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Before I begin the sermon I want to share with you an experiment that I’d like to try, and I’d like to see if you would do this experiment with me. How many of you would be willing to do a Bible Study in your home in your pajamas that is an outreach? Yesterday six of us were at a leadership workshop in Golden Valley. One of the ideas we explored is how ministry is different in 2012 because we are in a digital age. I want to try an digital experiment. I had this idea before the workshop, and the workshop confirmed that this was an idea worth trying I would like us to do a Bible Study on Facebook for the next four weeks. This is how it works. For the next four weeks weeks I’m going to encourage us to read one chapter of Luke each day. Reading a chapter of Luke each day has nothing to do with Facebook. Luke is my favorite gospel. I believe that Luke is the easiest gospel to understand. It’s a marvelous story of how Luke saw Jesus. Luke saw Jesus as someone who went out of his way to share the extravagant love of God with the outcasts of society. Many people throughout history have come to know God and to know God at a deeper level through their reading of Luke. I’d like a group of us—preferably the entire congregation—to read Luke. Reading Luke has nothing to do with the digital age. That’s powerful by itself. Here is where it gets digital. As part of this experiment I’m going to share the reading and the devotional questions on the Chain of Lakes Facebook page. What will happen is each day I will post a chapter of Luke on the Facebook page and I will post the devotional reading. At the end of the devotional reading is a
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simple question. Your task is to read the chapter, read the devotion, and post a response to the question on our Facebook page. SLIDE We have a Facebook page—it looks like this. I think we’re up to about 110 people
who have liked the page. What this means is we have 110 people who see Chain of Lakes whenever something is posted on the page. A lot of these 110 people are folks who live in the north Metro and are not part of Chain of Lakes. When they see activity on our page they will become even more aware of Chain of Lakes SLIDE This is the reading for tomorrow. I’ve already posted it. The experiment is to see if we can get some conversation going on the devotion. Let’s take tomorrow’s reading for example. In the first chapter of Luke Mary, the mother of Jesus, shared a prayer of praise. It’s called the Magnificat. I asked people to share a quality of God for which you praise God. That’s all you have to do. Besides generating conversation our Facebook posts will get attention from everyone’s Facebook page. When you make a comment all of your Facebook friends will come into contact with Chain of Lakes. You are practicing evangelism by writing a post. I understand that not everyone uses Facebook and some people believe that Facebook is a big waste of time. I told Hannah that I wished she would spend as much time reading as she does on Facebook. Facebook is only a tool to share our message. One of the Core Values is Relevance. Jesus successfully communicated his message by using examples and symbols of first century culture. We will be open to using examples and symbols of our culture to communicate Jesus’ message.
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Who thinks they could participate in this experiment? Read a chapter from Luke, read the devotion, share a response to a question. Preferably do this each day, but if you miss a day we understand. The activity we generate will create a buzz.
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Today is the final Sunday of a three week sermon series called “Essentials.” In these three weeks I’m sharing the Essentials of the New Testament and showing how they relate to our life in 2012. The first week I shared an overview of the New Testament; last week I shared the essentials of the gospels—how we have one message shared in four stories or gospels. Today I’m going to look at the essentials Letters.
The letters make up the largest part of the New Testament—there are 22 letters. The letters have been misinterpreted more than any other part of the Bible. I believe the way the letters have been misinterpreted have caused many people to distrust the Bible. Let me give you two examples of in my own life of how the letters are misinterpreted. The first story is about my Grandmother Moore. I’ve told a few stories about her before. She was a farm wife all her life and towards the end of her life she came to spend a couple weeks with me when I was serving as the pastor in Plainview, the church I served before I came here. We had a wonderful time together. The two of us went to visit many of the farm wives in Plainview and they all got along great. One of the qualities that I loved about my Grandmother is we could disagree with each other and still love each other. During this visit we had an argument about a passage of Scripture in the letters of the New Testament. The passage is this: SLIDE For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day; so that we might not burden any of you. 2 Thessalonians 3:7-8 Here is the passage where we argued SLIDE
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For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 One night she shared that she had a hard time giving food to people who were unwilling to work. She believed that the Bible taught that if a person wouldn’t work they shouldn’t receive food. Her circle of older women at the 1st Presbyterian church in Ringsted, Iowa came to believe this. My Grandmother and I got into an argument. I disagreed with her interpretation. I told my Grandmother that she was missing the context of this letter. Thessalonians was written to a group of people who were expecting Jesus to return. People were not working because they expected Jesus to return at any moment. So Paul was making a statement about people who were using Jesus’ return as an excuse not to work. He wasn’t making a universal statement that we should follow for all time on how to treat people who don’t work. Then I went on to talk about Jesus. I told my her to look at the story of the feeding of the 5,000. Surely some of those people weren’t working at the time. Jesus went out of his way to feed them. Then I asked my Grandmother if she had developed her opinion because she had grown up in the Depression. She remembered a time when people didn’t eat. Because of her experience of the Depression she was a very frugal person. I pointed out that her belief about people needing to work to receive food probably had more to do with that experience than what the Bible was teaching. And the fact that my Grandmother had no tolerance for people who were lazy. All my pleadings didn’t make a difference with my Grandma. The Bible says it and that is how it is. One more story of how the Letters can be taken out of context. At the church I previously served we had an old building. It had been constructed in the 50’s and it wasn’t serving the congregation well. We knew we needed to do something. We had developed a strong children
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and youth ministry. The congregation wanted to do something with the building in order so that we could expand our kids ministry. It was an exciting time. One of our families who had come to the church believed that the church should not take on any debt for the project. This family was adamant about their belief. Their belief came from one passage from the Letters: SLIDE “Owe no one anything except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:8 This family believe that people should not take on any debt because of this passage in the bible. Not only that but the family believed that the church should not take on any debt as we entered the building project. This family was doing the same thing that my Grandmother was doing. They were taking a passage in the letters and making an universal application. The family wasn’t looking at the larger context of the passage. They didn’t notice that Paul had asked the question—what do we owe one another. Paul went on to say that the only thing we we each other is love. This is our obligation to each other. We were obligated to love each other. This comes right from Jesus—love your neighbor as you love yourself. Paul went on to say that this love is the fulfillment of the law and the 10 commandments. Paul wasn’t making a statement about a financial obligation—he was talking about the moral obligation we have to each other. Because of this family’s concern many of us in the congregation spent an entire Saturday morning going through what the Bible says about debt and taking on debt. Any good financial planner will encourage people to limit debt. They wilt tell us we shouldn’t take on credit card debt that we can’t pay off. We shouldn’t take on a house loan or a car loan unless we are confident we can pay it off. Limiting our debt makes good financial sense. I
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understand that the issue of taking on debt is an important issue for many of us in the north Metro. Some families have had to leave their houses or are stuck in their houses because of debt. It makes good financial sense to limit our debt. The Bible never taught us not to take on debt. What happens is we can take a few verses of the letters out of context and make a universal application. The Bible can be used to bolster our own ideas and beliefs. What often happens is instead of listening to the Scriptures and asking the Holy Spirit to teach us, we use the Bible to justify our own beliefs. This is very sad because the letters of the New Testament share deeply rich and powerful teachings. The letters can help us become mature disciples who make an impact on the world. The key question is how do we apply these letters to our life. This is the essential point that I want to communicate today. If we could understand each of the 22 letters as a story and then when we can make connections between the story of the letter and our own individual story then the Bible will become alive to us. These letters really are stories. We have to see them as stories and not as regulations that control our life. When we see the letters as regulations we’re going to look for the regulations that fit into our own world view. Let me tell you a story about a man by the name of Paul. We know him as the apostle Paul. Paul was born in the year 10 in the village of Tarsus. He was a Jew, was well-educated. He was born with the name of Saul—the same name as the very first king of Israel. Saul came from the tribe of Benjamin. As an adult Saul grew up he persecuted Christians. In one place in Acts we read this about Saul:
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SLIDE Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison Acts 8:3 Some people believe that Saul was instrumental in having Stephen killed. One day Saul was walking to Damascus with the intent of persecuting Christians in Damascus. He was blinded by a light. “Saul, Saul,: a voice said, “Why are you persecuting me?” Saul fell to the ground. The voice went on, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting.” Saul was told to go into Damascus and he would be told what to do. The people who were traveling with Saul took Saul into the City. Saul couldn’t see and for three days he didn’t eat or drink. Eventually a man by the name of Ananias found Saul. Ananias layed his hands on Saul and prayed that Saul would be filled with the Holy Spirit. Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit. He was baptized. Saul went into the synagogue at Damascus and proclaimed that Jesus was the Son of God and that Jesus had been raised from the dead. People were amazed and confused because this was the man who had persecuted Christians. Eventually he changed his name to Paul. Paul became one of the most successful new church developers in the history of the world. What happened is he would travel into a village and start preaching that Jesus had been raised from the dead. A community would form around him. This community would be known as a church. Paul would try to set up the leadership of the church. After a certain amount of time in the village he would leave. His heart with stay with them. Often Paul would get asked by the people in the church about an issue that the people were experiencing. Paul would respond to these requests by writing a letter and having that letter sent to the community.
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In the letter he would give advice to the people about how they should handle a situation; he would tell them more about Jesus and faith; and he would encourage them. The letters were very powerful and they would be passed on to other communities. People in these other communities would learn from them and they would apply them to their own situation. Each of these 22 letters has a story. Most of the stories can be found in Acts. Today Mary Ann read a bit from the letter to the Thessalonians. I don’t know how many of us have read the letter to the Thessalonians. Most people have a hard time just saying the word “Thessalonians.” Thessalonians often is about the pronunciation of a word. Right away it becomes this book of the Bible that is intimidating. It doesn’t need to be intimidating. It’s just a story. The story of behind the start of this community is in Acts 17. Paul and Silas came to the village of Thessalonica. And as he did Paul went into the synagogue. He made the case with all of his rhetorical skills that Jesus was the Messiah. Some of the people were persuaded. Some of the people from the synagogue were not persuaged. These Jews were jealous of Paul. So with a group of ruffians they formed a mob. They wanted to beat Paul. They started a house by house search for Paul. The mob went to a house by the name of Jason. When they didn’t find Paul or Silas in the house they dragged Jason to the city authorities. They told the city authorities—this man has housed the people who have turned the world upside down. They should be beaten. The people were rightfully scared for Paul. They told Paul and Silas that very night to leave Thessalonika and the two did. Paul and Silas left the village. Isn’t that an amazing story?
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With that background I think we can have a more complete understanding of this letter that is called First Thessalonians. It’s a letter written by a man who was turning the world upseid down. Because of his work at starting a new church he was intensely persecuted. This is a great story. The essential part of applying the letters to our own life is to learn the story of the letter. Now we know the story—how do we apply it. You know how it’s relevant for us. It takes a lot of courage and faith to start a church. Today we’re going to vote on supporting the work of the Property Purchase Task Force. On Thursday the Blaine City Council will vote on the conditional use permit. If this all takes place and everything goes smoothly in the closing the property will be ours to use starting July 1. Why would you buy this large piece of property when you have such a small church. Let’s go back to the story of Thessalonians. It takes a lot of faith and courage to start a church. Even though we are small today, we don’t think that God wants us to be a small church. God has already made an impact on many people’s lives who have come to Chain of Lakes. Maybe God is telling us that we are going to be a church of transformation—that is a community where people experience transformation in their lives. That’s already happened. If that keeps happening, people are going to come to our congregation. They are going to want to experience what you’ve experienced. That’s why we’re buying a large piece of property for a small group of people. We anticipate that people’s lives are going to continue to be changed. We believe that it’s going to take place on that property. It takes courage to start a church. Just as it take courage for Paul to go into the village of Thessalonica and risk his life to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.
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