Now Is The Time: The Glorious Mess Called the Church

Today is a special day in the history of Journey Church.  Today is the day we will, as a church, commit ourselves to being as generous as possible over the next 24 months, in order that we might build a building within which will meet Journey Church.

We aren’t building a church.  The church is already in existence.  The church is the people in this room.  We are building a building that the church will use for generations to come as a place to bless the community and to worship the lord.  How will this building be a blessing to the community?

First – by being a place that is highly usable for the community.  The building will serve as a midsized event center for the town – and we’d be excited if it gets used a lot by the town – for everything from retirement parties to graduation parties to weddings.

Secondly – and most importantly, this building will be the place where we gather to worship and make God known to those neighbors and friends of ours that do not know that God is waiting for them, just over the horizon, but he’s coming for them.  And when they are ready to hear the god news of Jesus, Journey will be a great place for them to learn about Him.

Because we are absolutely committed to helping people discover the real Jesus.  And when they do – the will find him irresistible.

So at the end of the sermon we’re going to ask those regular attenders at Journey to turn in their commitment cards.  And let me walk through it briefly again.  We are asking for every church family to let us know – to the best of their ability – an estimate of giving  – here’s what we or I estimate – our total giving to be over the next two years.

This is one total number – because we’re making a switch from having many funds to just one ministry budget.  From the one budget we will do more than we’ve ever done for Haiti and Africa and in our assistance budget. 

Now why are we making this switch?  Mainly because we don’t want to get into a situation where people are excited about the building, and then giving falls off in other important areas.  We don’t want to be up here in three months saying, “Great job giving to the building, but our general fund has dropped and so please remember the general fund.  And then three months later saying – good job in these two buckets but don’t forget the Haitian kids we feed in the orphanage!

So we are budgeting all of our ministries and doing far more than we’ve ever done in them.  So one number that is an estimate of the total you think you will be able to give.

This is not a contract.  We will not revisit this.  You will not be receiving reminder in the mail of your pledge.  We aren’t going to track them.  In fact – if you’d prefer you can detach the name from the number and that’s fine.  We will not be able to tell who is giving what.

This number is between you and the Lord.  But it’s an important number.  Now is the time for us to make a move toward getting this building up out of the dirt and into reality.  And so at the end of the sermon, we’ll give you time to place your commitment cards into buckets all around the room.

Today we wrap up our series we called Now is the Time.  We enter into Easter season next week.  We will have a simple Good Friday service here in the gym at 7pm.  Two services on Easter.

But today  I want to wrap up by looking at a fascinating portion of scripture located in the book of Acts.

The book of Acts is all about the birth and growth of the church.  And today we will learn about how the church in the city of Philippi began.  And it began with three key people – three people who did not know that God was just over the horizon – three people who woke up one day thinking it was a regular kind of day – three people who discovered Jesus and who together were united in their faith and formed the nexus of one of the greatest churches we read about in scripture.  the church that met in Philippi.

Story #1.   The first person to decide to follow Jesus in Philippi was a woman named Lydia.  Lydia is what we would call today the Founder and Head CEO of a line of clothing.  She was powerful and rich.  She had more than one house, in fact. She was Asia- from Thyatira which is modern day Turkey, which meant she was Asian, by the way.  We know Lydia had money because she had a home in Thyatira  but had a large home in Philippi as well,  She was the equivalent of someone in the fashion world today who would have an apartment in Paris and New York as well as a summer residence in Malibu.

She was very successful.  Lydia was also religious.  In fact – she had traveled enough to know the differences in the religions she encountered along the way.  Enough that one religion had risen to the top of all the others – and that was Judaism.  She was intellectual- she liked to learn – and something about the God of Judaism had drawn her in.  And so, when she was in Philippi, she liked to meet with other woman – Jewish woman, and together they would study the bible and have discussions about God along the river bank.

One day – two men, named Paul and Silas, showed up at the riverbank and began a conversation about God with them.  Paul was a respected Jewish teacher – a Pharisee – or should we say, a former Pharisee.  For Paul had come to understand that Jesus was the fulfillment of all of the promises the Old Testament made about a coming Messiah.  Paul had decided to follow Jesus, and here he was now on the riverbank holding a conversation – appealing to Lydia’s intellect.   And while Lydia listened, the Lord opened her heart to receive this message, and right then and there she decided to become a believer in Jesus as well.

Lydia was the first person to become a Christian in Philippi.  And she was immediately baptized as a believer to affirm to the world her decision.

(Have we mentioned that we are having a baptism on Easter?  If you are interested – between services – grab a donut and a coffee and join us across the hall in the teachers lounge and we’ll spend 15 minutes talking about baptism and you can decide to follow Lydia’s example and be baptized as well)

Afterward, Lydia opened her apparently substantial home to Paul and Silas and others traveling with them – and Lydia’s house became the first building that hosted the church in Philippi.

Here’s how her story appears in Acts 16.

11 We boarded a boat at Troas and sailed straight across to the island of Samothrace, and the next day we landed at Neapolis. 12 From there we reached Philippi, a major city of that district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. And we stayed there several days.

13 On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. 14 One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. 15 She and her household were baptized, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged us until we agreed.

Lydia was wealthy, powerful, independent – intellectual – successful, and respected.

Story #2 was about as opposite as you can be.  In the same city – just around the corner – there was a young slave girl.  A slave to evil men.  Men who trafficked in human beings.  This girl was oppressed – not just by evil people, this poor girl was oppressed by an evil spirit that resided within her that gave her an ability to be a convincing fortune teller.  And then, like nowadays – people are far too willing to part with their money in the hopes of being convinced they know what the future holds.

And the evil people who controlled her took advantage of those kinds of people by turning this young girl a profit.  And that’s all she was to them, a profit.

One day they were out and about – no doubt trying to drum up business – when they came upon a crowd that had gathered to hear Paul and Silas teaching about Jesus.  And something unexpected happened.

The evil spirit within her was terrified by the real presence of God – and cried out a truth that the girl couldn’t have known on her own – and suddenly she finds her mouth confessing – “These men are servants of the most high God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.”

It’s seems odd doesn’t it that an evil spirit would have to confess the truth.  After all doesn’t the bible say that the devil is the father of lies – that when he is lying he is speaking his native tongue?  Yes – except the Holy Spirit is the spirit of truth!  And whenever the enemy is dragged into the presence of the one true God it finds it can it’s mouth can no longer confess anything other than He is Lord.

Paul, troubled by what he sees, turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her

The second convert of Jesus in Philippi?  A powerless, penniless, greek girl from the streets.

How did she become a follower of Jesus?  Did she, like Lydia, have a bible study by the river and she became convinced?  No – it was a power encounter.  God displayed his might in her life and freed her in a miraculous manner from evil spirits and evil people who had up to this point controlled her.

Story #3.  19 Her masters’ hopes of wealth were now shattered, so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the marketplace. 20 “The whole city is in an uproar because of these Jews!” they shouted to the city officials. 21 “They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice.”

These men form a mob and incite a racist mob.  These Jews are causing trouble!

22 A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. 23 They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. 24 So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.

Story #3 is the Roman Jailer.  Here’s your church planting team for the city of Philippi.  We have the rich, powerful,  Fashion CEO from Asia.  The powerless and poor street girl from Greece.  Now we have a retired, jaded, rough around the edges – Roman soldier, now working as  jailer.

If Lydia was curious about God intellectually, and the street girl knew about God experientially – there doesn’t seem to be an ounce of spirituality in the life of the Jailer.  He could care less about Paul and his teaching.  He’s just a guy doing his job.

If Lydia was rich – and the girl was poor – this guy was squarely middle class.  Rough around the edges.  Tough on prisoners – he seemed to have little regard for the people he guarded?

How do we know?  He put them in stocks.  No one told him to do that – stocks were used as torture devices.  Perhaps the Jailer too was racist?  Or perhaps he was felt obliged to make life as painful as possible on his prisoners.

We often say here at Journey that God is at work in the heart of every person we see.  And we never know when God will pop over the horizon and surprise someone with his presence.  This jailer is a good example.  If you were to be able to peek in on him on the very morning he became a follower of Jesus – you would have said – this guy doesn’t have a religious bone in his body – he likes hurting people.  And yet, by the next morning he will have given his life to Jesus and gotten baptized – like that.

What happened to him?  Paul and Silas were thrown in his jail – and how they responded to their plight, blew him away.

25 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening. 

They lost none of their joy.  If your joy is found in your work – what happens when you lose your work?  Your joy goes too.  If your joy is found in a relationship what happens when that relationship fails?  Your joy fails too.  If you joy is found in having a lot of money, what happens when the stock market crashes?  Your joy is gone and you jump off buildings.

Paul and Silas – their joy was found in Jesus – their good shepherd – and when they found themselves in the valley of the shadow of a roman prison – they discovered that Jesus was there too.  And their joy overflowed – they were naturally and easily praising God.  The jailer had taken away their freedom, their health, their sense of well being – at least he thought he had – and when he hears them singing and praising God – it’s beginning to stir something up in him.  What do these people have that he doesn’t – what do they have that makes them different than every other person he’s ever thrown in prison?

Notice – they aren’t preaching to him.  They weren’t appealing to his intellect.  They were living a life of grace and dependence on God.

26 Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! 27 The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. 

Why?  That was the deal for jailers.  Someone escapes; it’s your life for theirs.

28 But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” 32 And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. 33 Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. 34 He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God.

What was it that broke through to the Roman Jailer?  It was grace.  The grace – the kindness – the love of people he had treated terribly.  They responded to him with love – remaining in chains to save his life.  And he is utterly broken.

Notice – they didn’t begin to teach him about Jesus until he saw Jesus through their life.

Sometimes people like Lydia – need to be intellectually convinced that Jesus is Lord.  Other people – like the slave girl – need the power of God in their life.  other people like this Jailer – need to see the difference it makes in the lives of people who claim him.

This jailer was callous and showed no spiritual vital signs.  Until the day he came into contact with evidence that demanded a verdict.  Paul and Silas in prison.

These three people – Rich, poor blue collar.  Asian, Greek, Roman. A woman, a slave and a gentile Jailer.

Now here’s something interesting to consider.  Why did Luke, the man who wrote the book of Acts – include these three testimonies in Acts 16?

Well, there is a prayer that Jewish men prayed in the day.  Many still pray it each morning when they wake up.  It’s an awful prayer – not in the bible.  But it became a prayer that started each Day by saying – “Thank you God that I am not a woman, a slave or a gentile.”

And into that world – crashes the good news.  And God takes three people the rest of the world had little respect for – God takes this glorious mess of humanity and makes a beautiful church.  Built around the stories of a woman, a slave and gentile.

God says – give me these people.  I’ll show these – who prays that kind of prayer! – I’ll show that guy what I can do with a woman, a slave and a Roman…

And he takes these three people and starts a church with them.  There is no place on earth these three people would have been together in the same room, except the glorious mess we call the church.   What unites them?

All three of their lives were saved by the same person. The same person laid down his life that they each might live…

The book of Philippians is one of the most beautiful books in the bible.  It’s filled with wonderful phrases.  I think Acts chapter 16 should be like Philippians chapter 1a.  Chapter 0.  It’s the prelude to Philippians.

But once we see how it all began, it makes the letter to the Philippians that much more beautiful. Philippians was written 10 years after he met Lydia and the Jailer and the slave girl.

He’s writing ten years later – and he begins his letter with… Good news everyone!  I’m in Jail in Rome!  I’m preaching to the guards!

What do you think the church in Philippi did when they read it.  Uh uh!  Paul’s got him right where he wants them!

How many goose bumps did the Philippians feel when Paul write in his letter that some day – every knee will bow (Remember the jailer fell to his knees) and every tongue confess (Remember the slave girl – confessing…) that jesus Christ is Lord.

Philippians is a letter from Paul to the church he started ten years earlier.  And what is the gist of the letter he writes?  Don’t stop doing the things that made you -you.

It’s no accident that I wanted to preach on this passage here at this defining moment of our church.  Ten years after we started – what’s the gist of this message?

God’s at work in the lives of every person we see – we never know when the good news will break through into the lives of our neighbors or loved ones or even you today.  In the meantime – don’t stop doing what you do Journey.

Keep on being the kind of people who display grace, and treats people with respect and dignity and kindness and love in the name of Jesus.  You never know when God will use that to break through the most callous of hearts.

Whatever happens in the future with a building – journey – listen – don’t you dare stop being the glorious mess that you are.

You are a beautiful mess.  A beautiful, Jesus loving, hope instilling church, life changing church… Some are struggling to pay bills.  Some are wealthy.  Blue collar white collar.  Democrats and republicans.  Beautiful people and more beautiful people.  There are no ugly people at Journey.  There are plenty of ugly pasts.  But every person we meet is a beautiful human being, loved by God.  Loved by us.

What unites us?  Not a building- or a desire for a building.  We are united by the fact that our lives were saved by the same person.  The same person laid down his life so that we might live a different kind of life.

In a moment the worship team will come back and lead us in two songs.  And at any point in those two songs, we will invite you to participate in communion.

We are celebrating communion today because we felt that in light of the fact that we are committing ourselves to sacrificial generosity over the next two years, it’s best to do so in light of the God who displayed the ultimate sacrificial generosity to us.

So when the band begins – please come up and partake in communion.  And if you feel led to participate in the commitment service – place your cards in the buckets that are nearby.

We will learn about the results in two weeks – at some point in the Easter service we will talk about whatever this number adds up to and we will rejoice in our risen savior, who provides miraculously for our every need.