewish synagogue provided to its widows. The Jews took care of their own. Now…what about the new Christian church? And these women weren’t even native born! They were transplants…immigrants, if you will!

And there’s a lot of them! 

And the group of immigrants that the widows are a part of are “murmuring and complaining” against the native Hebrews. That is, the newbies are complaining about the people who have always been there! Today we’d describe the native Hebrews in this story as the people who would say something along the lines of “This is OUR church!”

It is the fertile soil for a cultural battle. I can hear the excuses.

“We’ve only got so much food.” 

“We can only do so much.” 

“We’ve got to take care of our own first!”

“Y’all eat different kinds of food than we eat!”

“It’s not our responsibility!”

And so the Grecian Jewish Christians muttered and complained, and the Twelve said let’s figure out a solution to this problem! 

The process was quickly defined. 1) A meeting was called of all the disciples. 2) The problem was identified. 3) It was determined that what was happening went against the core values/beliefs of the church. That is, it needed to be solved, not neglected! 4) The solution was found, put into practice, and the way the church functioned was changed accordingly. 

Huh! How ‘bout that!

The thing is this first century crisis could have torn the church apart. Just imagine a new church plant today that has half of its attenders wanting to meet on Saturday night and half who are firmly anchored to Sunday morning. Or half the people who mutter and complain about having a woman as the lead pastor for the congregation and half who believe she is who God has called to be the leader, that gender has no bearing on God’s calling.

The disciples decided that the widows of the Grecian Jews had a legitimate complaint and took care of the matter. They didn’t let it fester. Shortly before this they had witnessed the “drop dead” experiences of Ananias and Sapphire. That was an awakening moment for the Jesus followers, just as the two deceivers crumpled to the ground. It was a moment when the church got serious about this Kingdom business.

Let’s be honest! There have been numerous churches in recent times that have exploded because of muttering and complaining attenders/members who don’t feel they are being heard; and there’s churches that have people rushing for the exits because of complainers who want it their way or the highway. 

We live in a culture of entitlement, and that has filtered- sometimes like a flash flood- into the church. Some followers of Jesus feel entitled, while others are prone to discount anyone who differs from them. 

We’re like a bunch of dysfunctional Baptists! Oh, wait! Dysfunctional is not a term that has to be used with Baptists these days. It’s now just implied!

And yet the first church was able to figure it out! Huh! How ‘bout that!

Oh, and by the way! Our church business meeting right after Ed’s message that Sunday was productive, punctuated with laughter, and…short!

The Premium of Hospitality

June 1, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    June 1, 2016

                                

Yesterday I had a “Free Breakfast Burrito” coupon for Chick-fil-A. It was expiring soon…and I hadn’t had breakfast yet…so I went to the location closest to us and ordered my free breakfast, plus a glass of water. The young lady, Sarah, who waited on me was as courteous and hospitable as possible. And not in a “put on” kind of way! She was genuinely interested in serving me and making my brief dining experience positive even though Chick-fil-A made exactly “zero cents” from my visit.

She even asked me if I wanted any kind of sauce packets, and would two be enough? Chick-fil-A is, without a doubt, at the top of the fast food establishments in the category of hospitality. Even in the midst of crowded, noisy establishments their employees seem to enjoy their labors. I’ve taken our five year old granddaughter, Reagan, to a different Chick-Fil-A and an employee named Josie was incredibly engaged in what Reagan had been doing that day.

Notice that I remember the first names of both employees!

On the other side of the spectrum are two different phone experiences that my wife Carol had yesterday where she felt devalued and idiotic. Whereas I left Chick-fil-A feeling like I mattered, she felt like she was simply a number in a couple of impersonal systems, a faceless person who didn’t know anything.

We’ve all had experiences that are at both ends of the hospitality rating line. It’s interesting that encounters that leave us muttering to ourselves stand out in our minds as clearly as the exceptional encounters.

Personally, I am drawn to hospitality and courtesy. Darla cuts my hair, not because she’s cheap, but because she takes care of me. I want my barber to be kind of like Floyd from Mayberry…relational, friendly, and not draw blood!

My optometrist, Dr. Bettner, takes time to see how things are going with me, tell me about his kids, and explain things that I am clueless about.

My massage therapist, Jackie Landers, makes me laugh even as she is inflicting pain on my body. I joke with her about the fact that I’m sure she sharpens her elbows before I come in. She is a 5 foot tall bundle of giggling energy. She hugs me when I arrive and hugs me when I leave.

Common themes in all of those people are a warm relationship and extraordinary hospitality.

In recent months I’ve been able to visit a few different churches of various flavors. Whereas preaching/teaching and the worship music becomes what gets focused on by those who are connected to those congregations, the hospitality of the people who greet you and the heart-felt interest of those sitting close to you AT THE END of the service are what impresses…or depresses…me.

After the benediction it is noticeable how many people rush for the doors, because their duty or worship experience has been fulfilled. The churches where people who have greeted you during the earlier “bulletin-mandated” greeting time, but then continue the conversation after the benediction…those are the experiences that stand out.

That hospitality was a significant focus of the first churches. The deacons in the first church in Jerusalem served the Grecian Jewish widows (Acts 6). The church had a reputation for extraordinary caring and service. They reflected Jesus, who was genuinely interested in all people, especially the ones who were devalued by the culture.

Back to Sarah! I’ve got a yearning to go back to Chick-fil-A tomorrow, and even spend some of my money!

Advocating for The Program-less Church

May 1, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            May 1, 2016

                  

I’m about to walk on thin ice with lead boots, but here goes!

I’m advocating for a church that has no programs! And just so we’re clear here, I’m not simply going to substitute the word “ministry” in place of program. We do that quite often to make it sound legitimate.

I’m not saying that programs like Awana, Frontier Girls, after-school programs, senior fellowship groups, Bible Quiz Bowl, Royal Rangers, Young Adult ministries, spring rummage sale, church softball teams, and church bowling leagues have no merit. They do…kinda’!

My concern, as one who has created programs/ministries and trumpeted their merits for three and a half decades, is that programs start driving the cart instead of being the cart that follows the horse.

In case you’re confused, the horse is God, and his ways and purposes…and ministries and churches are following in his trail in the cart.

Sometimes churches create programs out of a sense of “spiritual impatience.” We are over-caffeinated people (I’m sitting in a Starbucks as I write this!) who have a very difficult time waiting upon the Lord, and I would say even “being with the Lord.” We get into the “I need to be doing something!” mindset.

This is not meant to be a blanket statement, but many times programs/ministries get adopted by congregations who get tired of waiting upon the Lord. The Methodists down the street are getting a monopoly on a ministry to seniors, so the Lutherans jump into the fray to get part of the market share. The Assembly of God church has a rockin’ praise team so the Baptists look to upgrade.

Another dilemma sometimes happens when the program becomes what is worshiped. If it is drawing a crowd it is suddenly seen as being anointed by God. Like the crowd following Jesus as he sat down on a hillside and gave a series of blessings and teachings, programs often create followings of the devoted. Conflicts in churches happen, more often than not, over programs. I rarely see conflicts in churches over God!

I’m wondering if a church should do a “program moratorium” and let God guide the wagon. What would that look like? The picture in Acts 2, 4, and 6 would help us figure that out. It seems that what rose to the surface in the beginning days of the church was the caring of one another, the proclaiming and teaching of the gospel, worship, and prayer. The Body was built on the strength of relationships knitted together. Acts 6 shows the development of a ministry to widows, the forgotten group.

The saints would gather together, check in on one another, encourage one another in a time when there were more reasons to get discouraged. And the Holy Spirit moved in their midst!

What would happen if the only thing on your church’s schedule this week was the gathering on Sunday morning or Sunday night? Would you love your brothers and sisters enough that you’d connect with them in other ways during the week? Coffee at Starbucks? An evening walk in the park with a friend? Going with a couple of others to see a sick friend? Calling a young mom and seeing if there is anything you could pick up for her at the grocery? Praying together?

Congregational vitality is based on our connection to who is driving the cart, and commitment to one another.

What connects you to the Kingdom of God?

The Functioning Church of Dysfunctional People

January 31, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  January 31, 2013

The church is a very unique people. It is not confined to a building, although most people still usually identify it as a building. It is not defined by its preaching, although proclamation is at the core of who it is. It conveys grace and forgiveness, and yet urges ongoing transformation.

The church also has an unsettling tension about it, for it seeks to minister to people who are dysfunctional in a variety of ways, but it needs functional people to keep it focused, effective, and missional. In other words, the church is about helping people get it together, and yet it requires people who have it together to keep it healthy.

It is true that we are all dysfunctional in some way. “Falling short” is a nice way of saying dysfunctional. My dysfunction might be one easily diagnosed, or it may very well be one that I keep hidden to myself. The dysfunction might be in fractured families or recovering addicts, but it could also be in my tendency to lust after money, sex, and power; or the bitterness in my spirit towards someone who has wronged me. All of us are dysfunctional in some way.

The church, however, is the only group of people besides AA that intentionally invites dysfunctional people to come and find healing, hope, peace, and purpose. And yet, if there are not “healed people” who are functioning well as a part of the church the result can be like a lifeboat whose passengers are all rowing in different directions. There is a lot of splashing going on, but no movement. There is a lot of “wanting” evident, but also increasing frustration.

It reminds me of the early church situation In Jerusalem where a certain group of widows were being excluded in the daily distribution of food (Acts 6:1-7). The first church adjusted and put seven men in place to make sure the function of providing for the women was taken care of. It presented itself as a possible major fracture in the church, based on a group’s culture, and the church restructured to make sure people in need were included.

People whose lives are in turmoil need a church that has people who have battled through the turmoil. And yet the church can not be so “all that”, as they say, that it conveys a sense of arrogance. It can’t convey messages like diet businesses do where they show the before and after pictures of its clients. Broken people need healing, but they will always be under construction.

Like I said, the church is a very unique people.