Sunday, January 22, 2012

THE ACTS 2 CHURCH: Acts 2:42-47

A recent Pew foundation research suggests that mainline Protestant churches in the U.S. continue to experience decades-long decline, while the memberships of Pentecostal traditions are on the rise, according to new figures compiled by the National Council of Churches. Mainline Protestant churches that have seen a fall in membership since the 1970s continued their decline. Despite the national decline, some smaller denominations' memberships are increasing. Pentecostal churches make up four of the 25 largest churches, and both the Assemblies of God and the Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) increased in membership.[1]

Have you wondered why we see the decrease in Protestant Mainline Churches and what is the cause for the growth of Pentecostals? The trend of growth and decline is normal in the life cycle of any Church. Let me illustrate this (power point). In the life of any church there is a time for growth and at some point it reaches its peak and then plateaus. Any Church which merely exists, for the sake of existing soon will start to decline, unless some radical steps are taken and change is introduced that church will slowly but surely die. We don’t wish that for any Church and not certainly for our Church.

While a number of reasons can be attributed to decline, the main reason that can be stated for growth is the work of the Holy Spirit. Where the Holy Spirit is honored, respected and given prominence there we see both qualitative and quantitative growth. The Holy Spirit was at work in the early Church in Jerusalem, so the Church grew in numbers. Similarly if we want to grow our Church we must understand and apply the process that was involved in the early Church growth. For the next few weeks I will be sharing some lessons I learned from Alton Garrison’s book, “The Acts 2 Church” based on a process found in Acts 2:42-47.

Before I introduce you to the Acts 2 process, let’s look at our Church so that we have a context to bring this process into. (ECCOA Power Point). Our vision is “Building a diverse community that loves God and shares the gospel with all ethnic groups in Quincy and beyond.”

Let me break this down. A diverse community: God’s agenda has always been and will always be for all people of all races, and cultures. To get a glimpse of what heaven it going to look like let’s turn to Rev 7:9, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and in front of the lamb.”

In heaven you don’t see a Brazilian Church, an Italian Church, an Irish Church, a Chinese Church, an Indian Church a white Church or a black Church, instead you see a one huge colorful Church consisting people from every nation.

In order to build a diverse community it takes a diverse group of people coming together and using their God given diverse skills and talents. As it is, we are a diverse community and we want to remain as one and continue to grow even more diverse. While we celebrate the uniqueness of our diversity however we realize that our goal is not simply diversity but “Loving God” which is the next part of our vision. Jesus has summarized the whole law of God into to straightforward commandments. “You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:37-39 NLT)

This should be the core of all that we are and all that we do. Only out of our love for God we love others. When we love others we want the best for them. What is better than introducing them to Jesus? How do we do that? That brings us to the next piece of our vision, “Sharing the gospel.”

One of the main reasons why we exist as a Church is to see souls saved and lives changed. If we can summarize Jesus’ mission on earth into one sentence it would be this, “TO SEEK AND SAVE THE LOST” The parable of the lost sheep explains the mission of Jesus. In this parable we see the heart of a good shepherd who would not rest but go to any distance and experience any hardship until the lost sheep is found. In his own words Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”(Lk 19:10)

Elsewhere we read how Jesus was not content with a few of those who were saved but expressed concern over those who were not yet saved. In John 10:16, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” If Jesus was and is concerned about lost souls don’t you think you and I should also be concerned about the lost? What is your concern?

As a Church we are committed to see souls saved and lives changed. Obviously, you and I can not save a single soul no matter what we do; it has to be the work of the Holy Spirit, however God will not just simply save people, then how will he do it? He will do it through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus by his people. Proclaiming the Gospel doesn’t mean simply telling some body “Jesus loves you” or giving them the four Spiritual laws booklet. It is more than that; it is holistic. We must preach the whole gospel which touches the body, soul, and mind.

What is the Gospel? It is well summarized in Titus chapter 3;3 in the Message version “ It wasn’t so long ago that we ourselves were stupid and stubborn, dupes of sin, ordered around every which way by our glands, going around with a chip on our shoulder, hated and hating back. But when God our kind and loving Savior God stepped in, he saved us from all that. It was all his doing; we had nothing to do with it. He gave us a good bath, and we came out of it new people, washed inside and out by the Holy Spirit.

Our savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with him and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come – an eternity of life! This is too good to keep to ourselves this must be shared with every one. That brings us to the last piece of our vision, “all ethnic groups in Quincy and beyond.”

All ethnic groups in Quincy and beyond is our mission field. I know some Christians and Churches would be comfortable to remain in their own backyard. As a missionary with Youth With A Mission I always believed that I was commissioned to preach the gospel to all creation Isn’t that what Christ said, In Mk 16:15? “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” How can we then not share the gospel to all ethnic groups in Quincy and beyond? That is why we do community events, children outreach, prayer and prayer walks, and support missionaries both locally and globally. God’s desire is that none should perish but every one to come to repentance.”( 2 Pet 3:9)

I believe our Church’s vision is in line with God’s vision for His Church worldwide. However, having a vision statement on paper or believing that statement would not do anything. For the past three years we’ve been rather in a mode of regrouping and learning how to function as Church.

We have seen some good things happening in our lives and in the life of our Church. We thank God for it. But let’s not be satisfied, there is much more that God wants to do in our Church.

He wants to take us to the next level. If we want to see souls saved, lives changed and discipled it takes more than the pastor or a few individuals. It takes all of us intentionally getting involved in a process that is found in Acts 2: 42-47. Let me clarify, it is not a method or a twelve step program or a quick fix but it is a process. With the Acts 2 process you never get to the end; both the Church and the individual continue to develop in each element of the process.

In Acts 2: 42-47, we discover five key elements that fostered the growth in the early Church. They are: 1. Worship, 2. Connect, 3, Serve, 4. Go, 5. Grow. Knowing the Church in Acts 2 had these five activities is fine, but without applying them in a systematic way to our Church and our lifestyle, they are lifeless. I believe that embracing this process creates an intentional and exciting Journey for all of us. Amen!

Sunday, January 15, 2012


Have you ever said to yourself or others, it’s time to go to Church; get ready on a Sunday morning. When you say that one way you are saying that the Church is some place or building you must go to at least once a week. And there is a set time to attend the Church and after that it is all my time. Is that so?

What is Church? Is Church a building? Is Church the pastor or the board and the committees? Is Church the music or the ministries we do? If all these are taken away can the church still exist? The answer is an emphatic “Yes” because the Church is you and I, so as long as one or more committed followers of Christ exists, Church exists. But your understanding of Church and what goes on in the church largely depends on your cultural, social, economical and geographical background. Let me explain; for example if you grew up in Lakewood Church in Huston Texas you may think Church is huge and it is all about the glitter, glamour, and entertainment. Or if you were born and raised in shanty slums of Calcutta and attend a Church there you would think that Church is dirty, poor and small.

When Jesus said to Peter “on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overcome it.”(Matt 16:18), what did Jesus mean by it? How did he think this entity called Church will pan out in the future? Was he referring to a structural building? Or was he envisioning a living organism?

Jesus had very clear ideas as to how He wanted to do it, and what churches ought to be like in actual practice, and has given us the blue print through the work and teaching of His apostles. In order to deepen our understanding of Church let’s begin where it all started. Before Jesus ascended to heaven he commanded his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the gift that the father had promised to pour down on His believers.

He added, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”(Acts 1:8) Why did the disciples need the power? So that they can go out do great and mighty things? No; they needed the power simply to become “witnesses of Jesus” That was the whole idea. Jesus wanted to create a movement of “witnesses” who were empowered by the power of the Holy Spirit. So simply said, Church is a group of people who have witnessed the transforming power of Christ and are expected to spread the good news across the globe.

After Peter’s first ever powerful sermon, a church of 120 disciples all of a sudden swelled to over 3000 people (Acts 2:41), A few days down the road it grew up to be about 5,000 men (Acts 4:3). I tend to believe it must have been over 10,000 given the fact that women and children were often excluded from the count. What a dramatic growth in the first Church in Jerusalem. What must have caused that exceptional growth in a short time? Obviously, it was the LORD.

A few days ago I went to serve food with a friend of mine in a feeding program run by the Quincy crisis center in the center of Quincy. After serving we came back to the Church for prayer and possibly go out for evangelism in the neighborhood. I was stunned and taken a back by this honest and straightforward question from my friend who asked, do new people attend your Church every week? Are people getting saved weekly in your Church? I wished I had something positive to say but my answer was NO! Honestly speaking, weeks go by in our Church without seeing a new comer or people giving their lives to the LORD. After that confrontation I wrestled with some questions such as why are we not seeing great conversions in our Church? Is anything wrong with the way we do Church? What can we do to make our Church grow both in quality and quantity?

My wrestling has lead me on a search to understand certain trends that are affecting the Church growth globally in the 21st century. James Emery white in his book “A Mind for God” observes three major trends that are affecting our minds. They can be observed everywhere in the world. Let me summarize. Firstly, Secularism. A 2004 survey of Pew forum notes, 7.5 percent of the American population categorized themselves as secularists. In secularism morality and religion becomes a matter of personal opinion or private judgment rather than something grounded in objective truth. We see secularism at the top of the American educational system, legal system and the media of mass communication.

Secondly, Moral Relativism, which says, “What is true for you is true for you and what is true for me is true for me. What is moral is dictated by a particular situation in light of a particular culture or social location.” Thirdly, Autonomous Individualism, which says, “each person is independent in terms of destiny and accountability. Ultimate moral authority is self-generated. In the end, we answer to no one but ourselves, for we are truly on our own.”

Whether you are aware of it or not like it or not, these trends influence all of our thinking more than we realize. These trends have largely contributed to the decline of the Church in general. How are we to counter these trends? The Apostle Paul gives us a clue in 2 Cor 10:3-5, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

How can we demolish strongholds? By knowing the Word of God and living by it. The battles against secularism, moral relativism, and autonomous individualism must be fought first of all in the closet of prayer on our knees. My search has also lead me to identify certain wrong mental models that hinder our understanding of what Church is and how we do the Church.

In the next few weeks I will be introducing us to a process from the book of Acts that will help foster Church growth. For today let’s look at what could be the some those wrong mental models of being a Church and how they affect us. How about this model, “This is the way we have always done it, this is the only way” Or this one, “I need to be in some form of control/I need to be recognized” or “If I am not happy here, I withdraw or go look elsewhere” or “He or she will always be like that, I don’t like him or her, I will not interact with him or her, He or she did this back then, I will not trust this person again” or “The church is here to meet my needs, desires and to serve me”. Boy don’t I see this attitude a lot in churches? I call this attitude, “ A Me Church attitude”

Let me illustrate this. A Me Church, how did we get to think that Church is all about me I wonder? James Emery White calls this trend Narcissistic Hedonism, It’s a preoccupation with self. It is the classic “I, me, mine” mentality that places personal pleasure and fulfillment at the forefront of concerns.”[1] In a Me Church the center of attraction becomes me, my family, children, my needs, my interests and my ministry. It is all about me I don’t care about any thing else as long as my needs are met. Church must cater to my needs otherwise I will find some other Church perhaps that can meet all my needs. If you are looking to join a “Me Church” you will not find it because no one church can meet all of your needs.

Church is not all about you or your family neither is it all about me and my family. Church is not meant to be run on the terms of popular culture or personal agendas. What is the Church supposed to go with? Who dictates terms for the Church? What model are we to follow? What did Jesus say? If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. Mark 8:32

This is the great paradox, if we stop pursuing great things for ourselves and start seeking God and His will for our lives and for our Church we will truly experience God’s incredible blessings. Jesus is the Chief architect of the Church therefore He only can dictate terms, and knows what makes His Church to flourish and continue to be a powerful witness in this part of the world.

Are you ready to be challenged? Are you ready to be stretched and go beyond your comfort zone? Are you prepared for growth? Stay with the lesson, we will learn more next week about the process that enables growth. To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages now and forevermore! Amen!

[1] James Emery White, “A Mind for God” page 31

Sunday, January 1, 2012

FRESH START (Luke 13:1-9)

New Year’s Day is a special day for two reasons. It is special because on this day we can look back at the past year and take stock of the good, bad and the ugly things that have happened in that year. It is also special because it gives us a fresh start like opening a new book. It is also a day to start afresh by making New Year resolutions that are realistic and achievable so that by the end of the year you will look back and give thanks to the Lord for what you have been able to accomplish. While making resolutions it might help us to look at some of paraphrased resolutions of Jonathan Edwards, the 18th century preacher and one of America's greatest intellectuals. Jonathan Edward:

“Resolved, that he will do whatsoever he thinks to be most to the glory of God, and for his own good, profit, and pleasure, all of his life.”

Resolved, to do whatever he thinks to be his duty, and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general.

Resolved, Never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way he possibly can.

Resolved, Never to do anything out of revenge.

Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that he may find, and perceive, and grow in the knowledge of the same.

Resolved, Never to give in to the fight over his sinful nature.”[1]

I too have made certain New Year resolutions. It is one thing to write down lofty resolutions but it is another thing to recognize that through Christ’s help we keep any of those resolutions. As I spend the last week of the year seeking God’s direction for the New Year. I sense that God wants to give us “a Fresh Start” or a New beginning this year. Let me direct your thoughts to Luke 13:1-9 to find out God’s heart for a” Fresh Start.”

For some the past year may have been a tough year, you may feel like a failure and at the verge of giving up. Let me encourage you not to give up because God has not given up on you yet. Consider the following examples in the Bible where God never gave up on his people even when they did not live up to His expectation.
Adam and Eve disobeyed the very First Rule. But God never gave up.

Abraham wandered, and Sarah laughed. But God never gave up.
Moses hid and shook with fear. But God never gave up.
Saul went insane. But God never gave up.
David plotted against Uriah. But God never gave up.
Ahaz sold out to Assyria. But God never gave up.
Israel sinned and fell into pieces. But God never gave up.
The Jewish people became exiles. But God never gave up.
John the Baptist was beheaded. But God never gave up.
Peter denied he even knew him. But God never gave up.
The disciples all ran away. But God never gave up.

In the parable we read a fascinating conversation between the owner of the vineyard and the gardener who never gave up on a fig tree that was slow to bear fruit. Let me set the scene for you. The crowds gathered to listen to Jesus. He addressed a number of topics relevant to his second coming crisis. Now Jesus calls his audience to change their hearts and live fruitfully so that they might escape the up coming judgment. The heart of God for us each individual is that we too might bear fruit and escape the impending judgment that is coming upon this world. I see two essential truths in this parable. 1. God expects fruit from us. 2. God gives us a Fresh Start. Let’s explore them one by one.


God’s heart from the beginning of creation is that mankind would be “fruitful and multiply”, to that affect He blessed the first couple saying, “Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it.”(Gen 1:28) In the New Testament Jesus further emphasized the fruit bearing concept by saying, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain.”(John 15:16) These two scriptures clearly express God’s heart for us that we should bear fruit that will remain.

In the parable we read what the owner of the vineyard said to the man who took care of the vineyard, “For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any.” Just imagine the frustration in the face of the owner; for three whole years searching for fruit!! How disappointing that must have been. Jesus specifically mentions here “three years” why three? Could it be that Jesus was frustrated, by those even after listening to his teachings for three years yet were unwilling to repent and produce fruit of their repentance? Or was he giving them an ultimatum saying this is it, I taught you three years, no more it is high time you repent.

We don’t know exactly why three, in Biblical language, the number three often represents a sense of “divine completeness and perfection.” One commentator suggests, “three years here indicates ample time or opportunity” In other words the audience who were listening to Jesus’ parable had enough opportunities to repent, but it looks like they refused to repent.

Let me bring this into our context. There are certain individuals, who hear great teachings year after year but never repent and produce fruit of their repentance. They continue to remain in their sinful sate, doing the same old detestable things.

They continue to act just like the people of the world. Do you think God would be fed up with such un repentant, slow to bear fruit people? What would he say of them? In the parable we read in frustration the owner said to the care taker “cut it down why should it use up the soil.” This is where we see the heart of God who wants to give us a “Fresh Start” Let’s see how the gardener went about pleading the master for a fresh start to the slow to fruit fig tree.


In the parable the fig tree would have been taken down and burned in fire if it was not for the appeal of the care taker who said, “Sir, the man replied, leave it alone for one more year, and I will dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year fine! if not then cut it down.” I see in the eyes of the gardener such tenderness, care, concern and above all hope that one day the fig tree will blossom and bear fruit. He volunteers not to give up on the slow-to-fruit fig tree. He pleads with the master not to cut it yet. He bargains for more time as he commits himself to a year of shoveling manure. In a sense he wants the fig tree to have a fresh start.

The fig tree in the parable represents the nation of Israel with whom God had been extremely patient for thousands of years in spite of their continuous rebellion against God and their continual refusal to expect Jesus as their messiah. He has not given up on them; not as yet. The fig tree also represents the un repentant, slow to bear fruit individual. That is you and me. God could have taken us down by now for our rebellion. The same way as He has not given up on Israel He will not give up on us so easily.

Let me illustrate this. A parent searching for a lost child can never give up. Ever read some of those heartbreaking "missing children" posters hanging in the post office or stapled to neighborhood telephone poles?

Look carefully, and you will be shocked to see that the "last seen" dates on some of these pictures are 1986, 1983, 1982, 1979. Even when over a decade has passed, a parent cannot stop the search. Some time back, a brief news story recounted how a 2-year-old boy had wandered off and become lost in the woods outside a certain Southern town. Hundreds of local townspeople searched all night for the lad. The next morning, the family dog led the distraught parents and others to where the little tyke, worn out from fear and crying, was sitting under a bush at the edge of the woods. The father became a living expression of joy as he ran to his son, swept him up and hugged him close. Answering a reporter's question, the father said later, 'I felt at that moment as though the whole world was mine!' [2]

That’s how God must feel over each of his lost children. When the hope-less becomes the hope-filled, it is a moment of pure grace. This is what God accomplished when the Crucifixion became the way to the Resurrection. Judgment and death the ultimate "give-it-ups" have been replaced by redemption and everlasting life the eternal "never-give-ups."

What powerful truths we can learn from this parable. On one hand we see the heart of God who wants us to bear fruit in our lives. On the other hand we see a God who gives us a “Fresh Start” so that we might bear fruit. The parable ends without the reader's knowing if the additional year of growth and the enriched soil succeed in bringing fruit to the fig tree's branches that next year. The gardener had agreed that if there were no results forthcoming after this special attention, the tree should indeed be cut down. The intervening mercy of both the gardener and the landowner is a great gift, but it is not intended to last forever. Mercy is offered with the understanding that repentance must follow. The Day of the Lord may be mercifully delayed, but it is surely coming, so never give up in your pursuit of God. You can have a “Fresh Start” Amen

[2] (As quoted by Donald J. Shelby in his sermon, "I Once Was Lost, but Now Am Found," 6 September 1992.)