A study in the book of Acts

By Remy Diederich Cedarbrook Church

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This document contains: • Part One - Acts 1-11: Including Others • Part Two – Acts 11:19-28: New People, New Ideas • Part Three – Acts 12: Confronting Your Powerlessness • Part Four – Acts 13 & 14: A Church for Outsiders • Part Five – Acts 15 – the church is for everyone by Andy Stanley. (audio only) • Part Six – Acts 15 – R-E-S-P-E-C-T in the church • Part Seven – Acts 15, 16 – Four Lessons from the Journey • Part Eight – Acts 16: Infant or Believer Baptism? • Part Nine – Acts 17: Are We Relevant? • Part Ten – Acts 16: It’s not about religion. It’s about the power of God.

Rethink Church Part One; Including Others Acts 1-11 Remy Diederich Cedarbrook Church 6.27.10

What do these three movies have in common; The Empire Strikes Back, The Bourne Supremacy, The Dark Knight? They are all movie sequels. Sequels are stories that follow an original story. The Empire Strikes Back is a sequel to Star Wars. The Bourne Supremacy is a sequel to The Bourne Identity and The Dark Knight is a sequel to Batman. If you are lucky, the sequel is just as good as the original. Did you know that there are a few books in the Bible that have sequels? Moses wrote a series of books. Paul wrote a series of letters. And this summer I want to look at the sequel that is a follow up to The Gospel of Luke. It’s called the book of Acts. Both books were written by a doctor by the name of Luke. Luke traveled with the apostle Paul and so he heard a lot of first hand stories about Jesus and the early church. And thankfully he decided to write many of those stories down into two books. The first one we call The Gospel According to Luke that tells the story of Jesus and the second one is just called the book of Acts. It tells the story of the early church. I think the book of Acts is one of the most interesting books in the Bible. In fact when people ask me where to read in the Bible I recommend reading one of the gospel stories (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) and then Acts because Acts is full of stories about God moving; there are miracles, there are jail breaks, there are shipwrecks and stonings, there are fights…it’s great spiritual action adventure. But what I really like about the book is that it gives us a glimpse of the church in its infancy. Studying anything in its infancy helps you understand its DNA…what makes it tick. And I think
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we always need to keep the early days of the church fresh in our mind so we don’t lose our way and start to drift. It’s so easy to drift isn’t it? It’s so easy to just get religious and never accomplish what God has called us to do as a church. I want to use our study this summer to help us rethink what church is all about. We’ve been rethinking church for the last seven years here but a lot of us are new to Cedarbrook over the past few months and I want to get everyone involved in rethinking what church is about. Let me warn you; it’s uncomfortable to rethink church. Rethinking church makes you ask hard questions; questions that you may not want to answer; questions that might force you to see a shallow side to your faith and your church experience and questions that might cause you to stop old behaviors or start new ones. Now, I’ve taught my way through the first ten chapters of Acts over the last two summers. So today I want to summarize those chapters with five points that you’ll find in your notes. This is what Luke says in the opening verse… In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach… Acts 1:1 Look at that word “began”. Luke is implying something here. He’s saying…in my first book I told you what Jesus began to do. Now, in this book, I’m going to tell you what he’s still doing. That’s my first point; Jesus is still working in people’s lives. The book of Acts is one story after another of what Jesus was still doing on the planet. And Jesus is still working today. Let’s watch a video that talks about that. visit http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/index.php?ct=store.details&pid=V00564 The first thing we see Jesus do in the book of Acts is send his Spirit into the lives of his people. Up until the book of Acts people went to the temple to experience God. In fact there is a very dramatic story told about how God filled the temple with his Spirit in the Old Testament. But in Acts Jesus sent his Spirit to live inside of people not a building. God’s new temple was his people. That’s very important to understand because the transformation that you see in these stories comes from the Spirit of God living inside of them. And when God’s Spirit filled his people it had a powerful impact on them. Listen to what happened next… And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had. They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity --all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved. Acts 2:44-47 There are four words here that really stand out. together. shared, generosity and joy. When a church is full of the Spirit the people want to be together, there is a lot of sharing and generosity flowing and that brings joy. I’ve seen those things around here and I love that because these qualities are a sign of a healthy Jesus-centered community.
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Some of the leaders around here have been talking about what the marks of a growing believer are. In the past people have used markers like Bible reading and prayer and church attendance to talk about spiritual growth. Those things can be signs of growth but I think togetherness, generosity and joy can also be good signs to judge whether or not you are growing spiritually. So let me ask you; do you find yourself being drawn to God’s people? Are you growing in generosity? And is joy increasingly becoming a part of your life? As you open yourself to the Spirit of God those are things that you’ll start to see more of in your life. Now look at what happens with this church when it is together, generous and joyful. First, it says that they enjoy the goodwill of the people or the community at large. When I was a new Christian I was a part of a church that almost prided itself on irritating people and being misunderstood. They’d say things like, Well the Bible says that we are a peculiar people. We are strangers in a strange land. So we can’t expect people to like us. Jesus said he didn’t come to bring peace but a sword. Maybe some of you have been in a church like that. It was like they were using the Bible to justify being weird and contentious. But I disagree. I think that, more often than not, if we are being the church that Jesus wants us to be that people will like us. They may not agree with what we believe. They might argue with our theology. But they won’t argue with our good works. They won’t argue with changed lives. They’ll respect who we are. We’ve seen that. And that leads to the second result that I see in this text. It says here that God was continually adding new people to their group. And that tells me that the church was always growing. I don’t think the church will always be popular but I do believe that it will always be growing because there are so many people that need good news about God’s lifechanging love. Whenever a church stops growing I think something must be wrong. You need to stop and see what’s missing. So, can you get the feel of this early church? It’s not boring. It’s not religious. It’s a happening thing. It’s giving people a sense of purpose in life like they’ve never had before. It’s dynamic. There’s a sense of expectancy that God is on the move. Is that your church experience? But here’s the thing that I find so interesting. For the first few years of the early church the church was just for Jews. In fact, it was just for Israeli Jews…Jews that lived in Israel. For whatever reason they never thought to go and tell other people about Jesus. They kept the story to themselves. But as you read through the book of Acts you can see how the story slowly spreads; God's message was preached in ever-widening circles. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too. Acts 6:7 But then there was a time of persecution against the church and many people started to run away from Israel and when they left, they brought the story of Jesus with them.

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But the believers who had fled Jerusalem went everywhere preaching the Good News about Jesus. Philip, for example, went to the city of Samaria and told the people there about the Messiah. Acts 8:4,5 But then in chapter ten there is a landmark event, an event that changed the history of the church forever. God called Peter to share the Jesus story with a Roman soldier. You might say, so what? Who cares? Well, it was a big deal because up until then the Jesus story was only shared with Jews. It had never been shared with Gentiles (non-Jews). So it wasn’t a natural thing to talk to a Roman soldier about Jesus. In fact, it was just the opposite. It was radical. It was unheard of and it was sure to spark a controversy. But Peter obeyed the voice of God. He spoke to the soldier and Luke says… … as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who had heard the message. The Jewish believers who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles, too. Acts 10:44,45 This one event sent shock waves through the church. This is like the day black kids were allowed in school for the first time. Or the day women were given the right to vote. It made a lot of people mad. Everyone was waiting to see what would be the fallout from what Peter did. Well, let’s go to chapter eleven. It starts out saying… The apostles and the believers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. Acts 11:1 That sounds like a neutral statement but I get the feeling that everyone was holding their breath waiting for this news to hit the fan. Everyone knew that Gentiles were the enemy. People were placing bets on how fast Peter was going to get in trouble for this. It’s like at work when you break a well known rule and everyone just looks at you like, Oh man, you are going to hear about that. You can’t break that rule and not catch some heat. And sure enough, Peter catches heat right away. Verse two says… So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the Jewish believers criticized him and said, "You went into the house of the Gentiles and ate with them." Acts11: 2 To sit down and eat with someone in the Mideast is a powerful statement of acceptance. So no good Jew would ever do that with a Gentile because Gentiles were thought to be headed for hell. You might be civil to them but you’d never share a meal. My dad grew up in the 1920’s and he said that’s the kind of animosity that existed between the Catholics and the Lutherans in Iowa where he grew up. You might talk to THOSE people but you’d never invite them over for a meal. They both thought that the other group was going to hell. We look at this now and we think the argument is so silly. But back then it wasn’t silly. Peter’s ministry to that soldier had the church in an uproar. Everyone was talking. Everyone was picking sides; some lining up behind the Jewish leaders and some lining up behind Peter. It was getting ugly fast. It’s kind of scary to see how fast we can get small minded...how quickly we can want to keep Jesus for ourselves and find reasons not to tell others. I had an eye opening conversation with
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someone the other day that gave me some insight into how people think about church. I was talking to someone and they were suggesting that they might visit Cedarbrook some Sunday and I said that would be great. But then they said, So, is that okay to just, like, ya know, show up on Sunday? That question really took me back. It took me back because it told me that they didn’t assume that they were welcome. They thought Cedarbrook might be some kind of an exclusive club where they wouldn’t fit in. And so coming here was a scary thing for them. I forget that many people’s experience with church has been very exclusive. Maybe they went to a church where they were made to feel like an outsider. If you weren’t born into that church or married there or baptized there then they let you know it in subtle ways (and some not so subtle ways) that you are not one of them. And God forbid if you are divorced or a single parent or an addict or struggle with any kind of emotional pain. My point is that if you are new to church it’s only natural to fear rejection. So we have to be like Peter and stand up for them. We have to defend the newcomer and make room for them in the church. We have to let newcomers understand that we don’t have a hierarchy around here. Everyone is welcome to speak into the life of the church no matter how long or short they’ve been here. You know, there are all kinds of people that we’ve worked hard to help feel accepted here. We work hard to make spiritual seekers welcome here…people who aren’t so sure they believe in God or Jesus. We’ve let them know that faith is a process and they can take as much time as they’d like without feeling any pressure to conform. We work hard to make sure women know that their leadership gifts are welcome here. We work hard to make sure young people feel welcome here. Sometimes people want us to tone down our music but we won’t do it because it helps us reach young people. Most churches lament that they don’t have any young people. But we don’t have that problem, do we? Look around. I think it has a lot to do with our music. People know that Cedarbrook is a church that welcomes young people. We’ve worked hard to make people who struggle with addictions feel welcome too and people that have had a bad church experience. But to be honest there is one group of people that I’m not so sure feel welcome and that’s people of color. I wonder if they know that they are welcome here. I used to excuse us from being such a white church because this is rural Wisconsin. That’s just the way it is. But when I drive down the street I see Hispanic people. I see African Americans. I see Hmong. The demographics say that about 5% of the population is people of color. That’s not a lot. But in a church of 500 that means we should see 25 people of color. We don’t have that and it bothers me. For some reason Cedarbrook isn’t a place where people of color feel comfortable. I hope that bothers you. I want to change that. And I won’t be satisfied with just 5%. I want to see more than 5% . I want Cedarbrook to be known as the place that people of color want to go because they feel so accepted here. I want to look out in the audience in a year or so and see a different
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complexion. I mention this because I think we can do better. We need to let everybody know that they are welcome here. If you have any ideas how we can change things I hope you’ll let me know. You see, what we often fail to understand is that God is a big God. God is always on the move…always reaching new people. He’s not thinking about who he can keep out of his kingdom. He’s thinking about who he can bring in. I mean if your son died on a cross to save people wouldn’t you want as many people to take advantage of that gift as possible? You don’t want one drop of his blood to go to waste. But that kind of inclusive thinking makes people uncomfortable, doesn’t it? So we have to fight against this natural tendency that we see in our Jewish believers. But I’m encouraged how this story ends because after Peter explained what happened to these Jewish believers it says… When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, "So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life." Acts 11:18 They were critical at first but they were open to the new thing that God was doing. I think this is so important. What we don’t want to do is work against God. There are churches all around the world today that are collecting dust because they resisted what God wanted to do in their midst. So let’s pray that we won’t be one of those churches and that we’ll be a church where God is moving. Well, that’s a brief overview of the first third of Acts. But I think it gives you a sense of what Jesus was still doing on earth. I hope you’ll come back as we tackle new stories next week and keep rethinking church. Prayer: Father, help us to rethink church. We see how you were radically inclusive. Help us to be the same. I pray that no matter what category people belong to, no matter what color they are, that they’d feel welcome here. Amen. Going Deeper Use the following questions for personal reflection and/or to discuss with family, friends and/or your small group. 1. Compare your church experience (past and present) with the five points from the message. How is it the same and how is it different? 2. Reaching Gentiles was a ground breaking event in the church. Read Acts 10 for the full story. List out at least four things God did or said to convince Peter that God was behind this revolutionary event. 3. In Acts 10:15 God told Peter, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." Over the years, have you called any person or any category of people "impure" thinking that God couldn't reach them? What is it about us that makes us want to keep Jesus for ourselves and not for others? 4. In Acts 10:39-44 Peter gives a brief recap of the gospel. List out the main components of the gospel message that he mentions.

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5. Read Acts 11:1-18. Acts 11:2 tells us that people in Jerusalem were critical of reaching the Gentiles. Have you ever been in a church or a discussion with Christians that criticized people being reached for Jesus? What were their concerns? 6. Peter graciously answered their criticism which led to a good end. How could that confrontation have gone differently if Peter wasn't so gracious? 7. What made the critics change their mind about the Gentiles and Peter's ministry? 8. Are there situations where you think you could be more understanding and supportive regarding new types of ministry? 9. Read Acts 11:21-30. What are some words that describe the church at Antioch. 10. Pray and ask God to help you/ us see what He sees so you/we will work with God and not against him.

Rethinking Communion (pre-sermon) July 4, 2010 We’re going to celebrate communion here in just a minute but before we do I’d like to take a minute to rethink communion. I was at a communion service the other day at a conference in the Cities and to be honest it was depressing. The ministers were so sober. I’m sure they thought they were being reverent. But Jesus didn’t die so we’d sit around and lament his death. Jesus died so we’d celebrate being restored to God. That’s what communion is all about. I mean, turning cart wheels down the aisle during communion would be more appropriate than everyone being sad and sober! In the New Testament church communion was more like a block party than a five minute ritual. A block party is where everyone in the neighborhood is welcome. There are no bouncers checking ID’s. In fact, most block parties have some questionable types floating in and out. I think that’s a good picture of communion. So many churches restrict communion to just a select group of people like a private dinner party. But the more I think about it the more I believe communion should be just the opposite. Communion is a proclamation of the radical acceptance of God so we need to be dropping the barriers not raising them. In the story of the Prodigal Son the boy’s dad threw him a block party when he returned home to communicate his absolute acceptance of his son. He invited the whole town to be there. That’s what communion means. “Comm” implies community. “Union” means a coming together. So, “Comm-union” means the coming together of the community. That’s what happened at the Prodigal’s block party. The whole town came together to celebrate his return. I like what Henri Nouwen said about receiving back prodigal’s… How do we welcome home our lost brothers and sisters? By running out to them, embracing them, and kissing them. By clothing them with the best clothes we have and making them our honored guests. By offering them the best food and inviting friends and family for a party. And, most important of all, by not asking for excuses or explanations,
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only showing our immense joy that they are with us again. … forgiving from the heart without a trace of self-righteousness, recrimination, or even curiosity. The past is wiped out. What counts is the here and now, where all that fills our hearts is gratitude for the homecoming of our brothers and sisters. So, communion is a home coming party. It’s a party for prodigals. That means that no matter who you are today…no matter what you’ve done…no matter how far you feel from God - Jesus’ death made you right with God. If this describes you I hope you won’t leave this offer on the table. I hope as you hear me this morning you are saying, “I want in on that!” God has offered himself to you but you need to respond. You need to engage. And so now is your chance. While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body."Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:26-28

Rethink Church; Part Two: New People, New Ideas Acts 11;19-28 By Remy Diederich 7.4.10

This summer we are reading through the book of Acts in the Bible to help us rethink church. It’s important to rethink church because over time we tend to forget why we do what we do and church can slowly drift into meaningless ritual if we aren’t careful. But the book of Acts gives us a fresh perspective. It helps us understand what church is meant to be because it’s a firsthand account of the early days of the church right after the time of Jesus. Now last week we learned something that might surprise you and that is that in the early years of the church it was exclusively Jewish. If you weren’t Jewish you weren’t allowed in. Then one day God directed Peter – a leader in the church - to tell a Roman soldier about Jesus. That is a non-Jew. It seems uneventful to us now 2000 years later but at the time it was shocking. I compared it to the time in history when black children were allowed in schools with white kids or when women were allowed to vote. So, that’s the background. Let’s keep reading… Now those who had been scattered by the persecution …traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Acts 11:19

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So there we see the way it was. The Jesus story was only for Jews. But now in the next verse we see the big change. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. Acts 11:20, 21 Now, that last sentence interests me. Luke described the church as having the Lord’s hand with them. That’s how I want people to describe us, don’t you, that the Lord’s hand is with us. And look what happens when the Lord’s hand is with a church. It says that a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. But that’s not all it says. Luke – the writer of this book – mentions a number of things that characterize this church. I’m going to walk us through that list in a minute but I made one note before that. I said that… The church was not only growing in size but in understanding. What I mean is that the church wasn’t perfect from Day One. We often make the mistake of putting that on the early church, thinking that they did everything right. But they didn’t. That’s how they could exclude Gentiles. They didn’t understand God’s will. Excluding Gentiles wasn’t right. It wasn’t God’s plan. But they were in process. They were slowly hearing God’s voice regarding what it meant to be inclusive. They didn’t turn to Jesus and suddenly understand all truth. It was a process. They were in process. I point that out because I think it explains Christian behavior at times. Have you ever looked at a Christian and said, “I thought they were a Christian. How can they call themselves a Christian and do that?” Well, they are in process. They might have the truth but that doesn’t mean tehy always understand it or apply it fully. New People Okay. That was an aside. Now let me get to the marks of a church that has the hand of God with it. The first mark is that there are new people involved. Up until now the church consisted of mostly Jerusalem Jews. The church was very centralized. But here you’ve got some guys from Cyprus and Cyrene. You’ve got new blood. And they’ve got new ideas. I think wherever you see the hand of God you’ll see new things happening. New Approach That leads to the second mark. These new people took a new approach. Think about it. Up until now Jerusalem was the epicenter of the Christian faith. No one did anything without the approval of Peter and the other apostles. It’s kind of like the Catholic Church and Rome. That’s where they look for their authority. But these guys from Cyprus and Cyrene had good news burning inside of them. They weren’t interested in waiting for the Jerusalem powerbrokers to take action.. So they decided to think outside the box. The decided to innovate. They took it upon themselves to go to a new place and talk to new people.

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Now, I really like this. They didn’t just sit around complaining about how the church never reached out to Gentiles. They took action. They did something. And look what happened. They started a whole new church movement. Antioch became a new center for the church. Antioch was the new place where God was moving. You see, new people make things happen because they aren’t tied to what’s always been done. They see with new eyes. They aren’t confined by old ways of thinking. That’s why I’m excited right now about our church because we have all kinds of new people coming through our doors and I know that they are going to bring new ideas because they will see what the rest of us don’t see. Good News Now the third mark of a church that has God’s hand with it is that they preach good news, with an emphasis on GOOD. It says here that these preachers told the GOOD NEWS about Jesus. What do you think the good news about Jesus was? Well, in chapter ten it gives us an idea of what the message was. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. … All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. Acts 10:36,43 Put simply the good news message is that Jesus’ death restored us to a relationship with God. Anything that separated us from God has been bulldozed out of the way and we are now acceptable in his sight. Can you imagine being a Gentile and hearing that message for the first time? All their lives Gentiles heard from Jews that God rejected Gentiles. But now, they heard that God sent his Son to save them. They are acceptable in God’s sight. Do you think that message was good news? You bet it was. And Gentiles started to flood the church. You know, sometimes I wonder if the message that we preach today is really good news. Or is it something less? Let me give you an example of the difference between good news and bad news. Imagine that you got a letter inviting you to come to the White House to have dinner with the president. I think most of us would consider that good news. Even if you don’t like the President’s politics it would still be good news to sit down and talk to the president. Now, the first thing you might think is how unworthy you are. You might think about how you don’t have the right clothes. Or you might think about how you don’t have the right education or enough intelligence to converse with such a smart man. Or you might think you don’t have the right politics. But anticipating your concerns there is a p.s. in your letter that says…p.s. don’t worry about anything. Come as you are. Now, that’s good news. There is no down side to that message. It’s all good.

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But now imagine that on the same day you got another letter from the same political party as the president. But there was no invitation to a dinner or to even meet the president. Instead, they invited you to join their political party. And then they invited you to their weekly political rally. And then they told you what their political platform was that they were working on. And then they asked for a contribution. Now, is that good news? Not so much. My guess is that most of us would toss that letter before we finished reading it. Let me ask you…which letter sounds the most like the message of the church; the letter inviting you to eat with the president or the letter inviting you to join a political party? I hate to say it but I think it’s the second letter. But the early church didn’t have that problem. They had good news and that’s why they grew so fast. They invited people to a relationship with God not to a religion about God. We’ve got to get this right. What we often do wrong is that we proclaim a contract…IF you do certain things THEN God will accept you. Or we proclaim an organization saying, “Come join us. Be like us.” I hope you see the difference here. The minute you qualify the message with rules or a list of things to do it stops being good news. There’s a place for rules but rules come after the relationship is established. Rules help guide the relationship. But rules never create a relationship. Good Oversight Well, I hope that gives you a little idea of the good news and why so many people responded in Antioch. But let’s move on. Another marker of this church was good oversight. Look for some of the attributes of good oversight in these verses… News of this reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. Acts 11:22-25 There’s a reason that Barnabas was sent to Antioch. Barnabas was a great leader. I listed out a number of his attributes in the notes. But the thing that really stands out to me was how positive he was. When he arrived in Antioch Barnabas didn’t see what was wrong with the church. He saw what was right. It says he… When he saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all… I’m not surprised that it says here that a great number of people were brought to the Lord. I think a lot more people would turn to the Lord if the church was more positive. I’m not naturally a positive person. I tend to see the negative a lot. But God has chipped away at me over the years to make me more and more positive. So I’ve done ministry negatively and positively and there’s a big difference. When I’m negative I can see people shut down. Their defenses go up. But when I’m positive it’s just the opposite. Defenses come down and people open up. Positive is definitely the way to go!
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Sincere Followers Now, the next mark was that they had sincere followers. Look what it says. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. Acts 11:26 The word “Christian” literally means a follower of Christ or a slave of Christ. I’ve heard other people define Christian as meaning “little Christs”. In other words these people weren’t just believers in Jesus…they lived out the teachings of Jesus. They put Jesus’ words into practice. They took on the character of Jesus. They weren’t satisfied to simply know that they were acceptable to God. They wanted to live a life that honored God so they actively sought God’s help in changing their lives. Generous My final observation is that a church that has the hand of the Lord with it is generous. During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. …The disciples, as each one was able, decided to provide help for the believers living in Judea. Acts 11:27-29 Now get this, this famine was only predicted. It hadn’t happened yet. But these new believers were so eager to do the right thing that they gave money to help the believers survive the famine back in Judea before it even happened. I’m not so sure I’d have done that! I think I would have held onto my money until it hit. Sometimes I hear people say that you can’t expect new believers to be generous. It takes years for people to break free from their love of money and start giving it away. But I disagree. These believers were only a year old in their faith and they were generous. You see when the spirit of God lives inside of you you have a power that is SUPER natural. It’s beyond nature. The Spirit gives you the power to do things that you wouldn’t naturally do on your own and that’s why these believers were quick to help others out financially even though their faith was young. Well, there you go. When the hand of the Lord is with a church you get new people doing new things to reach more people. You get good news being preached with good leadership. And as a result there is life change and generosity in the life of the church. Let’s pray and ask God that we will be a church where his hand rests and that these things will happen in our midst. Prayer; Father when your hand rests on a church good things happen. Good news is preached. Good leaders are raised up. And lives are changed. That’s what we want to see here. Please let your hand rest on us. Amen.

Going Deeper
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Use the following questions for personal reflection and/or to discuss with your friends, family and/or small group. 1. What is progressive revelation? Have you seen in your life how something that is obvious to you now was once hidden to you? Have you seen that in the church? 2. Think about the marks of the Antioch church. Which came first; God’s hand of blessing or the marks? In other words; did the marks produce the blessing of God or did God’s blessing produce the marks? 3. One of the marks was that of new people and a new approach. Throughout the Bible God is seen doing a new thing or asking us to sing a new song , etc. Why is new often associated with God? 4. Did growth come by reaching more of the same kind of people or reaching a new group of people? 5. Think about the message that you hear from the church at large or individual Christians. Is it GOOD news or something less than good? What are some of the things that you hear the church “offering” as part of its message to the world? 6. How does this message contrast with the Good News in Acts? (For a short synopsis of the Good News message read Acts 10:36 -43 and note especially in verses 36 and 43 what makes the news so good. “Peace” in verse 36 means “restored to wholeness.”) 7. Follow the progression of Barnabas in the story of Acts. See Acts 4:34-37 and Acts 9:2328 and Acts 11:22-26. Barnabas was the first teacher officially sent out on a mission from the Jerusalem Church. Why do you think they chose him? 8. If Cedarbrookers were living in Antioch at this time would we be accused of being “little Christs”? What about yourself? Do you follow the teachings of Jesus enough to be accused of being his student (follower/disciple)? 9. Though these new believers were only a year old in the faith Acts records them as showing generosity? On a scale of 1-10 how generous are you? In what areas do you sense God calling you to stretch your generosity? 10. What can we at Cedarbrook learn from the church the church in Antioch?

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Rethink Church Part Three; Confronting Your Powerlessness Acts 12 By Remy Diederich 7.11.10

This morning I want you to imagine something. I want you to imagine that you are in prison. But it’s not a nice new prison like we have here in Menomonie. It’s an ancient prison. It’s dark. It’s cold. It’s damp. Can you feel it? It smells like a latrine. That’s putting it nicely. Can you smell it? And there are rats eating on the rotten food that you were unwilling to eat yourself. Can you see them? Or maybe feel them as they crawl over you? To make things worse you are handcuffed to two Roman guards. One on each arm. And they don’t smell so great either. Plus there are two more guards outside your cell. These guys resent you for having to be in prison with you. They could be home watching the game but it’s the only way the king can be sure that you won’t escape like the last time you were in prison. The guards spend their time cursing you and cursing your God. Can you hear them? What I’m describing is the story of Peter that is told in the book of Acts, chapter twelve. And the reason I’m having you imagine yourself in Peter’s story is because I think that imagination is the first step to making your Bible reading come alive. I know a lot of people struggle reading the Bible. So today I want to not only tell you this story but show you three things you can do to make your Bible reading come alive. The I is for imagine. We’ve been doing that already. Let’s get back to imagining for a few more minutes. Most people in jail wonder what will happen to them. They wonder how their trial will go and if the judge will go easy or go hard on them. But not you- remember you are Peter - you know exactly what will happen to you because it just happened to your friend, James, a few days earlier. He was led before the court, accused of his crimes and then given a chance to state his defense. It was rejected, of course. It was just a show. Everyone knew the outcome before the trial even started. It was a set up. And then a man stepped forward with a sword and in an instant James was beheaded, right there in front of everyone 1. You probably had a front row seat. It made the crowd so happy that the king (Herod) decided to arrest you next. And that’s why you are in prison today. You are awaiting the same fate as James. In less than 24 hours your head will not be connected to your body. I know it’s a gruesome thought but that’s Peter’s reality. You’d probably like to know what you are accused of doing. Let me back up a bit. You see, for the past ten years you and James have been part of a group of Jews called the church, which
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Second century writers record that the officer who led James to his death was so impressed by the testimony that he gave on behalf of Jesus that he too confessed Christ and was beheaded with James.

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means “the called out ones”. You are the people that believe that Jesus really was and is the messiah of God. And your hope is that one day every Jew will see what you see in Jesus. You have had a big role in the birth of this new movement. You were one of Jesus’ closest friends and now you have been one of the main leaders. You were the one who preached the first sermons where thousands believed and were baptized. In fact, so many people turned to Jesus in those early days - even the Jewish priests – that it looked like every Jew would join the church. But of course, the powers that be would never let that happen. They were too invested in their religious system. For years they persecuted the church. But then something happened just recently that sent their hatred of the church into orbit and it involved you. You see, God spoke to you through a vision. He made it very clear that the message of Jesus wasn’t just for Jews. It was for Gentiles too. So God sent you to the house of a Roman soldier to tell the Jesus story and he and his whole family were baptized as followers of Jesus. That was an exciting day for you…really a glorious day…to see God move in such a dramatic and historic way. But it was also a terrible day because you knew that there were many many people who would not see this as good news. Jews have always considered Gentiles as enemies of God and so you knew this would not set well with them. And sure enough, when the Jews heard that you and your church were now including Gentiles and promising them a place in heaven…sitting at the same banquet table as them… that was too much. That was the last straw. You had pushed it too far. Seeing this intense hatred, Herod, the king of the region, took advantage of the moment to gain political support from the Jews. He executed James and put you on deck. And that’s why you are in prison today. And now, everything that you thought God was doing is on the verge of extinction. All your hopes and dreams are about to be extinguished by one power hungry king. And the worst of it is that you are powerless to do anything about it. You are at the mercy of Herod and the prison guards that surround you. So how is your imagination working so far? Are you feeling the weight of Peter’s situation? You see, the better you can imagine the emotion of the story the better you will understand the story and be able to apply it to your own life. Now, I realize that none of us here are on death row. You live in a totally different would than Peter. So here’s the next thing you want to do. It’s COMPARE. You want to compare your life situation to the story and see if there are any similarities. Is there anything in the story that is similar to your life right now? At first you might say “no”. This is all interesting but I don’t share anything in common with Peter. But think harder. Is there any situation in your life right now where you feel powerless to change? Is there any situation that you have resigned yourself to a negative outcome? I bet there is. Think about your relationships. Think about your finances or your career or your health. Maybe you’ve told yourself that you’ll never get married or you’ll never have a good marriage. Or that you’ll never have children or the children that you have will never get out of trouble. Or that you’ll never be able to overcome that addiction or your depression.
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You see? You and Peter are not as different as you think you are. Powerlessness impacts us all. And powerlessness is crippling. It’s dehumanizing. It eats away at your dreams like a cancer. If you give into powerlessness it will eventually destroy you so we all need to find an answer to the lie of powerlessness. Now this is where the Bible is so great because Peter has an answer. Look at what it says here. The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Acts 12:6 How many of us…the night before our beheading…chained to two abusive guards…would sleep? Not me. You see, we all need to discover what Peter discovered because he found the answer to the lie of powerlessness. And that leads me to my third word for good Bible study… EXAMINE. First you imagine what it’s like to be in the story. Then you compare your story to the Bible story. And then you examine what happens in the story so you can apply it to your life. (Another “e” here might be helpful…extract. We extract the lessons after we examine the story). I do this all the time. And this is what really makes the Bible come alive to me because the Bible stories become my story. If you’ve been around here this past year you’ve seen me do this with Joshua’s story (In the book of Joshua in the Old Testament). His story of first crossing over the Jordan and then entering into the Promised Land became my story and then our story as a church for months as we went from being a mobile church meeting in a mall to a church with a permanent building. By submersing myself in that story I was able to draw a lot of wisdom from it that helped me and us in our current situation. So let’s examine Peter’s story for practical advice about what to do when you confront an impossible situation. First, Peter had the right attitude. He trusted God. You don’t sleep in a situation like this unless you have an incredible confidence that God is in charge. Now, remember…James was just beheaded. So his confidence isn’t that God is going to rescue him. That’s not why he’s sleeping. His confidence is in the God who works all things together for good. Even death. It’s like the three boys who stood before the king in the book of Daniel. The king was threatening to throw these boys in the fiery furnace unless they worshipped the king. But they said… King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If the God we serve is able to deliver us, then he will deliver us from the blazing furnace and from Your Majesty's hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up. Daniel 3:16-18

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No matter what happened they trusted in God. And Peter had the same attitude. He knew that God COULD deliver him. But obviously there was no guarantee. James didn’t get that deal. That’s the strange thing about our faith isn’t it? There are no formulas. God doesn’t promise us anything except to be with us. He was with James in his death. And as we are about to see, he was with Peter in his rescue. Only God knows why he let one live and the other die. Years later Peter wrote these words about Jesus but they could have been equally said about himself… When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 1 Peter 2:23 Maybe you feel trapped today. Maybe you haven’t heard a word I’ve said because you keep trying to solve your problem. Some of you – like Peter - might even have something hanging over your head tomorrow. A meeting with your lawyer or judge, a meeting with your boss, a meeting with a doctor, a meeting with the bank and right now you don’t see any way out of your predicament and you aren’t sleeping. So the first thing you need to do in your powerlessness is to readjust your attitude. You need to remember that God is in control. God is able to make good out of whatever happens in your life. The second thing I see in this story is that Peter was connected to a powerful faith community. Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. Acts 12:5 This sentence is written in a way that implies that prison doesn’t have the final word. God does. Peter was kept in prison BUT the church was earnestly praying to God for him. There’s a power greater than prison. We shouldn’t cower in the face of prison because God is greater. Luke is telling us that God was up to something and it started in the prayers of his people. God doesn’t like to act alone. He likes accomplices. He likes a team. It’s a group effort. We pray. We act. And God acts. If you are feeling powerless today let me ask you… who is praying for you? Who have you shared your powerlessness with? Have you only complained about it at work or have you asked people of faith to support you in prayer? That’s what happens in a lot of the small groups that meet here at Cedarbrook. People pray for each other. It’s hard to feel powerless when you have a group of people praying for you. The next thing I see here is that Peter obeyed what he was told to do. Suddenly an angel of the LORD appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. "Quick, get up!" he said, and the chains fell off Peter's wrists. Then the angel said to him, "Put on your clothes and sandals." And Peter did so. "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me," the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison … Acts 12:7-9

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Peter did what the angel told him to do. You know, the Bible is full of good advice. But you need to do two things to activate that advice. First you have to read it. And second you need to do it. Do you know what the Bible says about relationships? Do you know what it says about finances or other areas that we often struggle with? And if you do know what it says are you doing what it says? Jesus said that people who listen to his words and puts them into practice is like a man who builds his house on a rock. (Matthew 7:24) The fourth thing I see is that God does the impossible. …the chains fell off Peter's wrists…They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. Acts 12:7,10 Peter’s obedience would have meant nothing if God hadn’t gone before him. The chains fell off and the gate opened by the power of God. This isn’t a story about self-help. This story stands as a constant reminder that with God all things are possible so we should never give up hope. Yes, people divorce. Yes, people die. Yes, people get fired. Good things don’t always happen. We know that from the fact that James was beheaded…but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t pray. We should always give God a chance to do the impossible. I mean, think about Peter’s church. I’m sure they prayed for James just as hard as they did for Peter. But they didn’t throw up their hands and quit praying when James died. They went right back and prayed for Peter. They kept looking to God to do the impossible. The fifth thing here is very simple; Peter took one step at a time. It’s so easy when you are overwhelmed by something to feel paralyzed and do nothing. I heard a good tip the other day. The person was talking about being overwhelmed by a dirty house. They said what you need to do is have a five minute cleaning spree. They said, just attack one corner of your house. Do as much as you can in five minutes without stopping and you’ll be amazed at how much gets done. And that gives you hope to go on another five minute spree later. And after you start stringing enough of these sprees together…guess what? Your house is clean. It’s a simple point but if you put one foot in front of the other you’ll eventually get where you want to go. Peter’s story is surprisingly mundane apart from God’s work. Peter put on his clothes. Then he put on his sandles. Then he wrapped the cloak around himself. Then he passed one guard. And then another. But eventually he was free. The next thing we see in this story is that Peter tells his story. Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the LORD had brought him out of prison. Acts 12:17 Peter told his story and it encouraged the church so much that he got a chapter in the Bible! And we need to tell our God stories to each other. That’s why I asked you to tell me your story and we printed it in a booklet. You can’t read that book without being encouraged. I hope you’ll not only read it but give it to your friends to read too. The final thing I see in this story is that Peter was no fool. He left his trouble behind. …he left for another place. Acts 12:17

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Peter didn’t wait around to get thrown back into prison. He got away from the trouble. Sometimes we get out of trouble and then jump right back in it. We get out of one bad relationship and within a month we are seeing someone else just as bad as the person we left. Addicts go back to their drinking friends. Dieters go back to their food. Debtors go back to their credit card. It’s another simple lesson but we need to get as far away from trouble as possible. Well, I hope this method of Imagination – Comparison and Examination makes the Bible more relevant for you. If you take the time to embed yourself in the story I think you’ll be amazed at how God will speak to you about your particular life situation. Plus I hope you learned something about facing your feelings of powerlessness. There’s a final thought to this story. It doesn’t end with Peter’s release. It ends with the death of Herod. It concludes by saying… …an angel of the LORD struck him down,and he was eaten by worms and died.…but the word of God continued to increase and spread. Acts 12:23,24 It’s an interesting contrast . The chapter opens with James dead, Peter in prison and Herod triumphing; it closes with Herod dead, Peter free, and the word of God triumphing2. God is telling us something very important here. When the Spirit of the living God is inside of you you are never defeated. No one and nothing has power over you. Or maybe Peter summed it up best himself in his second letter where he said… … the LORD knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment. 2 Peter 2:9 Prayer… Father, we all face a sense of powerlessness from time to time. Thank you for Peter’s example to us. We will all face fire. Some of us will avoid the fire. Some of us will go through it. But when you are with us it will never destroy us.

1But now, this is what the LORD says-- he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.3For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; Isaiah 43

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John Stott, Acts Commentary

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Rethink Church Part 4: A Church for Outsiders Acts 13 & 14 By Remy Diederich Cedarbrook Church

There’s a new church in town. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. It’s downtown around the corner from the Chamber of Commerce and it’s called G.O.D.’s Church (I don’t know what the acronym stands for). I have no idea who they are or what they are about. If you know anything about them let me know after the service today. But their tagline is interesting. It says “living the book of Acts.” That tells me a little something about them. It tells me that they have been rethinking church. My guess is that they don’t want to be just a typical, run of the mill church – rather they have turned to the book of Acts in the Bible to help them decide what church should be like. You seethe book of Acts tells the story of the very first days of the church after Jesus left the scene. Now, again, I don’t know anything about that church but in theory I think they are onto something. I think every church should turn to the book of Acts for guidance. It’s kind of a template telling us who we should be and what we should look like. It helps us to understand the DNA of church and it can offer us lessons and principles that we can apply in our churches today. This summer we’ve been working our way through the book of Acts and I’ve called this series Rethink Church and hope that it will be a tool to help us assess ourselves as a church and think about what we are doing right and what we can do better. So far we’ve been tracking the history of the church after Jesus left the scene. We are in chapter 13. Page 755. It’s been about fifteen years since Jesus died and was resurrected. (We know from other historical documents that the death of Herod in Acts 12 happened in A.D. 44. Jesus died about A.D. 30). And what we have seen is that the church stayed in Jerusalem for the first few years but they only reached other Jews. But then after a few years that started to change. The message started going beyond Jews in Israel to Jews in other countries. But the real shocker was that – about the twelfth year of the church - God told the church to start sharing the Jesus story with Gentiles. And as a result a new church got started up the road about 300 miles from Jerusalem in a city called Antioch. The amazing thing was that it didn’t get started by the apostles sent out from Jerusalem (the mothership) but by a couple of unknown Jews from the island of Cyprus. We don’t even know their names. That was radical stuff. Totally unorthodox. It’s like if two guys up in Duluth decided to start a second Cedarbrook Church in Canada. You’d go… Wait a minute. They can’t do that. They’re not leaders at Cedarbrook. In fact, they’ve never even been to Cedarbrook. Plus we don’t have any plans for a church in Canada. And they respond, yeah but we know the Jesus story and we’ve read the Cedarbrook story and so we think we are good.
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We’d probably have a little problem with them going off in our name like that, right? But that’s basically what happened in Antioch and this is what we read in Acts 11 …men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the LORD Jesus. The LORD's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the LORD. Acts 11:20,21 News of this reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch….Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. …During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. Acts 11:22-27 Now, what we are going to see today is that this church was not a sleepy little church that was content to just sing kumbayah on Sunday and have a potluck once a month in their basement. This church wanted to reach the world for Jesus. They were an outreach oriented church. And so I want to point out a few things this morning that we can learn from them. Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. Acts 13:1 It talks about prophets and teachers. A prophet doesn’t necessarily mean someone who tells the future. A prophet in the Bible is someone who speaks words of challenge and encouragement. A teacher is someone who relays helpful information while a prophet is someone who motivates you to apply the information to your life. Saul and Barnabas were probably the teachers and the other guys were the prophets based on the verses above. Now, Antioch was an international crossroads filled with about a half a million people from around the world as well as a Jewish community of about 70,000. It was a city rich in culture and language and various traditions, very different from Jerusalem where the Jewish faith dominated the culture there. Here’s a strategic question for you; if you want to reach a diverse population like Antioch do you want to have its leaders be all Jerusalem Jews or would you want to have a variety of ethnic backgrounds in the leadership? I guess it really depends on what you want the church in Antioch to look like. If you want it to look just like the church in Jerusalem then you would probably want to stock it with Jewish believers from Jerusalem. They would do a good job of carrying on all the traditions. But if you are willing to let the church look a little different and start some of its own traditions then you would probably want to commission leaders with a variety of backgrounds so different people can identify with the leaders. And that’s exactly what we see here. Let’s look at this group. Barnabas is from Cyprus, an island off the coast of Antioch. Simeon is a black man from Africa. Lucius is from Cyrene which is on the north coast of Africa. Manaen grew up with Herod so he must have been from Rome. And Saul was from Tarsus. This is not your father’s one dimensional plain vanilla Jewish church. This is a multi-ethic – 31 flavor –

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church with leaders from around the Mediterranean. It must have had a completely different feel than the Jerusalem church yet still preached the same message. So the first thing we learn about an outreach oriented church is that it values diversity. Every leader represented a different region and culture and not one of the leaders in this church was from Jerusalem. That’s amazing because up until now the church was very inbred and tightly overseen by the apostles of Jesus. But if you want to reach a bigger group of people your leadership should reflect the diversity of the people you want to reach. The greater the diversity the greater your capacity to reach others. The second thing I see in this church is that they sought God through worship and fasting. While they were worshiping the LORD and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Acts 13:2 Worship is associated with giving God our praise and thanks while fasting is associated with seeking God for direction. This tells me that the outreach oriented church is dynamic. It doesn’t box Jesus into living in the past or coming again in the future and sits around being religious. It sees Jesus as living with them in the present moment. Jesus is with them in the here and now and ready to guide their next move in ministry. You see this church understands their purpose. They understand that Jesus is fulfilling his mission through them. They are the hands and feet of Jesus on earth and they are looking to Jesus for guidance. And we see here how it’s in the middle of their worship and fasting that the Spirit speaks to them. So my third point is that they hear from God. It’s so important for us to see this. How many of us come to a church service expecting to encounter God? How many of us come expecting God to give us specific direction for our lives? I hope all of us do because that’s what God wants to do with us. He’s got good works and good words for each of us to offer every week but we need to be listening. That’s what the church in Antioch was doing. Listening. The next thing I see here is that an outreach orient church sends people. So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, … sailed … to Cyprus. Acts 13:3,4 We see the church and the Holy Spirit working together to send off Saul and Barnabas. It’s a community venture directed by God, not just someone “feeling led” to go and do something for God.3

Notice here what happened. Barnabas and Saul didn’t just stand up and say “We’re leaving. God told us to go.” God spoke to everyone. There’s a big difference between leaving and being sent. When you are sent people feel like they are a part of what God is doing. I just point that out because over the years I’ve heard people say “God told me to leave” or “God told me to start this ministry”. It sounds spiritual but I just have to wonder why God didn’t tell anyone else. How come no one else feels good about what they were doing? It’s a lot nicer when we pray together for direction and hear together what he wants us to do. That way we have a lot more unity when we do things.

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You know, there’s really no good reason for them to send Paul and Barnabas away. I’m sure that the church in Antioch could have used Paul and Barnabas at home. They were the most gifted teachers. It was a lot more interesting listening to them preach than some of the new guys. Plus there were plenty of people in Antioch yet to reach…it was a big city. And there are always weddings and funerals to perform. But the Holy Spirit told the church to send them off. Why would God do that? Why would he send away their best leaders? You see, at the heart of God is a desire for justice. He created everyone on the planet. He loves everyone on the planet and God wants everyone on the planet to experience his love and blessing. But to do that he needs his church to take responsibility. They need to become the hands and feet of Jesus. Jesus needs people to step out of their comfort zone and say… Here I am Lord. Send me. You’ve blessed me. Now use me to bless others. And he needs the church to surround these people with support and encouragement. The outreach oriented church gets this. They get that they can’t keep good things to themselves when other people are living without Jesus or without clean water or without justice. And so the outreach oriented church actively listens for the call from God because they understand that God is always speaking to his church. He’s always calling us to help others. He’s always sending.4 Now where does God send Paul and Barnabas? Let me show you a map of their travels in chapter 13 and 14. They first go to the island of Cyprus, which makes sense because that’s where Barnabas came from. And then they went across to the mainland which is modern day Turkey. And that’s where Paul was from. 5 Well, that’s the where. Now, let me insert another point here. I don’t have this in your notes. As I looked over my outline this morning I saw a glaring oversight. There was no mention of the message of the outreach oriented church. The outreach oriented church shares good news. The reason this was omitted is that I just talked about this two weeks ago but it dawned on me that many of you weren’t here and so I should at least mention it. In Acts 13:32 Luke relates a sermon that Paul preaches and he mentions the “Good News”. I talked about this in detail before but put simply the good news is that everyone has been restored to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus…period. No buts or ands or asterisk. Unfortunately we often add our own personal agendas into our message and it quickly becomes boring news or outright bad news. It’s interesting that the Greek word for “good news” is “evangel”. That’s the root for our words evangelist or evangelical. Many people don’t think of good news when they hear those words. They think of TV preachers asking for money or politicians forcing a conservative agenda. The word has lost its goodness. So we have to reclaim the goodness of the good news!

Notice who God sends…not the least experienced but the most experienced. We have a tendency to send inexperienced people and justify it as “a good learning experience”. But it’s questionable how effective they are at helping others and it might actually give them the wrong kind of experience because they aren’t prepared. 5 A teaching point here…God doesn’t always send us to the farthest and the hardest place. Sometimes we think that’s true. God often sends us to a place that we are familiar with so we have better results. Barnabas and Saul knew this area well because they lived in this area and probably had many contacts.

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Okay, let’s get back to my outline. We know where they went and what they went with. Who did they go to? They went to outsiders not insiders. In every city they’d start by telling the religious Jews about Jesus but then they’d move on to tell the unreligious Gentiles. When they came home this is what it says… … they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Acts 14:27 You see, even though they spoke to Jews and Gentiles, the news was that they reached Gentiles… the outsiders. My point here is that outreach orient churches aren’t interested in just reaching believers. They want to reach people that have never heard about Jesus or maybe they heard but never understood the message. Archbishop William Temple once said that The church is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of nonmembers. Church, Why Bother? Page 33. That’s an interesting statement. Can you imagine a country club that exists to benefit nonmembers? Can you imagine a fitness club that exists to benefit non-members? Or Sam’s Club existing for the benefit of non-members? I mean, that doesn’t even make sense, does it? It’s self-defeating. But the church exists for non-members. I know that might sound ludicrous. But the best analogy I can think of is a foster home. Foster parents choose to exist for the sake of outsiders. They are committed to opening their homes and structuring their lives so disconnected and troubled children can have a home. They don’t make their foster children eat on the porch or sleep in the garage. They welcome these kids into the inner circle of their family at their own expense. And that’s what it means for the church to exist for the benefit of non-members. Membership is for those who are committed to helping nonmembers. I think every church has to struggle with why they exist and who they exist for. Do we exist for outsiders or do we exist for insiders? For church people or unchurched people? For believers or unbelievers? Do we primarily exist so we can encourage each other in the faith and have a place to marry and bury each other? Or do we exist, like our mission statement says, to help people connect to a growing relationship with Jesus? How we answer those questions will determine the entire culture of this church. We might be quick to say, well, of course, we exist for others. But then you have to realize what that means. That means that if the church exists for others then you might not like everything about church because it’s no longer for you.6
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I walked into a church not too long ago and I felt like I was back in the seventies. That’s when the church was built and they had the same carpet and upholstery that was there in the beginning. It was like a museum where everything was carefully preserved and my first thought was… "this church is for insiders. They clearly aren’t interested in welcoming new people. They are happy just the way it is."

Can you imagine going to a restaurant that still had the same décor and menu that they had when they opened 40 years ago? Well, the truth is, you probably can imagine a restaurant like that because most of us have gone to one. They exist. But not for long! Who typically goes to that kind of restaurant? People that have been eating there for 40 years right? It’s comfortable for them. But you don’t see many young people there because the décor screams “We don’t want new people”. (There was a restaurant like this that recently closed in Menomonie). That kind of

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If a church is made for outsiders it will do things to make God more approachable and understandable for outsiders, which means, it might deemphasize some of the rituals that you grew up with and hold dear. The church might introduce music that outsiders can relate to but you abhor. Or it might make their building look more like a lodge than a church to help people feel more at home. You see, there is a cost to being outreach oriented. And we’ve felt that here. We’ve had people leave because they didn’t like our focus on outsiders. But I still think focusing on outsiders is the right thing to do. In his book about why he left church and then came back, Phil Yancey says… When I look for a church, I look for one that understands the need to look outward. Indeed, I have come to believe that outreach may be the most important factor in a church’s success or failure. Church, Why Bother? Page 31,33 But I have to warn you. Churches that orient themselves to outsiders can be messy. That’s what we see here in Acts. You see, up until now in Acts the church people were good Jews. They knew their Bible. They were generally moral people. They understood the God of the Bible and how to worship. They knew all the holy days and how to celebrate them. They knew how to pray and they knew how to talk spiritual. They knew the lingo. But as soon as the church started attracting Gentiles that all changed. Things got messy real fast. Those Gentiles were crazy. In fact in one of the cities the people mistook Paul and Barnabas for the gods Zeus and Hermes because of the miracles that they performed. When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have come down to us in human form!" Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. Acts 14:11-13 Is that crazy or what? Jews would never do that. Plus the Gentiles were sexually all over the place. I mean, anything went. Orgies were part of the nightly routine. Prostitutes were a part of their worship in their temples. They had no concept of keeping sex inside of marriage. That was a foreign concept to them. Paul lists some of the kind of the people in the church in Corinth… the sexually immoral… idolaters … adulterers … male prostitutes … practicing homosexuals… thieves … the greedy … drunkards … slanderers … swindlers … that is what some of you were… 1 Corinthians 6:9,9-11 The church wasn’t for prim and proper spiritual people who knew their Bible inside out. The church was for sinners. Paul said, you’re not that way now but that’s who you were. That’s what

restaurant eventually loses its customers, the business gets sold, and what does the new owner do? Changes the décor and the menu and what do you know? A whole new group of customers show up. People complain that the previous business failed because of the economy or bad location, etc. But the truth is that the culture was geared for insiders and not outsiders. When a culture is geared for outsiders you grow. When it’s geared for insiders you shrink…in business or at church.

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you were like when you first came to church. And these are the kind of people that were flooding into the church in Antioch and in every church that Paul and Barnabas started. The crowds alone were enough to drive the Jews nuts. Listen to the kind of turn out they were getting… On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the LORD. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. Acts 13:44,45 You see, having big crowds doesn’t make everyone happy. The Jews were thinking, who are these pagans taking our parking spaces and making us walk a mile? Who are these pagans taking our seats and making us stand in the lobby? Who are these pagans drinking our coffee and filling up our Children’s Ministry rooms? An outreach oriented church can be messy and uncomfortable and inconvenient and so we each have to count the cost. Are we willing to give up what’s important to us to help reach outsiders with good news about Jesus? The final thing that I learn about the outreach oriented church is that it’s blessed. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. Acts 13:52 As messy as things were…as awkward as it was to be focused on outsiders instead of insiders… it was the place of God’s blessing. It was the place where God was moving and acting. I really believe that God wants every church to be an outreach oriented church. He wants us all to make room for outsiders. That’s’ our calling. That’s our purpose. And that’s what we’ve tried to do here at Cedarbrook. To be honest it gets awkward at times. The needs of insiders and outsiders are different. It’s almost like having two churches; one church for the established believers who want to grow their faith and another church for people who are in process and exploring their faith. It’s hard to make everyone happy. But I think what makes God happy is when we agree to humble ourselves, lay aside our rights and our agendas and our preferences and work together to reach outsiders with good news about Jesus. Prayer; Father, we have so much to learn as a church. We want to be the hands and feet of Jesus. We want people to see Jesus when they us. That’s our desire. Holy spirit we invite you to come and have your way in our hearts. Help us to humble ourselves so that we might seek to serve others and not ourselves. And might we be listening for you call to send or be sent. We want to bring the same blessing to others that you’ve given to us. Amen.

Going Deeper Use the following questions for personal reflection and/or to discuss with your family, friends and small group. 1. In your past church experience has there been much of an emphasis on reaching outsiders? Describe the nature of those churches. 2. Which churches had the most life and signs of God’s presence; ones with or without outsiders? Give examples. Were there people in the church that didn’t want to reach outsiders? Which churches had the most problems?

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3. Read Acts 13:1. Based on the leadership diversity imagine how the church in Antioch felt different from the church in Jerusalem. In other words, what does diversity bring to a church? 4. Why do you think that the first missionaries were sent out from Antioch and not Jerusalem? That is, what was it about the climate of Antioch that was more receptive to the idea of evangelism (sharing the story of Jesus)? 5. Is Cedarbrook more like the Jerusalem church or Antioch church? Why? 6. What was Paul’s habit upon entering a city? Read Acts 13:5, 14. Why do you think that was? (See Romans 1:16) 7. Read Paul’s sermon in 13:16-41. What two verses summarize the “Good News” message? What characterizes these verses as Good News? And what enabled the good news to exist? (see Acts 13:32-37. Is this the message that you hear the church at large sharing or is it different? How so? (Paul will later write a letter to this church – Galatians- where he discusses the “good news” in more detail. See Galatians 2:16 for comparison.) 8. Read Acts 13:42-52. The Jews were initially interested in what Paul had to say. What did Luke say was the reason for their change of heart? Why do you think that was? Do you see this in churches today? 9. In the face of Jewish resistance, what did God do? Read Acts 14:2,3. 10. Remy said that church is for outsiders and not insiders. Do you agree? Why or why not? 11. Acts 13:52 shows that God blesses churches that reach outsiders. What can you and Cedarbrook do to help reach more outsiders and not settle as being a church for insiders?

Rethink Church Part 6- R-E-S-P-E-C-T in the church By Remy Diederich Cedarbrook Church 8.01.10

Do we have any vampire fans out there? Don’t raise your hands. I don’t want to know! I ask because Anne Rice became a bestselling writer with her book “Interview with the Vampire”. She has a big following and what makes her interesting is that she talks openly about her faith. That’s why it was especially interesting this past week when she posted a couple revelations about her faith. I thought it would be good to look at them since we are talking about rethinking the church this summer. The first one was this… For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being "Christian" or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to "belong" to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

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I'm out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen. My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become. Thursday at 4:06pm When I read something like this I go through a range of emotions. I’m first sad for her experience and everyone like her. It sounds like her church experience has only been negative and if I was her I’d want to quit too. In fact, I did quit church for five years a long time ago out of disgust. So I can relate. The second emotion is anger. I’m mad at the church for taking something so good and making it so bad. There’s absolutely no excuse for this. The church is meant to be this compelling community of broken people humbly offering God’s love to the world. How it could ever come to be defined as anti-anything is a failure on our part. But then my third emotion is being disappointed with Anne for giving up on church. She might be disgusted with a part of the church but it’s not fair to judge the whole church because of a few. It’s a bit self-centered to think that her small church experience represents all of Christianity. She shouldn’t give up that easily. But my final emotion is feeling challenged to work harder at making the church better. It takes time. It takes work. It takes dedication. It gets frustrating. Speaking personally I think it’s really hard to develop a true church community in our culture because our culture is so independent and self-centered and materialistic. Producing a counter culture community is like pushing a rock up a hill…the minute you walk away the rock slides back to the bottom and you start all over again. That’s made me want to quit. But it doesn’t matter how hard it is. That’s what God has called us to. It’s not all bad. I’ve seen a lot of great things happen in church…especially here. When the church is healthy it does so much good - it literally brings heaven to earth. It brings the presence of Jesus to hurting people. It brings purpose to people that are lost and looking for meaning. And most of all it helps connect people to God…and that’s a good thing! The church is a good thing when it’s done right. I mention Anne Rice because her reaction to church is exactly why we need to rethink church. The church is losing its audience and we need to get it back. To do that we need to rethink what church is about and how we lost our way. The book of Acts has been our guide this summer. It tells the story of the early church and gives us a picture of what the church can be. In the book of Acts it doesn’t say that people were
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quitting church. It says that people were being added daily to their number. Let’s take a look at why that was. Today I want to revisit the story we were in last week in Acts chapter 15. I want to drill down into this story and show you one thing that is easily missed. It’s so obvious most people look right past it. And when I tell you, you might not be impressed because it’s so basic. But before I do that let me give you the context of what’s happening in this chapter. There was a church in the city of Antioch, 300 miles north of Jerusalem. Some Jewish believers came to the church and said "Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved." Acts 15:1 Paul and Barnabas, the leaders in that church, disagreed. This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. Acts 15:2 So they all traveled to Jerusalem to talk to the apostles and the elders. Both sides presented their case and then a decision was made. James said… "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Acts 15:19 In other words…people didn’t have to become Jews first (i.e. men being circumcised) before they became Christians. So they all got back on their camels and went back to Antioch with the good news. And as Andy said last week, the men very happy. That’s the story. But in between the lines of the story is something that a lot of people miss and a lot of churches lack. In fact if there was more of this present in churches there probably wouldn’t be people like Anne Rice quitting church. What I’m talking about is an attitude. I think we take it for granted when we read the story but it’s central to the success of the early church. Do you know what that attitude is? It’s respect. As I read through this story again this week I was impressed with how the leaders handled the Jewish believers who thought circumcision was necessary. You can tell from the story that there was no doubt in the minds of Paul and Barnabas and Peter that God welcomed the Gentiles into the church just as they were. No circumcision was necessary. God had showed Peter that truth through a vision and God had showed Paul and Barnabas that truth by blessing their ministry to the Gentiles with miracles and healings. But when the Jewish believers raised an objection in Antioch Paul and Barnabas first confronted the false teaching but then they immediately took the matter to Jerusalem. That’s impressive. They didn’t have to do that. Paul and Barnabas knew they were right. Why should they waste their valuable time and travel up and back to Jerusalem to settle an issue that has long been settled in their mind? They could have easily dismissed these guys as flakes that didn’t know any better. Paul and Barnabas could have belittled them in front of the church…even laughed at
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them…but they didn’t stoop to that. They respected these believers and took the discussion to the apostles in Jerusalem to get this settled once and for all. And then look what it says once they got to Jerusalem. The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: Acts 15:6-7 Do you see those two words…consider and much discussion? They took the Jewish believers concerns seriously. As just an aside…husbands, when was the last time you took your wife’s concerns seriously? And wives, how about you? Or parents. Do you consider your children’s concerns. And how about the bosses here? But that’s what Paul and Barnabas did. They reopened the can of worms…talked through the whole issue again from top to bottom and made a decision. I find it amazing that they didn’t brush these guys off but acknowledged their concerns and took time to talk this all through again. It says that Peter addressed them. Then it says that James addressed them and finally Paul and Barnabas addressed them. They didn’t just say, “We walked with Jesus, how dare you question us”. No, they didn’t play that card. Or they didn’t say “You can agree with us or leave”. That’s what happens in some churches, isn’t it? I’ve been in a church like that. When the leadership is challenged they power up and shut down the discussion. But the apostles didn’t do that here. They showed these misguided teachers respect. By listening to them and taking their concern to the apostles they validated them and said, We value who you are and what you think. Your opinion matters to us. We may not agree with you but we want to do all we can to make sure we get on the same page. In your relationships do you work hard to make sure you are on the same page with people? You see, Paul and Barnabas weren’t willing to just throw these guys off the bus and move on. It was important that they win these guys over and help them to be a part of the church. I like that. I’ve been in many situations like this where someone was clearly wrong. They were slowing things down and causing problems and I just wanted them to get out of the way but God wouldn’t let me do it. He wanted me to listen to them and try to win them over. And it takes a lot of work. But the Bible says that we should do everything we can to be at peace with each other (see Romans 14). And to the Ephesian church Paul wrote… I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3 I think that’s what these leaders were working toward, keep the unity. You see, unity is given to us by God. We don’t have to pray for it. We have it. Our job is to keep it. To preserve it. We HAVE a bond of peace. The Spirit has bound us together with other believers. We need to be careful not to break that bond and I think that’s what the apostles were working at here in Acts 15. And it must have worked because when it was all said and done this is what happened…
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Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. Acts 15:22 No one quit the church. No one was thrown off the bus. There was no church split. You know, it’s so easy to use positions of power to slam dunk your viewpoint, isn’t it? And I don’t just mean in church. That goes for husbands or wives or parents or bosses or politicians. When people in authority use their power to shut people down, what happens? They actually lose their authority, don’t they? People stop listening…not because they are rebels but because they don’t like being disrespected. They don’t like being dismissed as a fool. And so they walk away. They walk away from jobs. They walk away from families and they walk away from churches. But the early church was sensitive to these power issues and so I want to make sure we see this before we leave this chapter. The apostles walked with Jesus for three years and I think they learned something about conflict resolution, don’t you? They learned something about honoring and respecting people who disagree with you after watching Jesus deal with conflict. So the apostles were modeling what they saw Jesus do. Jesus talked about going to the person that you are at odds with. He talked about humbling yourself…about loving and blessing others. He talked about walking in unity in order to honor God. These are the kinds of teachings that echoed in the brains of the apostles and we see in this story how they lived them out. You see, in a world led by dictators…in a world ruled by iron fists… engaging trouble makers in a discussion was unheard of. No one did that. You just eliminate the problem and move on. But not the church. That’s not the way of the kingdom. The church slowed down and engaged the troublemakers and won them over if possible. There was peace and unity and the church was stronger for it. That’s what the world needs to see more of in the church, isn’t it? Don’t you think that more people would believe in Jesus if they saw the church walking in unity instead of division? I think so. Didn’t Jesus pray that we would be one just as he and the Father were one? I want to encourage us today…whatever conflict you are in…don’t power up over someone. Don’t toss them aside or go over them or around them or ignore them. And don’t quit on them. There’s no glory in quitting. There’s glory in trying to reconcile. There’s glory in humility and meekness. But not in quitting. At least do your best even if the other person doesn’t want to engage with you. Jesus said go to the person and talk it out. Show them respect. Seek peace. Seek restoration if at all possible. As people of God’s kingdom we aren’t supposed to follow the world’s model. We’re supposed to follow Jesus’ model. We’re supposed to bring heaven to earth with our behavior and our attitudes. And when we do that people will watch and be amazed. That’s the kind of church that

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people are looking for. That’s the kind of church that people will line up to get into rather than run from because people see Jesus there and be drawn to him. Prayer: Father, thank you for the example of the early church. They didn’t just mouth the teachings of Jesus. They lived them out. They allowed the Spirit to bring peace and unity through them. They brought heaven to earth. I pray that we would do the same. I pray for every conflict represented here today that we would call on you for the courage and the wisdom and the grace to go to the people causing us problems and allow you to work peace and unity between us. May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Going Deeper Use the following questions for personal reflection and/or to discuss with your family, friends and/or small group. 1. Have you been in work or church settings where your opinion wasn’t welcome? Describe. 2. How did that make you feel personally? 3. How did that make you act? In other words, how did it impact your involvement/commitment? 4. Read Acts 15: 1-22. List off what the apostles and elders did right in treating the Pharisee believers. 5. Consider a scenario (real or made up) where you could apply these same principles to your own life. What can you learn about dealing with conflict from this story? 6. Have you been in a conversation (or overheard a conversation) between a churched and unchurched person where the unchurched person wasn’t respect and basically shutdown as being wrong? Describe that. How could that conversation have gone better? 7. Is it a new thought to separate your personal beliefs/practices from the gospel message? Can you see how confusing the two reduces the potential impact of the good news? Discuss.

Due to time I was not able to share all of my thoughts on respect. I wish I had had time to talk about respect people outside of the church. Here’s the rest of my sermon below… But not only do we need to respect people inside the church. A church for everyone needs to learn how to respect people outside the church as well. I’m not saying that we should agree with everyone. That’s not possible. But we should respect their opinion. We should be willing to engage them in a discussion without speaking in a condescending way…like we have the right answer and they are clearly misguided. There are so many topics that people just don’t want to talk to Christians about. They feel like it’s a preloaded discussion. Like our minds are made up and it will just turn into an argument. That’s too bad because if that’s how they feel how quick are they going to want to come to a church with people that they don’t think they can have a conversation with?
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I want this church to be a place where we can talk about anything from any perspective without the fear of being judged. I’d like people to say about us…You know, whenever I talk to someone from Cedarbrook I always enjoy talking to them because they really listen to me and respect my opinion even though they might disagree. I’ve seen a lot of Christians put up a fiery defense for morality or some hot topic and feel like they really defended the faith but in reality they embarrassed the faith by their attitude. Plus they communicated that the church isn’t a welcome place for people who disagree. Church is only for people who think like everyone else. My guess is that Ann Rice was exposed to that kind of Christianity. But we can’t afford to do that anymore. For whatever reason people tolerated that kind of behavior in the church in the past but not anymore. Now people will just walk out or not even come in the first place. You see, if we want to be a church for everyone and not just for church people we need to learn how to dialog with everyone. We need to learn how to listen and show empathy and acknowledge truth where we see it. We need to learn how to separate our opinions and our politics and our morality from the gospel message. Some of us have connected our personal beliefs and practices so closely with the message of Jesus that people think they have to become like you to become a Christian. But listen to what Peter said to the Jewish believers... why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our LORD Jesus that we are saved, just as they are." Acts 15:10,11 What that means is that people can come to Jesus and think differently about a lot of things…Politics, Morality, sexuality, Ethics, evolution. We don’t want to put the “yoke” of our belief on them as some kind of a requirement to believe. Those are issues that they can wrestle with when they come to Christ. But they should be used to screen people out before they even encounter Jesus. I was sharing some of these things with a friend of mine once and he said…wait a minute…do mean I don’t have to believe that all the Bible stories are true or that the earth was created in six days or that I have to vote a certain way to be a Christian? He wasn’t kidding. He was dead serious. He said…I believe in Jesus and what he did. It’s just all the other stuff that I couldn’t swallow. Isn’t it sad that he felt excluded from both the faith and church because he didn’t think he measured up to some kind of Christian litmus test? These are the kind of people that I want at Cedarbrook. Let’s help them connect with God and then let God direct their thinking on all these topics. You know, there are a lot of people like Anne Rice out there today. A lot of people have quit church but not God. I bet you know some of them. How about if we show them a church for everyone? Do you think we could do that? Do you think we could show our friends and family and co-workers a church that accepts them just the way they are and doesn’t try to change them?
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A church that is for them and not against them? A church whose only goal is to help them connect with to God? My point in all of this is that if we want to be a church for everyone…if we don’t want to make it difficult…we need to learn how to be open and show respect to other people and what they think. When people tells us something that we disagree with, how about rather than telling them they are wrong or what the Bible says…how about if we say something like… That’s interesting…tell me more. Really? Why do you believe that? Tell me how you came to that conclusion. I’m a little confused. Can you help me understand? I appreciate that. I can see how you came to believe that. You see, none of these statements endorse their beliefs but they don’t invalidate them either. It’s called dialog. It’s called discussion. Church people haven’t been very good at this. But if we want to engage the world we have to be more open and respectful.

Rethink Church Part 7: Four Lessons from the Journey By Remy Diederich Cedarbrook Church 8.8.10

If you are new to Cedarbrook Church today I want to welcome you. I’m really glad that you joined us today. This summer I’ve been taking us through the book of Acts and I’ve called this series Rethink Church. You know, we just moved into this building two months ago and I think it’s good to talk about rethinking church. For those of us that have been part of Cedarbrook for a while it’s good to remind each other why we do what we do. And for those of you that have joined us in the past two months it’s good to help you understand why we do church the way we do. The book of Acts is the story of the first 30 years or so of the church. Each week we are hearing more of the story and learning lessons along the way and trying to apply them to our own experience when we can. Now today we’re going to follow the apostle Paul on a journey of his from Antioch, through Turkey and ending up in Greece and as we follow Paul we’ll learn four lessons. It’s kind an appetizer plate so apply what you resonate with and leave the rest for others. We are going to pick up our story at the end of Acts 15 and look at a story that has bothered a lot of people.

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…Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the LORD and see how they are doing." Acts 15:36 A few weeks ago we talked about this trip. Paul and Barnabas went to a totally new territory (Turkey) to tell people about Jesus. They took a young man by the name of Mark with them on that trip but half way through the trip Mark left and returned home. From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John (Mark) left them to return to Jerusalem. Acts 13:13 We don’t know why he left but we get a clue here… Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the LORD. He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. Acts 15:37-41 Like I said, this story has always bothered people. They are shocked that these two church leaders could disagree. After all…they’re in the Bible! They shouldn’t have problems! And then they wonder who was right. Was Paul right or was Barnabas? I think Christians like to ask …who is right? Don’t we? I know I do. We’re always concerned about who is right and who is wrong because we know that God is on the right side and we want to be on God’s side. At some level that is good but there are a couple of problems with wanting to be right. The first problem is that it oversimplifies an argument into only two choices. It reduces everything to black or white. Right or wrong. Good or bad. Us and them. Life is not always that simple. Yet we tend to polarize arguments into extremes and then demonize the other side, making them the bad guy, even questioning their character and faith. Rather than talk to them and explore their thinking we simply try to prove them wrong. And when we think like this it leads to the second problem and that is we can easily miss what God is trying to tell us. We’re so busy proving the other person wrong that we fail to consider that God might be trying to use the other person to speak to us and broaden our perspective on a topic and possibly offer an alternative idea. My guess is that Paul and Barnabas may have suffered from this kind of reductionist thinking. It was obvious to both of them that they were each right. Barnabas knew that giving Mark a second chance was the right thing to do. And Paul knew that giving Mark some time to mature was the right thing to do. They both dug in their heels and finally parted ways when they couldn’t agree. But that’s not the end of the story. Some people get disgusted at Barnabas and Paul. They say, “What a bunch of hypocrites!” But they need to cut these guys some slack because when God’s

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Spirit lives inside of you expect change and that’s exactly what happened. Somewhere along the line the light bulb went off in their minds and they said… Wait a minute. Maybe neither of us was wrong. Maybe God WANTED to use our different opinions to move us in different directions. What a concept. You see, Paul and Barnabas had worked as a team for so long they never considered that God might want them to separate. That wasn’t even an option in their minds. But in hindsight I bet they said… OHHHHHH. That wasn’t about Paul or Barnabas being wrong. That was about God trying to move us in a new direction. What an idiot I am. I got bent out of shape for nothing and wasted months of my friendship because we reduced our argument to good and bad. We know that at some point they understood this because Paul wrote to the Colossian church from prison and he said… My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas… Colossians 4:10 We learn a couple things here. First that Mark and Barnabas were cousins. Well, that gives us a little insight into why Barnabas was so supportive. These guys were family…I mean, they were like the Mafia so Barnabas wasn’t about to cut loose his cousin. Cousins were more like brothers back then. So no wonder Barnabas was so adamant to give him a second chance. But we also see from this verse that Paul and Mark were reconciled. They were in ministry together. In Paul’s last letter, written in prison just before he died he said this to Timothy… Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. 2 Timothy 4:11 You know, with 20/20 hindsight we see that Paul and Barnabas were both right. So my first lesson here is that… Differences don't demand that you pick sides. Someone doesn’t have to be right and someone doesn’t have to be wrong. Husbands and wives, this is true for you. Parents and children, it’s true for you as well. And church people, let’s be careful not to fall into the temptation of choosing sides. That’s what has happened through the centuries over the issue of baptism. Half of Christianity believes in infant baptism and the other half thinks it’s just for believers. We’ve created this forced choice situation. Why can’t it be both? Why can’t both sides be true and offer something to the church? Sometimes we are just looking at two sides to the same coin. So when you see an argument flare up think about listening and learning rather than choosing sides. Well, let’s keep reading. Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he
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circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. Acts 16:1-3 Now, I find this interesting because one of the main reasons that Paul is on this trip is to tell the churches about the decision that was made in Jerusalem. If you haven’t been here the last two weeks there was a dispute in the church. Some of the believers thought that people had to become Jews before they became Christians. And for men that meant being circumcised. Well, after much discussion among the leadership the decision was, no. That’s not true. People don’t have to become Jews. Men don’t have to be circumcised to follow Jesus. But one of the first places that Paul goes he tells someone to be circumcised. What’s up with that? Here’s the deal. Paul didn’t want Timothy circumcised to become a Christian. He wanted him to be circumcised to gain credibility with the Jewish community. Paul knew that the Jews wouldn’t listen to their message if Timothy wasn’t fully Jewish. And since Paul loved the Jews he wasn’t going to let Timothy be a stumbling block to his ministry. Paul explained himself in his letter to the Corinthian church… I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law … so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:18-22 Paul would never compromise the faith or compromise his morality to reach someone. But outside of that he’d do whatever he could to remove the barriers between himself and his audience so they would hear his message about the lifechanging love of Jesus. You see, people are much more willing to listen to someone who is like them. So Paul tried to relate to everyone he spoke to. He didn’t just preach at them. And we need to do the same thing. We don’t want to show our family and friends that we are different. That’s what I did when I became a Christian back in college and it didn’t work! I wanted to show my friends and family how different I was so I changed the way I talked. I started forcing “praise the Lord” and “hallelujah” and Bible verses into every other sentence I spoke. And I wore Christian jewelry and hung Christian art on my walls because I thought people would be attracted to how different I was and fall at my feet and ask me what had changed in my life and then I’d be able to tell them about Jesus. But what happened is people just thought I was weird! They looked at me and I’m sure they thought, “Who is this guy. I used to know him. I used to like him. But he’s changed and I can’t relate to him anymore.” So they drifted away from me. That wasn’t their fault. That was my fault. I had the exact opposite effect on my friends and family than I had intended because I was trying so hard to be different. But no, we want to show people how we are just LIKE them. We face the same weaknesses and temptations and hardships as they do. Our marriages struggle or we struggle being single. Our kids get in trouble. We overspend our budget. We are just like they are. The difference is that we’ve found God’s love. We’ve found his forgiveness. We’ve found the power to change

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direction. To climb out of our mess. And we simply want to share what we’ve found with the ones we love. You see, we want people to see how we are like them so we can relate to them and they will hear our message. When people come to Cedarbrook I don’t want them to look at us and say, “Those people are so different from me I could never do what they are doing. No, I want them to say…wow, those people are just like I am. They struggle with the same things I struggle with. Maybe Jesus can help me like he seems to have helped them.” So our second lesson is… The more you identify with people the more they will listen to you. The more we look like them the better they can relate to us. Okay. Let’s go on here. Something interesting happens in chapter 16. This is just a little side note. Watch the transition here as Luke, the author, describes Paul’s journey… So THEY passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us."After Paul had seen the vision, WE got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called US to preach the gospel to them. Acts 16:7-10 Luke suddenly injects himself into the story. He must have gotten on the bus in Troas. And from here on out Luke talks about “we” and “us” through the end of the book. So the book of Acts wasn’t written by some guy hundreds of years later. It was written by someone in real time. It reads more like a journal than a history book. Now look at the map. Paul and his entourage cross over the sea into what is called Europe today. From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days. On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The LORD opened her heart to respond to Paul's message. Acts 16:12-14 Typically Paul goes to the local synagogue in every city he visits. But a synagogue required ten men to form. There must not have been ten Jewish men in Philippi so he goes to a place where women gather who worshipped God. This might not seem like a big deal but it was. Most men would have just gone right on to the next city. But not to Paul. Paul sought out the women in the area to share the message of Jesus and Lydia was the first person in Europe to turn to Jesus. This story is just one of many stories in the Bible that validates and honors women. Who were the first people to discover that Jesus had been resurrected? It was a couple of women. Who had the first house church in Jerusalem? It was a woman. Who was the first person converted to the faith in Europe? It was a woman. It’s like God put a hidden message running through the Bible. He says…In the world you don’t get respect ladies but in my story you do.

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Luke tells us a little more about Lydia... She invited us to her home. "If you consider me a believer in the LORD," she said, "come and stay at my house." And she persuaded us. You can tell that there was some hesitation to go to her house by these men. It wasn’t the social custom. That’s not what people did. But Lydia showed some immediate Holy Spirit wisdom. She knew instinctively what Paul would soon write to the Galatian church… There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 So the men went to her house and honored her, showing her that she was fully accepted as a joint heir with Jesus. Unlike her Jewish faith…she wasn’t a second class citizen. She was a full member of God’s kingdom. So our third lesson here is this… Women have always been spiritual leaders so let's let them lead! You know, we’ve got great female leaders here at Cedarbrook. We always have. It was a founding value of ours that we wouldn’t put people into leadership positions based on their gender but based on their gifts and talents. I can’t imagine what Cedarbrook would be like without our female leaders. Now here’s the final thing I want us to see today. I want us to see what the immediate response to faith was in the early church. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home…Acts 16:15 The first thing that Lydia did was to be baptized. Baptism was always the first step after making a faith commitment. Not SOME time in the next year or the next month. Not when the person felt like it or got around to it. It was the first thing they did THAT DAY. On the day of Pentecost…the day that the church was officially started…Peter preached the first sermon and told people that baptism was the way to communicate their faith commitment. And it says… Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. Acts 2:41 That day. Not that week. That day. When Philip was sharing the message of Jesus with a man in the country the Bible says… …they came to some water and the eunuch said, "Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?" And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. Acts 8:37,38 Not that week. Not even that day. It was that very moment. When Ananias shared the story of Jesus with the man called Saul it says… Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, Acts 9:18
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Not that week. That day. You see baptism was central to the faith back then and that’s because it was an outward sign or an outward declaration that the person had a new life. Going into the water was like burying your old life and coming out of the water was like being resurrected to a new life. That symbolism was very important to the early church. Making that statement was somehow critical to the conversion experience. Sometimes people say…but baptism isn’t really relevant today. It doesn’t mean to us what it meant to them. It’s purely optional. But we don’t say that about communion. People don’t say…it’s an ancient ritual. It doesn’t have any meaning. No, in fact, every time we offer communion people tell me HOW MUCH it means to them. Communion has meaning because Jesus gave it meaning and he commanded us to remember him with communion. And baptism is the same way. It’s as powerful as we choose to make it. If we treat it as optional, if we treat it as an antiquated ritual, then sure…it won’t mean anything. But Jesus was baptized. Jesus gave it meaning. And Jesus commanded us to be baptized…the sooner the better. You see, if we infuse baptism with the meaning that the Bible gives it then it will be a powerful experience. And it is. So many people have told me that getting baptized was a turning point for their lives. Somehow making a physical statement that included their whole body made their faith commitment real. So our fourth lesson is that… Baptism was not an option in the early church. Our independence has made it optional. Two weeks from tonight we’re having a baptism at Wakanda Park. If you are a follower of Jesus and you’ve never been baptized I encourage you to join us that night. A week from Monday I’ll have a class for those getting baptized. If you can’t make it, let me know and I’ll work something out. I’ll also be talking about dedicating children and infant baptism that night so if you are interested in getting your child dedicated or baptized you’ll want to attend this call too. My last lesson here is that… Baptism is a sign that there is another kingdom in this world… the kingdom of God… and you want to be submersed in that kingdom. Now, I realize that for many of us here our experience with baptism involves infants. I’ll talk about that next week and show you how those two traditions came about. Well, Luke told us that the Lord opened Lydia’s heart and she responded. If the Lord has opened your heart today I invite you to respond to him. Maybe it’s through prayer. Maybe it’s by getting involved in something here. Or maybe it’s in simply choosing to begin the process of reorienting your life around this Jesus…the living God who wants to change your life for good.

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Prayer: We touched on a number of things today. My guess is that there are people here who like to be right to the exclusion of listening. There are probably some of us here who have trouble identifying with those who don’t believe. There might be some who are unwilling to treat women with equal value. And there are some of us here that you are calling to be baptized. Father, all of these issues require humility on our part to respond in obedience. Holy Spirit we open our hearts now and invite you to come into us, fill us and change us. Make us more like Jesus. Give the courage to walk in humility. Amen.

Going Deeper: Use the following questions for reflection and/or to discuss with family, friends and/or your small group. 1. Think of a time when you felt torn between two people or two groups that differed. How did you handle it? 2. Acts tells the story of a disagreement between two respected leaders; Barnabas and Paul over a church worker (Mark). Mark (also called John) is an interesting study in the book of Acts. Follow him through these verses to form his story...
• Acts • Acts • Acts

12:12 13:1-5, 13. Why do you think Mark left them? 15: 37-39. Why wouldn't Paul have anything to do with Mark? Why do you think Barnabas was such a strong supporter? Note how the church treated the two parties. Why the difference? • Colossians 4:10. Does this give you insight into Barnabas' interest in Mark? • 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 24, 1 Peter 5:13. It is believed that Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark as Peter told him the stories. • Paul appears to have forgiven and restored Mark. Why? What does this story tell you about your potential even in the face of devastating failure? 3. Read Acts 16:1-15. How did Paul know where God wanted him to go? How do YOU know where God wants you to go? 4. Read 16:14. The first person to be reached in Europe with the gospel was a woman. God often moves in women first in the Bible. Can you think of any stories where this is true? 5. Why is it that women have not always been included in matters at church even though the Bible shows them to be central? What can we do as a church to change that? 6. The first thing believers did after putting their faith in Christ was be baptized. Review these verses;
• Acts • Acts • Acts • Acts • Acts • Acts

2:38-41 8:12 8:36-38 9:18 10:48 16:15,33
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• Acts • Acts

19:5 22:16

7. Baptism was automatic in the Bible but treated as an option today. Why is that? Have you been baptized?

Rethink Church Part 8: Infant or Believer Baptism? By Remy Diederich Cedarbrook Church 8.15.10

This summer we’ve been rethinking church. We’ve been reading through the book of Acts – which tells the story of the early church – and asking the question…what does the early church do that we don’t do? Or, what do they have that we don’t have? What can we learn from the early church to help us experience God in the same way that they did? Now, today I want to rethink something in church that I’ve never talked about before and that is infant baptism. Have you ever wondered why some churches baptize babies and some churches don’t? Let me just ask us…how many of you were baptized as infants? (Almost everyone raised their hand). And how many of you got baptized later on in life when you came to faith? (30%). How many of you did both? How many of you have baptized your infant children? (30%). And how many have dedicated your children? (20%). What about confirmation? Those of you who were infant baptized, how many of you followed through with confirmation? (almost of did). Some of you are probably pretty passionate about the topic of baptism. It’s important to you. Maybe you’ve heard a lot of teaching on it. My guess is that most of you find it mildly interesting and the rest of you could care less. It’s just not relevant to your problems that you are facing today and you are probably wondering why it matters. Who cares…right? I appreciate that. But baptism is at the heart of Acts 16 and so it’s relevant to our study. For those of you that are passionate about baptism you need to know that even though I think that baptism is important I don’t think it’s a core issue of the faith. So, if you disagree with me today…that’s not a problem. Don’t worry about it. You don’t have to defend your view or prove me wrong. I’m not out to convince you. I just want to explain things the way I see it and where Cedarbrook stands on this as a church. If you disagree then we’ll just need to agree to disagree and I’m okay with that. Now, before I get going I need to offer a little self disclosure because my past has a lot to do with how I view baptism. I was baptized as a baby by parents who didn’t have a personal faith in
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God. They had me baptized because that’s just what people did. We went to church on and off through my grade school days as a dreaded obligation. And we finally quit going to church altogether when I was ten or eleven. Can anyone relate to that? I didn’t return to church until I was nineteen. That’s when Jesus became real to me and I committed my life to following him. The new church I started to attend didn’t baptize infants. They only baptized believers. And I was fine with that. In fact, I got baptized as soon as I started attending church because I had just come to faith. But my church did more than not baptize infants. They talked about other churches that baptized infants in very negative ways. Those churches were liberal and they obviously didn’t believe the Bible. We made fun of churches like that. We were right and they were wrong. I didn’t realize it at the time but they were teaching me how to think in a very closed minded, judgmental way. They didn’t teach me to respect the hundreds of thousands of believers who had gone before us and at least consider why they thought infant baptism was a good thing. But instead we just dismissed them as fools which I think bred in me and others a spiritual arrogance. It wasn’t until I moved to Menomonie that I started to meet deeply committed Christians who were baptized as infants. I lived such a sheltered Christian life that I really didn’t think it was possible to love Jesus, believe the Bible and believe in infant baptism. But these new friends of mine proved me wrong. They loved Jesus, believed the Bible and valued infant baptism. So I had to find a new category for them. I couldn’t call them heretics anymore! So I decided to just think of them as misguided and hopefully over time they would see the light. But you know, nothing will mess with your theology more than putting a face on something that you disagree with. It’s easy to demonize a theology or an idea. It’s easy to demonize “those people”. But it’s hard to demonize someone that you love and respect. When you actually know one of “those people” it changes everything, doesn’t it? It suddenly gives you perspective. You see things in a new light. And that’s what happened to me. I found it increasingly impossible to deny or discredit infant baptism because I really respected the faith of my friends. You’ll get to meet one of them in a minute. Each one of them was a rock solid Christian who knew their Bible well. I tell you all of this because I want you to know that I didn’t come to my current position on baptism overnight. I’ve been thinking about this for years. And so I realize it might take more than 30 minutes to convince those of you that disagree with me today. Okay. That’s all background. Now, finally, I want to pick up where we left off last week in Acts, chapter 16 where we were talking about a woman by the name of Lydia. Lydia had just come to faith and was baptized. If you weren’t here last week that was really part one of my discussion on baptism. But look what it says here… …she and the members of her household were baptized,… Acts 16:15

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Now, when it says “her household was baptized” this is where people read into it the idea of infant baptism. It was very likely that in a large family with servants that there were children. So even though the Bible doesn’t explicitly talk about baptizing infants it seems to imply it here. Some people refute that but hang with me here. Let’s keep reading. Just a few verses later we see the same thing happen in the story of the jailer that comes to faith. Paul is in jail when an earthquake hits, breaks his chains and sets Paul free. The jailer is scared to death and it says… The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They replied, "Believe in the LORD Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household." Then they spoke the word of the LORD to him and to all the others in his house. …then immediately he and all his family were baptized. Acts 16:29-33 Now, the skeptic would say, it never once mentions infants being baptized. That’s pure speculation. Yes,it’s speculation but here’s something that adds some weight to the argument. We have documents of church leaders talking about infant baptism within a hundred years of the apostles. They seemed to believe in it and I don’t think they would have tolerated it if the apostles spoke against it. Not within just a hundred years or so. Origen was a bishop who lived less than 200 years after the apostles and he said… In the Church, baptism is given for the remission of sins, and, according to the usage of the Church, baptism is given even to infants. Homilies on Leviticus 8:3 The Church has received a tradition from the apostles to give baptism even to little children. Commentary on Romans, A.D. 248 You might look at this and say, but why would they baptize infants when all the examples of baptism in the Bible were adults? Well, think about it. It’s only natural for believing parents to include their children in their faith, isn’t it? I mean, what parent keeps their faith to themselves? They share it. And so I think it was only natural for parents to include their children in their baptism experience. But the key to understanding infant baptism, and this is what I missed for years…is that infant baptism can’t stand alone. It has to be married to confirmation. Infant baptism without confirmation is wishful thinking. And what I mean by confirmation is not some boring class followed by a meaningless ritual that teenagers are forced to go to. I mean that at some point in their life they make a personal faith commitment to follow Jesus. Their parents launched them spiritually but at some point they have to raise their own sail to catch the wind of the Spirit if they want to get anywhere with God and not run adrift. Now, as you follow church history infant baptism was so common that it became the standard practice among Christians. In fact, it was so standard that the church persecuted anyone who chose to get rebaptized and labeled them as heretics. They were known as Anabaptists (rebaptizers). Some of the more well known Anabaptists are the Amish, the Mennonites and the Moravians.

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But unfortunately, overtime, many of the European countries declared themselves Christian. And when that happened baptism and Christianity lost almost all of its meaning. It was no longer about a personal relationship with a living God. In those countries everyone was considered a Christian. And everyone was baptized. In fact, if you didn’t have a baptism certificate you weren’t considered a citizen. And this drove true believers nuts. And so a group of people said “Enough is enough! The Bible says ‘Believe and be baptized’. It says “repent and be baptized.” How can you believe or repent when you are just a baby? And so starting in the 1600’s a few people (John Smythe and the Puritans) started to reject infant baptism because of the extreme abuse of it. They chose to dedicate their children and encouraged their children to be baptized later on in life when they could make a personal decision to follow Jesus. And these people became known as Baptists. (Baptists weren’t a church denomination at this time. Baptists came from every denomination. It wasn’t until they immigrated to America that Baptists formed their own churches.) So, let me recap for you note takers… 1. In Acts 16 both believer and infant baptism are modeled. Believer baptism for new converts Infant baptism for children of converts Early church fathers accepted infant baptism as normative. 2. Infant baptism was the standard (not exclusive) practice for sixteen centuries until the Reformation. 3. Anabaptists (to baptize again) were considered heretics and persecuted. 4. As nations began to become “Christian”, infant baptism took on more of a political status. 5. Many believers objected to the loss of a personal faith and rejected infant baptism altogether (Baptists). 6. Baptists began to "dedicate" children to preserve baptism as a sign of a personal choice to follow Jesus. So that’s how we came up with two traditions for baptism. Now, who is right and who is wrong? My question is…does someone have to be wrong? Is it possible to honor both traditions if they are done for the right reasons? I think both traditions make sense in their own way. They are both biblical in their own way. Why not just let people choose what makes sense to them? That’s what our LEAD team has decided to do here at Cedarbrook. We have chosen to honor both traditions and that’s why we recently joined the Covenant Church (denomination) because they are one of the few denominations that support both believer and infant baptism. Now, I told you that a friend of mine got me thinking about accepting both views and I invited him to be with us today. Please welcome Jim Walker. Jim is on our LEAD team here at church. Jim shared what infant baptism has meant to him and his family. He shared the following quote to outline his view of how infant baptism starts a process that leads children to faith in Jesus.

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As we baptize our infants we, as parents, covenant with God to have faith concerning our children’s relationship with God. We also covenant with God to be faithful to teach our children about Jesus with the goal that they accept Jesus into their life to become Christ followers. Francis Schaeffer Jim also shared how he used to debate other Christians on this topic but he decided that it didn’t build relationships and that it wasn’t a major issue of faith. He referred to this verse as a better approach… Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called…Ephesians 4:2-4 On your outline I asked the question…Can we agree? Let me fill in some more blanks for you. Here are three things that hopefully both sides of the issue can agree on. 1. Neither infant nor believer baptism have power to save anyone. Every so often I meet someone who is worried about someone dying without being baptized. But we have to be careful not to treat baptism as some kind of voodoo magic warding off God’s judgment. The Bible tells us that we are saved by our faith in God’s saving mercy, not by a religious ritual. 2. Both infant and believer baptism proclaim the good news that God washes away our sin, restores us to God and gives us new life. This relationship isn’t earned but a free gift. Infant baptism looks forward to receiving this gift. Believer baptism looks back and acknowledges the receipt of this gift. 3. Infant baptism requires an authentic confirmation of a personal faith at some point. Like I said before…infant baptism doesn’t stand on its own. It’s part one of a two part process. Now, there are a lot of questions that I’d love to address but I don’t have time for this morning. That’s why I have a class tomorrow night where I’ll give you more support for why I think both traditions are valuable plus I’ll answer your questions. I realize that supporting both traditions is a little confusing. But I rather be confused trying to accept each other than be perfectly clear and reject people that don’t think like I do. Finally, in closing…let me ask something of you. I didn’t lay all this out to start an argument. If you disagree with me and our decision to honor both traditions…that’s fine. I respect your opinion and like I said, I believed what you believe for 30 years. So I get it. In fact, twenty years ago, if I would have heard a sermon like this one, I probably would have left the church…that’s how strongly I felt about infant baptism. But I hope you’ll really think about this and pray about it. I hope you’ll value the unity of the faith more than who is right and who is wrong here. We aren’t talking about Jesus or his death on the cross or his resurrection or any major tenet of the faith. We are talking about two ways of
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communicating our faith in Jesus. So my hope is that we always keep the unity of the faith in our mind as we talk about this issue or any like it for that matter. Prayer: Father, I think you have purposely left some things unclear as a challenge to unity. Anyone can declare themselves right and separate themselves. But only humble people will listen to each other with love and respect. Father might we be those who walk in humility…those who make every effort to maintain the unity of the faith. We have taken on the challenge of honoring two traditions. I pray that above all you would be honored. Amen.

Rethink Church Part 9: Are We Relevant? By Amy Burns Cedarbrook Church 8.22.10 Question for you: Have you ever invited someone to church and there you are sitting in the pew next to your friend or family member and the person up front starts using all kinds of “churchy” language that no one except church people would understand or they say something that could be perceived as really insensitive and you just cringe and sink lower in your seat wondering what your friend is thinking about church? She’s going to never come back. Or maybe you never even get that far. Maybe you’ve cringed and thought “I could never invite someone here it would just be too uncomfortable. I’ve been there a couple of times and I walk away thinking “the church has great news about the love and hope that Jesus offers but we have got to engage people and our culture in a meaningful way. A way that is relevant and doesn’t produce this “cringe factor.” This summer we’ve been doing a series called “Rethinking Church.” We’ve been using the book of Acts from the bible as our guide. Don’t worry if you haven’t been here much this summer or this is your first time. You won’t be lost as each sermon can stand alone. So, as we rethink church one of the questions that arise is: how can we engage our culture in relevant and meaningful way that doesn’t cause people to cringe. Now some of you are really invested in wanting to share about Jesus with other people and you want to invite people to church and you want to do what you can to help our church be meaningful and relevant and you’re tuned in. But there are also some people out here who are just trying to decide if they even believe the whole Jesus thing or they’re struggling to decide what having faith in God means. Talking about their faith in Jesus is not even close to being on their radar screen. And that’s fine. That’s great. I hope this sermon helps you get a handle of who CB is and why we do things the way we do and will help you process another step in your journey. Let dive into today’s story. It’s in Acts 17 and we’ll see what Paul, who was one of the apostles, teaches us about how we can meaningfully engage the culture around us. For a little background, Paul and his friend Silas had been in Thessalonica and Berea and essentially got run

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out of town for talking about Jesus. For safety reasons Paul heads to Athens and goes to wait there for his friends to join him. This is where pick up the story. Acts 17:16 While Paul was waiting for them (Silas and Timothy) in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. Let’s stop here and get a picture. Paul has some time on his hands so he starts walking around Athens to get a feel of the city and he sees idols everywhere. These idols are statues made of wood or stone that are build to honor their gods. If you remember your Greek mythology from high school you will remember names like Zeus, Apollo, Aphrodite, Hermes and Artemis. And the list goes on and on. In fact, one source states there were more than 30,000 idols of their gods in Athens. One writer said, “It is easier to find a god in Athens than a man.” Now, the phrase “full of idols” could be translated as “completely given over to idol worship.” And when we read that Paul was greatly distressed it conotates a gut-wrenching sadness and anger combined. He is walking around seeing all these idols to false gods and he is overwhelmed with gutwrenching anguish that the Athenians don’t know the one true god who loves them. And he feels anger that the worship that should go to God is going to all these false idols and false gods. Some of you may relate to Paul’s feelings. Have you ever had a family member or a friend go down a destructive road in their life? Maybe they’re a workaholic and it’s destroying their family. Maybe they’ve gotten into a bad relationship. Whatever it is you feel this gut-wrenching anguish for them. You so badly want them to see that there is more to life than what they’re living. This is where Paul is at emotionally. At this point it’s interesting to pause and ask yourself, “If I were in Paul’s shoes what would I do next?” You’re angry and saddened by how ungodly the culture you find yourself in is. I find what he does very compelling as we are “rethinking church” this summer. Act 17:17 -22 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the god-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the areopagus where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.) The first thing Paul does is so simple but very profound. 1. Paul went where the people are. Verse 17 tells us first Paul went to the synagogue to talk with the Jews of which Paul was one so it was very comfortable for him. But then the verse says Paul “as well (went to) the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.” Years ago I was at the Pike Place Market in Seattle. One of the coolest places ever. There was a slice of every walk of life represented. There were all kinds of food vendors with fresh produce and fresh fish. There were fresh flowers
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being sold. There were random street performers and musicians all over. People everywhere enjoying the atmosphere, talking, drinking coffee, shopping, etc… For you coffee drinkers, the original Starbucks there in Seattle. It’s this type of atmosphere that Paul heads to engage the culture. In Athens the big thing to do was to set up your box and start talking to anyone who would listen about your thoughts and the philosophy of life you believed in. Now think about this for a minute. Paul was “distressed” about the idol worship he found in Athens. Have you ever heard people talk about how distressed they are about our present day society? The drugs, the high divorce rate, lack of “family values,” the poor schools and on and on. Have you noticed that the default for most people when they are upset about something in their society is to gather in their comfortable group of friends or even their church and grumble about how horrible everything is “out there.” They stay in their safe cocoon and complain about how the ungodly everything is but that is as far as they get. They don’t seek to solve the problem, they just complain about it. Paul could have stayed in the synagogue and complained about how horrible Athens was. But instead he went out “day by day” into the marketplace. We can stay in our cozy church circle and grumble about how horrible the world is. Or we can get out of our church and meet people where they’re at and start meeting some of the needs around us. At Cedarbrook we have tried to do this by going to New Orleans to help a treatment center for addicts build the facility they need. We’ve tried to do this by spending less for Christmas and giving that money to a community in Honduras so they can have a well with clean water for the first time. Our mom’s group craved out a few hours on a Sat. afternoon to go clean and organized the children’s playroom at the Bridge to Hope which is a safe house for women and children escaping domestic abuse. As we rethink church, we need to realize we are not called to wait around for people to come to our building before we tell them the good news about god; we are called to go and meet people where they are at and start helping to meet the needs of those around us. So Paul went to the marketplace and that’s a huge first step. But next we need to look carefully at what Paul said. Remember, he’s distressed; he’s saddened, he’s angry about the idol worship. If you didn’t know the story and if you’ve had a bad experience with the church before you might assume that Paul stood on his soap box and just let the people have it. You might imagine him saying “You crazy, arrogant fools! You are such sinners and are so wrong. God want’s nothing to do with you.” Have you ever felt like the modern day church has come across like that? Maybe you’ve experienced this personally. I have seen Christians say such hurtful things that you ask yourself, why would I want to be part of a group of people like that? As I was doing some research for this sermon I came across a quote that said, “You can not insult a person into the kingdom of God.” Unfortunately as Christians I think we’ve been guilty of trying that at times. But let’s look at what Paul’s words are when he gets a chance to speak to some of the leaders in Athens. In verse 22 Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: To an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” This is brilliant. Paul finds
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2. Common ground. Paul doesn’t lash out in anger at them for not getting it right. Instead he finds what they have in common and he affirms that. He says “hey, I’ve been walking around here and I see that you guys are religious.” Or another word for religious in this text is devoted. “I see that you are devoted and that you worship. I’m devoted and I worship as well.” There’s a definite difference between the Athenians and Paul and what they are devoted to, but Paul first builds on what’s common between them. Here’s something important. In order to find commonality you have to study the people around you. You have to spend time looking for, searching for and studying about what is important to the people you want to impact. Verse 23 says that Paul walked around and looked carefully… He valued these people enough to take his time and carefully look at what was important to them. It’s like if someone came to Menomonie and said “This week I visited the Farmer’s Market, I shopped in the businesses downtown, I spent time boating on Lake Menomin and was grossed out by all the algae. Then I went to Jakes to listen to music and later got a drink at the Log Jam. Now let me tell you what I learned about your town.” We would probably listen because this person took some time to get know about Menomonie. Paul did the same thing in Athens. And it was through his careful looking that he found his commonality with them. He discovered they were very religious and devoted to their gods. Through his careful search he found that they had an alter dedicated to An unknown God. They were so worried about missing a god that was out there and making that unknown god angry that they built alters to this unknown god. And this is where Paul found his connecting point. Paul says at the end of verse 23 “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” “Hey,” says Paul, “we both worship. And the unknown God you have an alter for. I know who he is! Let me tell you about him!” Paul had their undivided attention at this point. They are all ears because he had taken the time to search for their common ground and that search led him to a question they had (who’s the unknown god?) And Paul was able to share the answer. This has implications both corporately as a church and how our church engages our community; as well as individually and how we engage people in our sphere of influence. I believe that God will always show us a connecting point with others if we are truly looking for it. If we come up with our own agenda “save” someone it rarely works. But if we take the time to listen and observe and value those around us we will eventually see how we can share our faith in a relevant way. So we see that Paul went where the people are. He found common ground with them that allowed him to find a connecting point. And finally we see that Paul 3. Chose an appropriate method. To understand this let’s go back a couple of chapters. In Acts chapter 13 Paul is in a synagogue and he is asked to speak. Now I’m not going to read the whole speech to you, but let me tell you about it. He first reviews the Jewish history regarding Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt. He reminds them about wandering for 40 years in the desert. He reminds them about the land of Canaan God gave them. This is all stuff good Jewish people would know about and remember. Paul then goes on to quote some of the Jewish prophets and show how Jesus fulfilled the prophetic messages regarding the Messiah. He used the Torah which is the Jewish bible to
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reason with them about why he believed Jesus was the Messiah. How do you think it would go over if he used the same arguments when speaking to the Athenians who knew nothing of the Torah or Jewish history? It would go over like a bag of bricks. The Jewish bible meant nothing to the Greeks. Paul had to know his audience and choose the best method. This is something I have to do all the time at my job. I’m a Physician Assistant at the Red Cedar Medical Center. I have to decide everyday who my audience is when I choose how to explain a medical problem. For example, I while ago I saw a patient who needed to have her gallbladder taken out. When she came in to see me she was running a fever and had abdominal pain. So I do a work-up with blood work and an ultrasound of her belly. At this point I made the diagnosis of gallbladder disease. Now there are two people I need to talk to at this point. I need to call the surgeon and let him know about this patient. And I need to explain to the patient what their diagnosis was. These are two very different conversations. My conversation with the surgeon goes like this: “Dr. so and so, I have a 45 year old female who presents with right upper quadrant pain. Abdominal exam is positive for rebound and guarding. CBC shows an elevated white count with a left shift. Amylase and lipase are negative. LFT’s were neg. However a US shows a stone stuck in the gallbladder neck and significant wall thickening.” If you are a medical person you know exactly what I’m talking about because we share a common language and medical understanding. If you are completely non-medical I just spoke a bunch of gibberish to you. And to my patient I had to describe their condition in language that would make sense to them. Paul was in the same situation. He used different methods in different situations. To the Jews he reasons with them from their own book and speaks to them from a common understanding of Jewish history. To the Greeks Paul uses a completely different method. He finds their idol to an unknown god and then says “let me tell you about that god.” Let’s read a little bit about what Paul told them. Vs 24 the God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. These are very broad statements regarding God. Paul starts with broad, big thoughts about God and then goes on… Vs 26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. Notice there’s no Jewish history, no Jewish prophets being quoted… God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. Now listen to this…Paul gives 2 quotes from their own poets… ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

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Paul uses their own poetry, their own philosophy to make his point regarding who God is. Paul eventually goes on to narrow his thoughts to Jesus and to the resurrection of Jesus. Do you see the difference in method? Same message. It is God who gives us our life and breath and God shows us personally who he is through Jesus. Same message, but a different method. At Cedarbrook we are committed to using whatever method is needed to pave the way for someone to experience God and find the hope, healing and fulfillment that a relationship with Jesus brings. We live in Midwest, farmland America. If Remy suddenly grew out his hair and showed up in dreadlocks and baggy pants there are some here who might think “what a freak!” And not come back. As much as I would like to see Remy in dreadlocks and baggy pants it may not go over as well in rural WI as it would in downtown Chicago. Seriously though, Cedarbrook is very intentional about our method. We have chosen a particular style of music for our worship on Sundays that is more familiar to the younger generation of people that come here. We have been intentional about a causal atmosphere on Sundays. Notice all the shorts and jeans people are wearing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Remy with a tie on. This purposeful because we don’t want a “dress code” to be a wall that keeps someone from hearing about the love of God. You will notice that our service is very non-liturgical. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with liturgy, it’s very meaningful to many people. But we have so many people at CB who experienced liturgy in a non-meaningful way that we them to experience God in a way that is fresh and alive and without past baggage attached. Part of “method” goes back to studying your culture. What we do at CB won’t be effective at every church. Churches with different demographics, churches in inner cities, churches in other countries may wisely choose completely different methods that what we do. The method is simply about removing any barriers or walls that would keep people from hearing the message about God’s love. I want to close with a couple of thoughts. Just like Paul, CB is committed to sharing about the love of God and the hope that comes through Jesus. And we try to be very conscious about going out and meeting people where they are at, finding common ground and using a relevant method. But ultimately it is the spirit of God himself that draws people to him. Paul said that God is the creator and that God is the one that gives people “life and breath and everything else.” Whether you acknowledge it or not, your life and breath comes from God himself. And God did this, as verse 27 says …So that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him… If you have ever like God is distant and far from you, then the best part of this verse is at the end. … men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though (God) is not far from each one of us.

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He is not far. He is close. I encourage you to keep seeking God and reaching out to him. Because He is close to you and he desires a relationship with you. Maybe today’s the day you find Him.

Rethinking Church It’s Not About Religion. It’s About the Power of God. By Remy Diederich Cedarbrook Church 9.5.10 Welcome to Cedarbrook! Next week I’m going to start a three week series called MOVEMENT: Connect, Grow, Serve. You might recognize those three words from the tag line in our logo. If you are new to Cedarbrook it will be a good way to learn more about what this church is all about. You see, our goal as a church isn’t to give you something to do on Sunday morning. We’re not here to entertain you. We have an agenda and that is we want to help you move from where you are today to looking more like Jesus. And we believe that you look most like Jesus when you are humbly serving others. Imagine a church full of people that looked like Jesus! That’s what Jesus planned on when he left and sent his spirit into his believers. I think that’s the kind of church that the world is waiting for. So, I hope you’ll be here for that series starting next week. Now today I want to finish my summer series. You can open up your Bible to Acts 16. We’ve been rethinking church by reading through the book of Acts. And we’ve learned a number of things. We learned that the church isn’t just for insiders…that is long time Christians; people who know their Bible from cover to cover and know how to pray and know how to do everything in church. The church is also for people who are seeking God and don’t know the first thing about God or church or the Bible or prayer. It’s for people that feel awkward in a meeting like this but they are here because they want to know God. I talked quite a bit about how to be a place for both kinds of people. Plus we learned that the church is not about religion. It’s not about going to a building and performing rituals to keep God happy for one more week. It’s more about people being transformed by the power of God and then being used by God to help impact others for good. In fact that’s what we are going to see today. Our story today shows us four people that were transformed when they encountered God in a very real way. So let’s take a look at our first person. Luke continues his story about Paul and his band of disciples as they traveled through Greece… Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. Acts 16:16 So, this woman was a fortune teller but she was also a slave which meant that all the money she made telling fortunes was for her owner. We still have fortune tellers today don’t we? We call them psychics or palm readers. We’ve got Ouija boards and horoscopes.
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What’s interesting here is that Luke doesn’t deny the fact that this woman is able to predict the future. He doesn’t scoff or make fun of her. He doesn’t refer to her as some kind of quack. He seems to believe she really can tell the future. But did you notice how she does it? He said that she had a spirit that enabled her to tell the future. In other words… she had a demonic spirit that gave her this ability. I don’t want to take a lot of time to talk about this but I do want to warn you about dabbling in fortune telling. Many Christians think it is harmless to call the Psychic hotline or go to a palm reader. They think it’s funny. They might even think that God uses it to speak to them. But they are playing with fire and they might end up attracting more evil into their life than good. Trust me, you don’t want to get involved with something that has demonic spirits attached to it. There’s a dark world out there and it plays for keeps. This story tells us that not everything that is true is necessarily good. You see, she predicted the future. She was accurate. But just because she was able to tell the future doesn’t mean that what she was doing was good. I mean, if there’s a demonic spirit behind it…it can’t be good. In fact, in this story, we can see the evil surrounding her fortunetelling. As long as she was accurate she was worth some money. And as long as she was worth some money she would remain a slave; a slave to her owners and a slave to the spirit inside of her. You see that’s what the devil does to people. His mission is to enslave us. And he’ll do it any way he can, even by giving someone the ability to tell the future. Let’s keep reading… She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved." She kept this up for many days. Acts 16:17,18 Again, she’s accurate here. She’s telling the truth. Paul was a servant of God telling people how to be saved. But Paul didn’t like how she was saying it. Something was off. He could sense in his spirit that there was something wrong with her. Her motives weren’t pure. She wasn’t there to support Paul. The spirit in her was really mocking him. That’s why it says… Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, "In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!" At that moment the spirit left her. Acts 16:18 Can you imagine being that woman? She had been used by the spirit and her owners at her expense. She had lost control of her life years ago. Her life had been taken over by a force that she couldn’t control but then with just a few words she was free. The name of Jesus set her free. You see religion can’t do that. That’s the power of God. That’s the power of the name of Jesus. And that’s the effect that the church should have on people when they encounter us. People shouldn’t be bored by church. They should be transformed by church. Our message should be so clear and compelling and full of Jesus that we shouldn’t be surprised when a life is changed. We should be surprised when people stay the same.
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Well let’s keep tracking this story. So what do you think happened? Is everyone happy to see this woman set free? I’m sure the disciples were and this woman was. But I think most people are happy with your religion only as long as it doesn’t impact their cash flow… When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. They brought them before the magistrates and said, "These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice." The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. Acts 16:19-24 Can you imagine being Paul and Silas? One minute you are going to a prayer meeting and the next minute you are beaten and thrown in jail. You know, unfortunately, doing the right thing doesn’t always bring a blessing. Sometimes doing the right thing gets you in trouble. That’s probably why Paul took so long to confront the spirit in the woman. He knew what would happen to him. He knew that people would be upset. But the Holy Spirit inside of Paul led him to confront the evil spirit in this woman. Paul and Silas knew it would mean trouble but they trusted God. They were willing to die for the ministry of Jesus if that’s what happened. Listen to how they handled their imprisonment. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Acts 16:25 The prisoners were listening to them. Do you know that people are listening to you too? They listen to what you say about God and church and faith. And they listen to what you say when things go wrong in your life. They want to know how your faith plays out for you when times are tough. They want to see if you faith is real or if it’s just for show. For Paul and Silas, there was no difference between their words and their behavior. They trusted God in the good times and in the bad times. Imagine your back being ripped open, blood running all over and you are sitting in a disgusting dung filled jail cell with your feet in shackles…at midnight no less. Is prayer and singing hymns the first thing that comes to your mind? I mean, how could these guys respond with praise at a time like that? A lot of people would get mad at God for letting that happen to them. They’d complain to God and say, How can you do this to me? I went to church. I prayed. I read my Bible. This isn’t fair! They’d feel abandoned by God and even quit their faith. So, is this just some kind of schmaltzy Bible story…something made up just to make these guys look good…or did they actually have something going for them that we often don’t? Well, I think these guys were the real deal. They really praised God at midnight. I just wonder what hymns they were singing. I’ve been reading through the Psalms lately and when I came
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across Psalm 46 I immediately thought of Paul and Silas and I thought, I bet this is one of the hymns he was singing that night in jail. We don’t know the music but we know the words… God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. Psalm 46:1-4 God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come and see what the LORD has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. Psalm 46:5-8 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Psalm 46:9-11 You see, this is more than a song. This is a world view. This is a lens through which Paul and Silas viewed the world. The Almighty God was their strength and He always had the last word. You can’t always choose your circumstances but you can always choose how you view your circumstances. And when you look at life through this lens you can survive the worst of situations. I like what it says about the river. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God. This river is an image that runs throughout the Bible. In fact we even put it into our logo. It’s the river of life that sustains us. Psalm 1 compares the godly to a tree planted by this river… They are like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither-- whatever they do prospers. Psalm 1:3 I think this stream, this river, symbolizes the Spirit of God that lives inside of the followers of Jesus and sustains us. It’s our source of strength even when we feel totally overcome by our circumstances. Singing this song gave Paul and Silas the confidence they needed to stand strong. It reminded them that their future didn’t rest on their power but on God’s. You see, prayers and hymns might seem religious but not in jail at midnight. When you are able to sing hymns in jail at midnight with your back ripped open God has infused you with a power way beyond yourself. Some of you might be in a similar place this morning. You might be in so deep that you don’t think there’s any way out. But if that’s true then you don’t need religion. Just coming to church for sixty minutes won’t change your life. Don’t kid yourself. You need the power of God in your life. You need Jesus to infuse you with his life. So don’t leave here today without inviting him to fill your life. God is your ever present help in a time of trouble. So don’t leave this place without making that connection.

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Well there is still one more God encounter in this story. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone's chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, "Don't harm yourself ! We are all here!" The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" Isn’t it interesting how people often have to be in crisis before they ask that question? As long as everything is going fine they don’t want to know about God. But the minute their life is threatened, the minute their finances start to tank, the minute their relationship starts to crumble suddenly God becomes relevant. Aren’t you glad that God isn’t easily offended? Aren’t you glad that he doesn’t say, Sorry, you weren’t interested in me when times were good. I don’t think I’m interested in you now that times are bad. No, God isn’t like that. His door is always open. So Paul and Silas tells the jailer… Believe in the LORD Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household. Acts 16: 2631 Do you see how simple this is? We make connecting with God way too complicated sometimes. Paul doesn’t hand the guy a manual with a long list of rules and regulations to keep. He said, if you want God in your life then believe in Jesus. Believe that God loved you so much that he came into the world to save you. He’s not talking about just an intellectual belief like believing in Mars or Venus. I believe that other planets exist but my life doesn’t depend on it. Paul tells the jailer to put his trust in Jesus. Rely on him. Put Jesus at the center of your life and depend on him …and you will be saved. And not just in the next life. You will be saved in this life. You will be saved from a hopeless worldview that depends on your personal performance to save you. And look what happens here. Then they spoke the word of the LORD to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God--he and his whole household. Acts 16:32-34 I love that. He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God. You see, he was looking at life through a new lens. He wasn’t living in fear because he knew that God was for him and not against him. You see, religion can’t give you that kind of joy. That’s the power of God. If you haven’t put your trust in Jesus, today might be the day. Why wait for a crisis when you can start living a joy filled life today?

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So, as I close out our time of rethinking church…I want you to remember that this is the kind of impact that the church should have on people. We shouldn’t be boring people. We should never be irrelevant. We should never be exclusive or judgmental. Our message should be so compelling, so full of Jesus and the power of God that it’s nothing less than life changing. That’s what this world needs. That’s what this world is looking for. If you want God to touch you in a life-changing way like he touched our four people today then I want to pray for you. Prayer: Father, there may be people here today that are in just as much bondage as the people that we read about today. Thank you that the Bible tells us that you are the same yesterday, today and forever. Might they find you in their weakness. Might you prove to them that you are a very present help in a time of trouble. Be their fortress. Might they sink their roots deep into your river and find the strength that they need. Fill them with your Spirit and might they know that they know that they’ve encountered the living God.

Going Deeper: Use the following questions for personal reflection or to discuss with your family, friends and/or small group. 1. 2. 3. In your church experience have you seen people set free? Or just get religious? Or worse? Read Acts 16:11-15. Where is Paul and what happened before the jailer experience? Read Acts 16:16-18. Do you have any personal experience with fortune telling? (palm reading, ouiji board, horoscopes, psychics). What was that like? Were they accurate? What does our story in Acts suggest in regard to fortune telling's ability to be accurate? If fortune telling can be accurate then what is wrong with it? Paul confronted the demonic spirit in the woman. Have you ever encountered something that you consider demonic? Describe that. Paul didn’t miss a beat in dealing with the spirit. What gave him such authority? Why do you think he felt the need to confront the spirit rather than continue to ignore it. Are there situations in your life where falsehood needs confronting? People are often fine with the message of Jesus until what happens? (v19) Read Acts 16:20-25. What enabled Paul and Silas to praise God at midnight in their condition? What will it take for you to do the same thing? Read Psalm 46. How might this help? Read Acts 16:26-34. How did Jesus impact this family’s life? Is there anything in this story that might help add joy to your own life?

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