The difference…

photo

There’s a difference between getting lost on an afternoon hike in the mountains and being rescued after days of hunger and cold, and successfully climbing Everest.

There’s a difference between surviving being broadsided at an intersection on the way to the Gym, and being t-boned during the “big one” in the Daytona 500.

There’s a difference between surviving a beating by a mugger, and being knocked out in a UFC match.

To be fair there’s NOT a lot of difference in the the actual events.  Hunger and cold are painful, car accidents are frightening and dangerous, and being punched hurts!  The difference is purpose.  The difference is mission.  The difference is that bad things that “just happen to us” add to our fears and weaknesses,. while bad things that happen on the way to a goal…on the way to a summit…on the way to a championship,  just add to our story when we win.

That’s what I love so much about the story of Paul the Apostle found in Acts Chapter 27-28 that Steve Warrington shared on Sunday.   The Bible NEVER promises that obeying God will be easy or trouble free.  It does promise, though; that for followers of Jesus those troubles and difficulties would not be WASTED…that they would instead just add to our Story and God’s Glory!  Just a few short years before Paul began his epic sea voyage to Rome, Paul sent these words to the Christians living there in a letter:

“28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them”.- Paul (Romans 8:28)

Paul’s life…his journeys…his story… and the fact we still recount it today, proves those words to be true!

There is a difference between living an adventure and surviving a disaster.  Being an obedient follower of Jesus Christ is where that adventure begins.

The Gift of Prophesying

er

Around actionchurch we’re big fans of Romans – Chapter 12.  We really believe that EVERYONE has a talent that they should use to glorify God.  One of our zany, tongue-in-cheek quotes that made headlines recently was “I’m glad my gift isn’t giving – that would really suck”….. but, I have to tell you – I’m even MORE glad my gift isn’t prophesying.

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.”    Romans 12:6

All this month we are discussing an uncomfortable portion of the old testament from 2 Kings Chapter 20.  The account focuses on the BOLD faith of King Hezekiah.  But I found myself even more intrigued by the BOLD faith of Isaiah – the prophet who was charged with delivering the message of the King’s pending death.  What would it have been like to be in Isaiah’s sandals?

Isaiah’s job description doesn’t sound too enticing to me:  1. Must be willing to deliver bad news.  2. May be killed in the line of duty.  (Don told us that prophets were killed if what they predicted didn’t come true.)  Wow!  Hope their union negotiated some big time hazard pay for that!

But think about it – even if your prediction was right – a common human reaction to bad news is to “shoot the messenger”!  Quite personally, I was ready to put a hit out on Punxsutawney Phil last week until Don talked me out of that crisis situation.  The groundhog just predicts the weather – he doesn’t cause it.  But I was STILL very, very angry with the rodent to say the least.

Another crazy twist to the story – Isaiah confronts the King with his bad news – but then has to turn around within minutes and go back and change his story!  Talk about BOLD!  How awkward did that have to be?  Ummm hey!  Good news/bad news…..the bad news is my 100% prediction record is history – the good news is you get another 15 years!?!

And finally, even if you could see what happens in the future – would you really WANT to see the future?  Isaiah used his gift of prophesy through the reign of FOUR kings.  In BOLD faith he delivered bad news to the Kings of Judah. It had to be devastating to have the gift of seeing the downfall of a nation.

This amazing story required TWO people stepping out in BOLD faith.

King Hezekiah was an amazing king whose faith allowed him to accomplish BOLD things for his nation.  Isaiah was an amazing prophet whose faith allowed him to accomplish BOLD things for God.

 

 

Praying “-er” Prayers

er

Every year in February,  actionchurch takes time to celebrate our “birthday month” as a church. It’s a great time to look back at what God has done for us in the past, and to share the stories of how we began with those who more recently became part of the actionchurch story .   It’s a great time to point out the tremendous “Leverage” of faith that comes from trusting God enough to act even with very limited information, and then seeing him multiply our limited human efforts many times over in ways we couldn’t have even imagined.   It’s also a great time to just celebrate…and since actionchurch is turning six this year…what six-year-old doesn’t like to invite their friends over for a party?

Another important part of “birthday month” at actionchurch is looking forward…asking God what he wants us to focus on in the coming year.  It’s not creating a “plan” for the year, not “forecasting”, or even “setting Goals”.   It doesn’t lead to a new mission statement or a new logo.  But, James 1: 5 says ” If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.” and every year we find that to be true.  Last year, we were inspired by the way Jesus empowered and released his disciples to minister and spent the year focusing on equipping and giving individuals “permission” to minister wherever they found themselves in the POWERDOWN initiative.

This year my inspiration is a bit different…and when I say different, I mean it in the same way your mom called your cousin who collected McDonald happy meal figures and lived at home until he was 36 “different”.  This year our main scripture is one of the weirdest stories in the Old Testament, which in itself makes modern Christians nervous because of it’s content.   2 Kings 20:1- 11 AND Isaiah Chapter 38 BOTH relay these strange events:

About that time Hezekiah became deathly ill, and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to visit him. He gave the king this message: “This is what the Lord says: Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness.” 2 When Hezekiah heard this, he turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, 3 “Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.” Then he broke down and wept bitterly. 4 But before Isaiah had left the middle courtyard, this message came to him from the Lord: 5 “Go back to Hezekiah, the leader of my people. Tell him, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your ancestor David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you, and three days from now you will get out of bed and go to the Temple of the Lord. 6 I will add fifteen years to your life, and I will rescue you and this city from the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my own honor and for the sake of my servant David.’” 7 Then Isaiah said, “Make an ointment from figs.” So Hezekiah’s servants spread the ointment over the boil, and Hezekiah recovered! 8 Meanwhile, Hezekiah had said to Isaiah, “What sign will the Lord give to prove that he will heal me and that I will go to the Temple of the Lord three days from now?” 9 Isaiah replied, “This is the sign from the Lord to prove that he will do as he promised. Would you like the shadow on the sundial to go forward ten steps or backward ten steps?10 “The shadow always moves forward,” Hezekiah replied, “so that would be easy. Make it go ten steps backward instead.” 11 So Isaiah the prophet asked the Lord to do this, and he caused the shadow to move ten steps backward on the sundial of Ahaz!  2 Kings 20:1-11(nlt)

It’s a passage that Bible skeptics quote and preachers avoid.  It’s filled with more questions than I can list, let alone answer.   Medically speaking, how does a fig poultice cure a life threatening boil?  Not a clue.  (But even the word “boil” doesn’t stop me from craving fig Newtons).   From a science perspective how exactly does the shadow on a sundial (or more likely the palace steps) move BACKWARDS??? Did the sun move? The earth?  Axis tilt?  Weather anomaly? Eclipse?  No idea.  None.  Although some of you offered some really good theories since.   Theologically speaking,  did God change his mind?  Did he merely test Hezekiah?  How does that square with Numbers 23:19 that states that God never changes his mind or says something that doesn’t happen?  No answer here…except that God is God…and he can do WHATEVER he wants to do.  You can sort of see why there aren’t many sermon series based on this scripture…at least by wise preachers… :-)

Here’s why, in spite of ALL the unanswered questions I have about this event, I am inspired and challenged by it:  Hezekiah asked for MORE!  In the face of something as grave and final as a God telling him he was going to die,  the king somehow mustered the courage and the faith to ask to live long(-er)!   AND, somehow, God chose to honor that prayer and use both natural and supernatural events to cause it to come to pass!  I believe 2014 is the time for praying those same kind of “-er” prayers…to ask for MORE as a church…and as individuals. To ask,  NOT in a competitive sense, NOT to bring glory or attention to ourselves, but because we believe in our mission that God has given us.  I’m praying for a LONGER time, GREATER influence, LARGER reach,  BIGGER impact, MORE-ER resources…okay you get the picture. :-)   I’d love for you to join me as we further explore this amazing story and what it means for us today this month on Sunday mornings.  Most of all though, if you are a part of the actionchurch family and believe as I do that God has even greater opportunities waiting for us to Love God, Love people, and take action in the coming year, I’d love it if you’d begin to pray humble yet bold “-er” prayers to the God who can easily set the sundial shadow in reverse!

Romans Chapter 12, one more time.

selfie

I hope that in some way this month’s “Selfie” sermon series has challenged you to take a fresh look at yourself from new perspectives over the last four weeks. (I know it has personally for me.) In spite of the pop-culture metaphor, the “selfie” series has really been nothing more than a line by line study of chapter 12 of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome.  Written over two thousand years ago, it’s striking how fresh and relevant this wise advice still seems today.  I hope you’ll take a few minutes this week to read it one more time…

Romans 12-  (New Living Translation)

12 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2 Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

3 Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us. 4 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, 5 so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.

6 In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. 7 If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. 8 If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

9 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. 11 Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. 12 Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. 13 When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,“I will take revenge;  I will pay them back,” says the Lord.

20 Instead,  “If your enemies are hungry, feed them.  If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.”

21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

I Like to Party

StevePartySermon

I Like to Party

My first crew gig with actionchurch was in the garage of a dance club.    Yep.  As crazy as it sounds….it was even crazier in person.  The actionkidz venue was in what technically was the garage area of Club 19 and I volunteered one month each quarter to teach what would (in a normal church) be the equivalent of Sunday School – ONLY LIKE A PARTY!  Each week we would set up the bounce house and a big screen TV (housed in the back of a VW bus)..…there were strobe lights, video games, donut sugar highs, loud music and the kids would go nuts!  At 10:59 we would lower a huge overhead garage door and the “lesson” would begin.

All things considered it was a pretty cushy gig.  There were no attendance sticker charts. There were no lesson plans to prepare.  You weren’t even required to come up with a cutesy craft each week.  And if you forgot your objective there were three big posters hanging from the ceiling reminding everyone what we needed to learn:

  1.  Put God first
  2. Treat others the way you want to be treated
  3.  Make wise choices

Sound familiar?

It was simple.  I liked it.  It worked.  And most importantly – “we didn’t make it up”! (That’s a Don quote)  It’s been working for thousands of years!  Jesus taught his followers the EXACT SAME MESSAGE!!

The – My Name’s Steve and I Like to Party Sermon gave me a sweet reminder of my early crew days. (Same message – different venue – same sugar high)  What’s even sweeter is that I continue to see this message exemplified each and every week at actionchurch.  All you have to do is look around to see it put into practice.  Our leaders live and breathe these principles with their families.  (Wife jokes excluded) Our crew demonstrates it in their relationships with each other. And our small groups are developing into solid “parties” of individuals who idealize these beliefs.

Treat others the way you want to be treated.  Period.

We didn’t make it up.  Jesus taught it for a reason.  It works. Period.