God Will Add to His Community - The Church that God Builds - Faithfulness, not Effectiveness

The vision of the Antwerp Church of Christ (soon to be Riverside Christian Church)

Community * Passion * Love * Transformation * Community

We are about have real, authentic relationships with one another. We want to be family and friends, not just strangers doing church together. We want to be the church.

We want to have a passion for Jesus and his work in this community.

We want to love everyone in real, tangible ways.

Those are the three things that we do: Community, Passion, Love.

As a result of doing those things, it is our hope that God will transform people in the community.

This leads us to what I am going to talk about today. It is my hope that he will then add people to this community, for it is God that adds to the church.

We focus on being faithful. God does the effectiveness. As long as we do what God would have us do, he will provide the results. We are in his will as long as we are faithful in doing what he has called us to do.

As you have also probably experienced, we know couples who have had trouble getting pregnant. Unfortunately, some have never been able to have children. My heart and prayers go out to them. Others, after making some changes in their life, have been able to reproduce.

Around half of the instances when a couple cannot conceive, it is a result of male infertility.

UPMC (a conglomeration of Pittsburgh medical centers) published an article addressing this:

Factors that negatively affect sperm development and motility include drug and alcohol abuse , diabetes, and bacterial infections. Environmental factors include toxic exposure to chemicals or radiation and overheated testicles. The reasons for many cases of low sperm quality go unresolved. As a matter of routine, many fertility clinics suggest that men trying to conceive should wear boxer shorts instead of briefs or tight-fitting underwear.

Sometimes becoming fertile is as easy as changing from whitie-tighties to boxers. Crazy. All it takes is a little change. Other times it is much more difficult. The changes are life changing.

A WebMD article, "Getting Pregnant: Easy Ways to Encourage Fertility," talked about increasing fertility and gave these tips.

"If you're having trouble getting pregnant but you're not quite ready for fertility treatments, there are things you can try on your own."

  1. Eat Healthy – We had friends who were able to conceive after changing their diet.
  2. Weight Control – Either high or low weight can hamper productivity. We had another friend who lost some weight and was able to conceive when she previously could not.
  3. Reduce Stress – Unhealthy stress reducers like alcohol and smoking hurt fertility.

The list continued on but we are not a science class. You can check it out on your own if you would like.

The key here is that reproduction problems are due to a problem within our bodies. It might not be pleasant to say that our bodies are not functioning properly. Nobody wants to admit they are unhealthy. But the stark truth is that a couple who is having trouble conceiving can oftentimes fix the problem in their body that is preventing reproduction by making changes, sometimes as small as switching from whitey tighties to as big as changing all the food one eats. For others, the problem is not curable.

This leads back to the idea I expressed early. We cannot control results. We can only control whether we are making the changes we need to make. God desires faithfulness, not effectiveness.

The unfortunate thing is most people do not want to change their body and would prefer to rely on the quick fix of drugs. That works for many people having fertility problems, but there is not a quick fix for spiritual problems. There is no spiritual pill that a pharmaceutical company can provide for us to make us right spiritually. Jesus is willing to heal us, but that will come with changes.

Our spiritual health might be preventing us from being contagious disciples to those around us and it might be preventing us from being the church God wants us to be. No drug has been manufactured that we can take for spiritual reproduction. God wants us to make disciples of those around us and to be the type of people that he can add seekers to, but that is just a side effect of us being the people God wants us to be.

Jesus taught that if we seek, we will find. I believe he honors that teaching to the point of it being a promise.

[These verses were on the Powerpoint but I did not read them.]

But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul (Deuteronomy 4:29).

For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:8).

If we seek, or if someone else seeks, God will reveal himself to us or them. If we want to be involved in that work, we need to make sure that we have a heart surrendered to God, a heart that God wants to send a seeker to. Oftentimes, we hold back areas of our life. We resemble the Pharisees of Jesus' time who were worried about outward appearance while not having surrendered hearts. Too often, we have not yet surrendered our lives completely to God. We cannot utter the words that Paul wrote when he said, "I urge you to imitate me."

When it comes down to it, God adds to the church. When we add to the church it will not stick. We can add through guilt, manipulation, extravagant shows, and coercion. But when God adds, he adds because he wants the seeker to be surrounded by the people who can be imitated. There are seekers out there that God wants to plug in to healthy churches and have them surrounded by faithful followers. Are we the type of people that God wants to add to?

Let's now go to a passage in the book of Acts about the founding of the church in Antioch.

Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians (Acts 11:19-26).

What we see here is a typical Pharisaical, Old Testament Jewish, and, unfortunately, modern-day Christian tendency to not be willing to share the good news of Jesus with everyone. We like to keep the faith to people like us. We wouldn't want to upset the church by bringing in someone with a lot of tattoos, piercings—someone who is known around town as a drunkard, a whore, or some other sort of perversion—someone with a more outgoing, experiential or a more introverted, shy personality type. Whatever dislikes we have of other people, we need to make sure that we don't exclude someone from the kingdom of God before giving them the chance to respond.

The Jewish Christians were dispersed throughout the Roman empire due to the persecution in Jerusalem. Similar to Jonah when he fled from the Ninevites, rather than go there and tell them to repent, the Jewish Christians did not want the Gentiles to be part of their church, but some of the Jews, ones that the Bible does not even give us their names, were crazy enough to share with the Gentiles the good news of Jesus. They didn't know any better, and God used their "foolishness" to start what was one of the most influential early churches in the city of Antioch when the Gentiles there responded to their message and gave their lives over to the Lord. What a predicament for the Jewish church. Now they had to deal with Gentile Christians.

I want to share one of the most amazing stories I have ever read. It comes from Tony Campolo's The Kingdom of God is a Party: God's Radical Plan for His Family. Tony is a pastor, speaker, and professor of sociology at Eastern College in Pennsylvania. This excerpt is a little lengthy, but it reveals that if we keep our eyes open and hands ready, we can be used in simple and practical ways to show God's love to those who have a tough time seeing it. We just have to be ready to be bold and a little foolish. It's about showing God's love in incredible, yet simple ways.

Tony was on a trip Honolulu to speak at a Christian Conference. On his first night there, he awoke sometime after three (jet lag from a six hour time difference was keeping him from adjusting to Hawaii time - he's from Pennsylvania) and left the hotel in search of a place to get something to eat. Eventually he found a tiny diner, with one man behind the bar who served him coffee and a doughnut. Tony was the only customer until, quite suddenly, the coffee shop was filled with girls. Some sat at small tables, others at the counter near Tony. From their conversation he learned an astonishing amount about Honolulu's night life, for the girls were discussing their night's work and their male clients. These girls were prostitutes. He tells the story:

I overheard the woman sitting beside me say, "Tomorrow's my birthday. I'm going to be thirty-nine."

Her friend responded in a nasty tone, "So what do you want from me? A birthday party? What do you want? Ya want me to get you a cake and sing 'Happy Birthday?'"

"Come on!" said the woman sitting next to me. "Why do you have to be so mean? I was just telling you, that's all. Why do you have to put me down? I was just telling you it was my birthday. I don't want anything from you. I mean, why should you give me a birthday party? I've never had a birthday party in my whole life. Why should I have one now?"

When I heard that, I made a decision. I sat and waited until the women had left. Then I called over the fat guy behind the counter and I asked him, "Do they come in here every night?"

"Yeah!" he answered.

"The one right next to me, does she come here every night?"

"Yeah," he said. "That's Agnes. Yeah, she comes in here every night. Why d'ya wanta know?"

"Because I heard her say that tomorrow is her birthday," I told him. "What do you say you and I do something about that? What do you think about us throwing a birthday party for her right here tomorrow night?"

A cute smile slowly crossed his chubby cheeks and he answered with measured delight, "That's great!..."

"Look." I told him, "if it's OK with you, I'll get back here tomorrow morning about 2:30 and decorate the place. I'll even get a birthday cake!"

"No way," said Harry (that was his name). "The birthday cake's my thing. I'll make the cake."

At 2:30 the next morning, I was back at the diner. I had picked up some crepe-paper decorations at the store and had made a sign out of big pieces of cardboard that read, "Happy Birthday, Agnes!" I decorated the diner from one end to the other. I had that diner looking good.

The woman who did the cooking must have gotten the word out on the street, because by 3:15 every prostitute in Honolulu was in the place. It was wall-to-wall prostitutes...and me!

At 3:30 on the dot, the door of the diner swung open and in came Agnes and her friend. I had everybody ready (after all I was kind of the M.C. of the affair) and when they came in we all screamed, "Happy birthday!" Never have I seen a person so flabbergasted...so stunned...so shaken. Her mouth fell open. Her legs seemed to buckle a bit. Her friend grabbed her arm to steady her. As she was led to sit on one of the stools along the counter we all sang "Happy Birthday" to her. As we came to the end of our singing with "happy birthday dear Agnes, happy birthday to you," her eyes moistened, when the birthday cake with all the candles on it was carried out, she lost it and just openly cried.

Harry gruffly mumbled, "Blow out the candles, Agnes! Come on! Blow out the candles! If you don't blow out the candles, I'm gonna hafta blow out the candles." And, after an endless few seconds, he did. Then he handed her a knife and told her, "Cut the cake, Agnes. Yo, Agnes, we all want some cake."

Agnes looked down at the cake. Then without taking her eyes off it, she slowly and softly said, "Look Harry, is it all right with you if I... I mean is it OK if I kind of... what I want to ask you is...is it OK if I keep the cake a little while? I mean is it all right if we don't eat it right away?"

Harry shrugged and answered, "Sure! It's OK If you want to keep the cake, keep the cake. Take it home if you want to."

"Can I," she asked. Then looking at me she said, "I live just down the street a couple of doors. I want to take the cake home, OK? I'll be right back. Honest!"

She got off the stool picked up the cake, and, carrying it like it was the Holy Grail walked slowly toward the door.

As we all just stood there motionless, she left. When the door closed there was a stunned silence in the place. Not knowing what else to do, I broke the silence by saying, "What do you say we pray?"

Looking back on it now it seems more than strange for a sociologist to be leading a prayer meeting with a bunch of prostitutes in a diner in Honolulu at 3:30 in the morning. But then it just felt like the right thing to do.

I prayed for Agnes. I prayed for her salvation. I prayed that her life would be changed and that God would be good to her. When I finished, Harry leaned over the counter and with a trace of hostility in his voice, he said "Hay! You never told me you were a preacher. What kind of church do you belong to?"

In one of those moments when just the right words came, I answered, "I belong to a church that throws birthday parties for whores at 3:30 in the morning."

Harry waited a moment and then almost sneered as he answered, "No you don't. There's no church like that. If there was, I'd join it. I'd join a church like that!"

What would a Christian be hanging out with and loving prostitutes? I don't think we would be comfortable with a minister or church leader who behaved in such a way. But then we probably wouldn't be comfortable with Jesus leading us either. Here are some relevant Bible verses:

Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him" (Matthew 21:32).

I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. "Expel the wicked man from among you" (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).

Are we bold enough to be Jesus in our communities? To discard all prejudices and stereotypes? In this small country town that we live in, I do not know of prostitutes, but there are definitely people in this town that it would not be "appropriate" to hang out with and minister to. But it is these very people that Jesus came for. It is these very people that Paul said that we need to "associate" with. Are we really willing to be Jesus to those around us? Or do we cling to the Jewish Christian tendency, to the Jonah tendency, to the Pharisee tendency to not share the Gospel with everyone.

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, everyone according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:27-30).

What we see is that God uses those who are willing to be used. He added to the church, he sent Barnabas and Saul to them to train them. And then he used them. The Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were provided for by the converted Gentile Christians in Antioch.

Do you want to be used by God to transform the lives around you into what God wants them to be? I know I do. I don't want to just get together on Sundays and do church. I want to be the church. I want to be a church in real, authentic relationships with one another. I want to have a passion for Jesus and his work. I want to love my neighbor, you guys, and my enemies as Jesus would have me to. And when I do that-when we each join together to do that-we'll be the church that God adds to. And if he does not, that is his choice. We are called to be faithful, not effective. God has better days ahead of us. He has people he wants to send to us and he has people he wants to send us to. God adds to his community. The question we must ask is, "Are we ready?" Are we willing to continue to change? Are we willing discard all unhealthy traditions and stereotypes? To strive to be the community God wants us to be? To be the church that God wants to add to?