Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

Churches Survive by Saying “Yes” to new ideas

If you want your church to survive and see the next decade, figure out how to say “yes” to new ideas.  

I still receive newsletters from many of the churches I’ve served, and when I do I always check two things:  (1)  The calendar of activities ; and (2) the attendance figures, if given.

As I look at the calendar of activities I am saddened to see the same things that they were doing when I was there—10, 15, 20 years ago are being done today.   Same old, same old. year after year after year!   As I look at attendance, it is steadily dwindling for these churches  And church membership rolls are losing more to death than gaining new Christians.

There is a connection between the above two.  I believe that the only way to turn things around is for the church to start saying “yes” to some new ideas.    Actually the ideas are not new at all.    Somehow between now and the time Jesus spent on earth the church has forgotten the message that Jesus brought. Jesus’ message was one of proclaiming something new—The Kingdom of God on earth—a new and transforming way to live according to the principles found in the gospels  and his life and ministry that was summarized in the Beatitudes in Mathew.   His message about living in the Kingdom was a complete turning upside down of all the rules and regulations and greed and hatred and exclusiveness of the temple religion and the way people related to each other at his time —it was the  good news,  a gospel of love of God, neighbor.  Jesus message proclaimed that God loved all peoples, especially the poor, the widow, the outsider, the excluded, the homeless, the sick,, the mentally ill, foreigners, those at the “bottom of the barrel in society.

Those disciples and early Christians who followed Jesus attempted to live out these ideas.    That is why we read in Acts that religious authorities were complaining about them—“these Christians have turned the world upside down.

Groups of followers of Jesus gathered together and received the Holy Spirit and then were guided by that Spirit of God in all that they did.      They gathered often  to help each other live out the “Great Commandment” that Jesus said summed up all the foregoing law and prophets:   “You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength;  and your neighbor as yourself!.    They were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Acts speaks often of Jesus’s followers being “filled with the Spirit—the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised his disciples that  would come after he departed the earth and would be their counselor and their guide and inspiration.     Filled with this Spirit, from the day of Pentecost,    the disciples and the early church  did things that seemed impossible, for example—Peter, who had denied Jesus in the courtyard during Jesus’ trial,  boldly proclaimed  the resurrection and the Kingdom of God at the risk of his life.   Followers of Jesus  endured persecution and death in order to stay faithful to this one, Jesus, who had changed and transformed their lives, and worked together to spread the good news of God’s transforming love and the new way of living in the Kingdom of God.

What we need to say “yes”  to is the Holy Spirit.   We need to say “yes” to welcoming the Spirit into our lives individually.   We need churches who say “yes” to the Holy Spirit and look toward the Spirit’s guidance.   The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God and churches  that are full of the Spirit of God are churches that survive and grow because they are not into religion but into transformation.

In a world full of challenges, in a time like ours, we can’t settle for a heavy and fixed religion.   We cannot contain God’s Spirit in such boxes as we build and call churches.     They are not churches—-they are buildings.  Jesus did not come to build a new religion, but that is what we have done.   Instead of following him on the Way we have turned Jesus into a religion.   As Rohr says:   ” We worshipped Jesus instead of following Him on the same path”

Jesus transformed lives on a hillside,  in a house, wherever people gathered.   He reached out to ALL people and told them and showed them that God loved them not just in words but in actions showing the love..  To be loved by God is to be transformed, and to be transformed is to reach out to others in God’s name and seek their transformation.

When the church accepts the “new” idea that their mission is one of changing and transforming lives and sees it’s mission as one of changing and transforming the lives of those around them by  following the teachings and example of Jesus, then, as in Acts:   “the Lord will add daily to their numbersl

Congregations that are full of God’s Spirit are full of people!

Without a Vision, the People Perish!

Text:    Acts 16:6-15

Do you ever have the feeling you are going around in circles and getting nowhere?   Do you ever feel that our church is doing that?     It’s a frustrating feeling!   You feel like you are trying so hard—-you are doing so much work—-but you don’t seem to be achieving much or getting anywhere.

One of the key reasons for this happening is our not being able to see what our destination or goal is.   Without that destination of what God wants you to do in mind, we are not  able to focus on where we are going——and we keep going in circles.

Although I grew up on a farm until 5th grade, we then moved to Abilene.   My last two years of high school and first two of college I went to work for a farmer near Abilene who farmed 500 acres of wheat as well as other crops..   After the wheat harvest was over it was then time to do the plowing with a five bottom plow.   If my employer wanted the field plowed so all the furrows were in the same direction, I found very quickly that thr first thing I had to do was plow a straight first furrow.   The only way to do that was to find something directly across the field from me and fix my eye on that and head the tractor straight toward it.   If I took my eyes off the destination for even a moment I would have a crooked furrow .   I had to stay completely focused on my destination.  

Long ago, the writer of Proverbs said words that relate to this example.   He wrote:   “Without a vision, the people perish”, as translated in the KJV.   It was important for Israel to keep in focus their vision of being God’s chosen people to spread knowledge of God to the rest of the world.

It is just as important for a congregation today to have a vision that they can focus on to achieve.   If it is to be achieved successfully, it must be God’s Vision, not just the congregation’s. Do you know what this church’s vision is?   (Please don’t all answer at the same time in telling me)   Is it a common, shared vision.?   Is our church focused on it?

A VISION should answer these important questions:

WHAT is our congregation’s purpose for living?

WHY is our congregation here in this specific place?

WHAT specifically is God calling us to do as his church?

HOW is God using us, or wanting to use us to make a difference in our world—-right here—right now?

If we have no such shared vision for our congregation, we really have no reason to live. WITHOUT A VISION, THE CHURCH WILL PERISH EVENTUALLY!!

In today’s text, the Apostle Paul is having a vision problem.   He and his missionary group were going in circles and not getting anywhere it seems. Paul’s idea was to head into Asia but that idea was nixed by the Holy Spirit.   He then decided that they would go toward Bithynia but this decision was also disallowed by the Spirit of Jesus.   Paul and his companions appear to be on the verge of traveling in circles when he finally received a VISION in a dream that directed their mission to Macedonia—to the West and not towards the East and Asia.  In Paul’s vision he saw a man in Macedonia calling for their help and immediately they set out for Macedonia—following the vision sent to him by the Holy Spirit.   They arrived in Philippi and there with the help of Lydia establish one of the strongest churches on their missionary journeys.

Two important things must be noted here about Paul’s actions. First, he was aware of the Holy Spirit’s leadership of their journey and when the Holy Spirit blocked where he thought HE wanted to go—twice—-he followd the leadership of the Spirit of Christ.   Secondly, after first being blocked and then again, Paul didn’t sit down and pout when denied the door to Asia. He didn’t say—“I’m not going to do anything until the Holy Spirit tells me what to do. He didn’t just sit and bemoan the fact that Jesus didn’t want him to go to Bithynia but Paul kept moving—thinking that “if we can’t go that way we’ll try this way”—But he listened for the direction of God’s Spirit as to where to move!!!   That is what we must learn from this scripture passage.

We listen for God’s Spirit to move us through prayer..   I’m sure Paul was in prayer most of the time.   We must never undertake any journey in the name of Christ except through prayer.   That is how the guidance of the Holy Spirit will come.

The English philosopher/political economist, John Stuaret Mill was prepare for his profession by a stern Scottish father, James Mill—himself a recognized philosopher/economist/ historian.   His father observed his son’s early brilliance and determined that the boy should be educated exhaustively in literature and the arts, science, history and philosophy.   However, he declared that religious learning was unnecessary and distracting, so he kept his son away from any religious education.   Later, John Stuart Mill (the son) declared, as he looked back on his youth, that he realized the profound sense of lostness and longing that had pervaded his heart.   Although his mind was crammed with information, John Stuart Mill declared his soul was “starved.”   Without the directional guidance of a God personally known through prayer and faith Mill likened himself to a well equipped ship, but with no sail.

How many of us are “ships without a sail today”?   In our personal lives and in our churches we are often without direction and work aimlessly and futilely to reach a vague destination that we do not know because we are not prayerful in communication with God.   And if God does communicate with us and his breath fills our sails—-are we willing to listen and rechart the direction of our lives as the Spirit leads us?   Because when God’s Spirit fills our sails we will often be taken into scary, ucharted waters.

I am fascinated by the fact that Paul never sat back and waited for God to give hims instructions.   God almost always seems to have to interrupt Paul on a journey.

Paul was on the road to Damascus to persecute the people of the Way when the Light hit him.

He had it in  his mind in the text today to go to Asia when God said, “Whoa” !

Then Macedonia opened up. Lydia was out there looking for God, a God seeker, a God fearer, when Paul came upon her and other women praying by the riverside in Philippi;

This leads me to think that maybe we need to get up and start doing what we think is God’s will now and trust that he will tell us what to do while we are on the way.   Maybe God never gives us more directions and more information than we need and until we have started moving in one direction, there is no need for God to correct us and tell us to change directions.   Perhaps to hear the voice of God as clearly and as fully as Paul heard it we have to be heading in some direction so that God can correct our movements..   Perhaps God will not give us more light than is needed for each step..

Our church is seeking a permanent pastor-–one that will work with us to build the church and to be a shepherd and a pastor to God’s people here in Eureka at Christian & Congregational Church.   The Search Committee cannot just sit and wait for God to send the pastor we need.   They must develop, through prayer, a clear idea of what that pastor should be.They must work and examine and search for a pastor—-but most importantly they must be in constant communication with God for guidance toward the right person—-the one that God intends for this church.  They must listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.   They must be willing to change their minds and change their directions as the Spirit leads them—-just as Paul was willing to be lead by the Spirit.  

We say we want to be a church that attracts children.   We have formed a task force to do that.   That task force must meet and discuss—-and work toward that goal—-but they will only be successful if they listen to God’s Spirit and let the Spirit lead them in directions they may have not thought possible. We must be able, through prayer to see what God’s picture of that church to attract children will be.   It will not perhaps be the pictre that the Task Forces has in its mind—it must be God’s picture.   That is only discerned by constantly talking and listening for God’s guidance.

God has a reason for this church to exist.   God has a purpose, a dream for this church to fulill in Eureka.   We must be open to the vision that will open to us as God leads us forward.   But meanwhile we must be striving to prayerfully find the answers to those questions I gave in the early part of this sermon:

  • As we struggle to answer these questions we must be prayerfully open to God’s Spirit and let that Spirit guide us to the answers that fulfill God’s dream for our church.   Once we have seen the vision, then we will be able to focus on it as Paul did..   Amen.