Joining in God’s mission: Five key congregational practices

God’s on a mission – that every single person will come to know him, be transformed and made whole through Jesus, become a part of his people, and serve him. And eventually that we will be resurrected when Jesus returns to rule a recreated earth in righteousness and peace.

Now some of us don’t have a real life focus, while others of us are very focused with our own life missions. Perhaps it has to do with goals for family, enjoying life, career or other accomplishments. In either case when we become followers of Jesus each one of us are to take on a new life focus of serving God and joining in fulfilling his mission. If we don’t have a focus this is our focus, and if we do have a focus – all of our missions in life have to be integrated into this, or set aside.

And that’s the challenge as we’ve been talking about God’s mission – two weeks ago and now again today. Will we make God’s mission our mission – or not?

Last time we looked at five key personal practices for joining in God’s mission:

  1. Live your life in a way that glorifies God. Matthew 5:14-16 – “You are the light of the world. . . let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
  2. Regularly ask God to give you compassion for the lost. The example of Jesus’ motivation is found in Matthew 9:36 – “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” The human heart is quick to put down and condemn, but we need compassion.
  3. Regularly pray for someone who is lost. In Psalm 67:2, the writer prays for God to act, so “that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations/people.” Ask God to put someone on your heart.
  4. Build relationships with the lost. Luke 15:1-2 says, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’” Jesus interacted with lost, and while he was with them in genuine relationship with them, he engaged them with the gospel.
  5. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to share. Colossians 4:5-6 – “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” God is working all around us and we need eyes to see where, so we can be a part.

How did you do these last two weeks??? You might say, ‘Pastor, it’s hard to keep these things in mind with all that happens in a given week.’ And I know that life is busy, although we need to remember that they are busy do to lifestyle  choices that we make. But yes, it can be hard. 

But none of us want to be like the person James describes in chapter one, who looks in a mirror and then forgets what he looks like. As he says in v. 22 – “don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says.” (NLT)

Today we are looking at –

Five key congregational practices

for joining in God’s mission; practices that keep us as a group centered on fulfilling God’s mission.

1. We should support those who are specially called to work at God’s mission – missionaries, pastors and others. These rely on individuals and congregations for their support.

Support, of course, involves financial resources. In Luke 10:7 Jesus teaches, “the laborer deserves his (or her) wages.” Jesus isn’t talking in professional terms of a salary. It is simply that these workers need to be free from earning a living in order to have time and focus to do their work for the mission of God.

And certainly those who minister need more than just financial support to do their work. They also need love, encouragement and prayers.

Paul asked for this in Colossians 4:3-4 – “At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison – that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. If Paul needed it then certainly all of these need it.

I am glad to say that I think we are doing well in this area, giving and praying for those who are specially called to work at God’s mission. I would just encourage us to continue. 

2. We should invite others to come . . . as we worship and have times of fellowship together. We should encourage and call others to be a part.

In Luke 14 Jesus tells a parable about a man who invited many to come to his feast. But most people were too busy with their good lives and didn’t want to come.

  • So he told his servants, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame” – Luke 14:21.
  • But there was still room, so he said, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled” – Luke 14:23.

The man, who represents God, really wants his house to be full! He is calling all to be a part of the kingdom and his kingdom community. And he is urgent in sending out his servants, that is, us. Even if many say no, he still wants us to invite others.

Did you know that 66% of the people that come to church come because a friend has invited them or brought them along with them? This is by far the highest percentage. For instance, only 8% come from a pastor’s efforts; only ¼% from evangelistic crusades.

Think for a moment, who might you invite? Maybe it’s the same person or persons whom God has put on your heart to pray for.

{We should not play  off too strongly the missional versus attractional models of the church. Even though our basic mode is to be missional the New Testament church also attracted people – Acts 5:12-14. And instructions were given about receiving visitors in worship – James 2:1-4, 1 Corinthians 14:23-25}

3. We should practice hospitality. The writer of the book of Hebrews tells the church he addresses in chapter 13:2, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers.”

To be hospitable means to be warm and friendly. We need to connect with newcomers and help them connect with others in our group. And we need to include them in our community life.

It also means that we need to welcome those different than us. As James says in chapter 2, we can’t make distinctions based on outward circumstances – whether they are rich or poor. And we also can’t exclude people based on  where they come from or what they look like or what their views are on controversial topics. We need to be warm and welcoming to every single person who comes to our church

According to the experts a person decides if they like a church and will come back within their first 11 minutes, which may well mean even before the service starts. So take the initiative, get to know people, learn their names, find out some things about them, connect them with other people in the congregation, invite them over for dinner.

We need to be a warm and welcoming church.

4. We should love each other deeply. Peter says in 1 Peter 4:8, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly”

It’s not common to see real love for others, especially beyond family or friends. But we are to love each other deeply from the heart. We are to pray for each other, encourage each other, help each other out, forgive one another, support each other.

People are drawn to love. I would like for us as a congregation to have such a love for one another, that when someone comes – they can feel it; they can sense that God’s presence is at work among us to cause us to love one another in such a deep way.

5. As a congregation, we should look for openings to engage specific groups of people.  Jesus said in John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

And I believe he says this to us here at New Providence today. Beyond what we do as individuals and beyond inviting any and all to come – God will often call congregations to connect with more specific people, that we might love and serve them and share the gospel with them in genuine relationships.

God sent Jesus. He left where he was at the Father’s side and he became flesh and lived among us. He became one of us. And in the same way (as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you) God calls us also to go to people and be with them. We should not sit back and wait for people to come to us and learn our ways. We must go to them and learn about them and build relationships and share life with them.

Now this will stretch us for sure, but this is how God works. In past congregations that I have led or have been a part of God sent us to the homeless, the drug addicted, the mentally ill, a group of immigrants, and the socio-economically disadvantaged groups around our congregation, including single moms who were struggling to make it.

Now, I don’t know yet who God want us to connect with. God is working all around us to accomplish his mission and we need to tune it to see where he wants us to be a part of this. This is something that we will need to discern together, but I do believe God will do this and I hope that we can have some insight on this in the next number of months.

Who will God lead us to? What doors will God open for us as a congregation? Will you pray with me that God might lead us in this?

Summary

So these are five key congregational practices to add to our personal practices that help us to join in fulfilling God’s mission:

1. We should support those who are specially called to work at God’s mission

2. We should invite others to come

3. We should practice hospitality with new people

4. We should love each other deeply

 5. We should look for openings to engage specific groups of people

Joining in God’s mission: Five key personal practices

God’s on a mission, stretching all the way back to Abraham, through Moses, Israel, the prophets and culminating in the coming of Jesus. God’s mission is that every single person will come to know him, be transformed and made whole through Jesus, become a part of his people and serve him. And eventually will be raised from the dead when Jesus returns and rule on this earth in righteousness and peace.

Let me say just two things at the beginning here about this. The way God chooses to accomplish his mission is through us; the church. That is, God doesn’t just do it himself, even though God is all powerful. No, God’s foreordained, predestined plan is to use his people to accomplish his mission.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:27-28, talking about the church, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are . . .”

God doesn’t use a powerful country, or an empire or any other kind of strength according to the flesh. God has chosen to use the church, weak and lowly as we are, but empowered by the Spirit, to bring to pass his purposes.

Second, speaking of God’s mission, God wants to use all of his people, not just some. A common misunderstanding of some church members goes like this, “We support the pastor who does this for us.” Pastors and leaders are to be involved in God’s mission, yes. But so is everyone in the church.

The proper understanding of this relationship comes out clearly in Ephesians 4:11-12 – “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry . . ..” Here we see that Pastors and leaders are to equip you, the whole body, to do this work of ministry. And then notice the phrase a few verses down in v. 16, “when each part is working properly, (it) makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. This is the picture of a healthy church that is working at God’s mission, and God is working through them, enabling them.

What I am saying is that it takes a whole church to do what God is calling us to do here at New Providence. Are you ready to do your part?

Now, let’s look at –

Five key personal practices

– that will help us to be a part of God’s mission. These are practices or habits that put us into the flow of what God is doing around us. God is working all the time to complete his mission and we need to get in tune with what God is doing and join inAs we put these into practice, the goal is that they become second nature to us; just a part of how we live our lives.

1. Live your life in a way that glorifies God.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16 – “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

God has already placed you in just the right place to be a light and a witness. You are involved in multiple networks of family, friends, coworkers, schoolmates and neighbors. God doesn’t need to send a missionary to these people, because he already has you there.

And the first task is to let your light shine, by the choices you make and actions that you take. Let them reflect Jesus – his way and his teaching. This is what people need the most, to see Jesus in us.

People aren’t very interested in talk, at least not without action. If we talk about our faith but don’t live it, we turn people away. But let me say just as quickly that you don’t have to be perfect to be a witness. It just means that when we do fail, we are to be humble, and make things right. This is also a witness of a different way of living.

Live your life in a way that glorifies God, or simply practice your Christian faith.

2. Regularly ask God to give you compassion for the lost.

This is how Jesus operated. Matthew 9:36 says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus was not like the Pharisees, who looked down on the lost with scorn and judgment. He had genuine love for them. This is why he came, as he said in Luke 19:10, “to seek and to save the lost.” Those whose lives are not together, who are overcome by sins of various kinds.

Jesus was motivated by compassion. And we need to be careful of our motives. We don’t join in God’s mission to try to make a big church; or to focus on numbers; or to have success that can be quantified in worldly term. We reach out because our love for others compels us to; because we share God’s heart of love for the lost. And in the end, that is the only thing that will lead us to give, serve and take the kind of risks that we will have to, to be a part of God’s mission.

We also need to guard our hearts against condescending, judgmental attitudes. We can’t be Pharisees and join in God’s mission. The very people you don’t like, judge and look down on might be who God wants you to reach out to. So, pray for God to give you a heart of love and concern for the lost around you. That God will transform your heart so that you can reach out in love to all that God brings across your path. We need to pray  this often because of the human heart which easily falls into self-righteous, judgmental attitudes.

Regularly ask God to give you compassion for the lost.

3. Regularly pray for someone who is lost.

In Psalm 67:2, the writer prays for God to act, so “that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.” The nations here, are all those outside the people of God, who have no relationship with God. This is an example of praying for those who don’t know God yet, or God’s saving power – that they will come to know and experience this.

But we can also pray for specific people that we know, who don’t know the Lord.Ask God to put someone on your heart, someone even beyond an unsaved loved one, that you can pray for regularly. If you ask, and listen, God will give you someone to pray for. And then pray, “God make yourself known, work in their lives, draw them to yourself, open their eyes, speak to them, work in their heart.”

Regularly pray for someone who is lost.

4. Build relationships with the lost.

Luke 15:1-2 says, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’” Jesus interacted with lost, and while he was with them in genuine relationship with them, he engaged them with the gospel.

Are we open to make space for new people in our lives? To reach out to the lost in our networks of relationships, or to venture into new networks that are beyond our comfort zones?

  • Some of us only build relationships with other believers. We become insulated. But as Jesus said, “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” – Matthew 9:12.
  • Some of us might feel our relationship capacity is full with our current family and friends. We feel we don’t have time for others. But God is calling us to make space for others, especially unbelievers.

Build genuine relationships with the lost. Love them and serve them.

5. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to share.

Colossians 4:5-6 says, “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” (NLT)

Again, God is at work all around us. And we need to have eyes to see what is going on, so that we can join in.

You may say, Pastor, “I don’t have all the answers.” Well, welcome to the club! No one has all the answers. All God asks you to do is to share what he has done in your life. Like Jesus said to the man that he cast a legion of demons out of in Mark 5:19, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

Ask God to show you an opportunity to share this very week. And then keep your eyes open for it.

Summary

So these are five key practices:

  1. Live a life that glorifies God
  2. Regularly ask God to give you compassion for the lost
  3. Regularly pray for someone who is lost
  4. Build relationships with the lost
  5. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to share

These are all ways that you can join in God’s mission  in your personal life; in all the places that God has put you with all the people that you connect with.

I like the sign over the door, You are now entering the mission field. And if we at New Providence are going to accomplish God’s mission, each one of us needs to do our part. And it starts in our personal lives.

Releasing resentments

We’re talking about resentments today and how we need to deal with them. We have all been in situations where we weren’t treated right and have been tempted to become resentful – maybe it was with a family member, a friend, neighbors, co-workers or even fellow church members. And certainly as we move forward as a congregation we want to be united in mind and heart and have no residual resentments in our midst that might hinder God from working among us and through us.

A little exercise. I want you to look at everyone that is seated around you. Now look at me. If I may, let me say, this message is for you – and not for them. So don’t think to yourself, “I hope so and so is listening up! I’ll be waiting for their apology.” Let’s each examine our own lives and hearts this morning, in the light of God’s Word. What is God calling me to do? This is the right focus.

We begin with the question – 

What is resentment?

I believe this is a good short definition, “to continue to hold something against someone.” The basic idea comes out in a couple of verses that talk about forgiveness:

  • Jesus uses the phrase – “if you have anything against anyone.” – Mark 11:25
  • Paul says it this way- “if one has a complaint against another” – Colossians 3:13

Now, listen carefully. It is natural to have something against someone, if they have wronged you. That’s how we are made. We are moral creatures. It is the continuing to hold onto it, instead of dealing with it in a biblical way that is the key. That’s what these verses are talking about.

When we continue to hold onto it, it becomes a grudge, a vendetta, a point of bitterness – what I am calling “a resentment.”

Let’s break this down some more by looking at –

The three parts of resentment

When we are wronged, 1. we have a sense of unfairness; of injustice. We rightly feel that the other person owes us for what they have done.

2. This then leads to ill feelings, especially anger. Again, it is natural to have anger when you are wronged. But as Christians we have to be very careful what we do with our anger. Anger is meant to motivate us to act; it is meant to lead us to deal with the situation and to deal with it in a biblical way – face to face with the offender, in gentleness and so forth.

But when we don’t deal with the situation and find some kind of resolution – and most of us would rather jump off a cliff than deal with hurt and conflict face to face with someone; when we don’t deal with the situation in a biblical way, our anger, as it were, spoils within us and becomes a well-spring of resentment in our heart. And this leads to other ill feelings such as hatred and we eventually end with hard-heartedness.

3. Finally, these ill feelings manifest themselves in expressions of judgment and punishment. Some typical examples of this include: avoiding the person, cutting off the relationship, talking the person down (slander, gossip), criticizing and fault finding, verbal attacks and worse.

You move into punishing mode. You haven’t found resolution to your fundamental sense of unfairness and anger, so consciously, or not you take things into your own hands and are busy getting back at them.

Now, that we have looked at what resentment is, I want you to think for a moment, is anyone coming to mind that you have a resentment against? Keep that person before you as we move on.

The message today is that – 

We need to release our resentments

Instead of holding onto resentment and acting out on others in punishing mode,  Scripture teaches us that we are to choose love and forgiveness. Let’s look at how this works in three specific scenarios:

1. Someone wrongs you, but it’s not a big offense. It’s not a big deal. Here you can simply choose to overlook it. That is, just let it go. You don’t hold it against them.

Now if you find you can’t do this; that you have abiding anger, resentment or bitterness – then this is a sign you need to deal with the situation. But if not, just choose to let it go; release it.

Proverbs 19:11 says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” This is an act of love on your part.

2. A second scenario. Someone wrongs you and the person isn’t seeking forgiveness or reconciliation. Let’s say you have gone to them, as the Scriptures teach (Matthew 18:15; Luke 17:3), but they are unrepentant. In this case, you are to release the resentment and choose to walk in love. Release it into God’s hands. This is absolutely key. Give your anger over to God who will sort everything out and right all wrongs. Trust God to take care of this so you don’t need to take up the issue of payback or go into punishing mode.  

What you are really doing here is loving an enemy. For an enemy is precisely someone who harms you and has no repentance. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” – Luke 6:27-28 (NIV). So we return good for harm in all these examples. Instead of anger and punishing behaviors, we show them love.And we pray for them.

And I can testify that doing good to an enemy and praying for them can change our towards those who have harmed us.

Now it is really hard to love an enemy. This is one-way love – from you to them. But it is a choice that we make, enabled by God’s grace.

In this scenario, even though the relationship is currently broken, our goal for the relationship is ultimately full forgiveness and reconciliation (two-way love), although this can only happen when they want this also, and when the issues are fairly dealt with.

3. Someone wrongs you and the person is repentant and is seeking forgiveness. Let’s say you have gone to them as the Scriptures teach or they have come to you as the Scriptures teach (Matthew 5:23-24) and the person is sorry and wants to make things right and commits to treat you right from now on. So things are dealt with, which should address the issue of your anger. In this case, you are to release the resentment and forgive so that the relationship can be restored.

Sometimes we still don’t want to. We want to hold onto our resentment and continue in punishing mode. But Scripture is clear on our need to forgive. Indeed, this is the situation that is addressed in most if not all passages that talk about the need to forgive.

  • “If your brother . . . repents, forgive him” – Luke 17:3
  •  “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone . . .” – Mark 11:25
  • “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” This is a portrait of resentment. Rather we are to “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another . . .” -Ephesians 4:31-32
  • “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other . . .” – Colossians 3:12-13

Now this can be hard, but it is a choice that we make, whether we feel like it or not. The feelings will come later with God’s help. Sometimes we will have to continue to choose to release the resentment, because the temptation is always to take it back – even after a reconciliation has been reached. You have to let it go and don’t take it up again.

Let me end by giving you –

Several reasons why you should release your resentments and choose instead love and forgiveness

 You are only a forgiven wrongdoer yourself. How can you hold resentment, when God has released his resentment against you, loved you and has now forgiven you? That’s why we are to forgive “one another, as God in Christ forgave you” – Ephesians 4:32. We have no ground to stand on to hold onto resentments we who only live by God’s grace and mercy.

Resentment will destroy you. No doubt you have heard the saying, “resentment is the poison you drink hoping for the other person to die.” But they don’t and it only destroys you. It poisons you.

  • It takes away your joy and peace. As Paul says about those who need to forgive, your life will be characterized by things like “bitterness” “wrath” “anger” “clamor” “slander” “malice” – Ephesians 4:31.
  • It will make you a slave of the person, the wrong, the situation that you are bitter about as you continually replay it in your mind.
  • It will make you self-focused as you think about how badly you have been treated – me, me, me. You become self-absorbed.

It twists and distorts us from being who God want us to be, into a negative, bitter person, walking around with a cloud over our head. So for your own sake get the poison out. Enter into the peace and joy that God wants for you  to have.  Choose love and forgiveness and be free!

Resentment will destroy your relationships with others. Everyone will fail us at some point. So if you can’t release your resentments your relationships with family, friends and fellow church members will remain weak, damaged or broken. And you will end up isolated and lonely.

To have strong relationships you need real love. And as Paul said “love is not resentful” – 1 Corinthians 13:5.

Resentment will destroy your relationship with God. This is the most serious and dangerous thing of all. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” What a great promise. But hear the warning as well – “but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” – Matthew 6:14-15.

 

What resentments do you need to release this morning?