Seek Wisdom and Revelation (Ephesians 1:15-23)
Sunday, October 11, 2015
Are all churches the same?
Is each church unique?
I believe the latter. Each church has an identity. The church building factors in this identity, but it is the people who comprise the congregation that set a particular church’s culture and define an individual faith community’s character. Today we begin a 7-week project. We will seek the specific call of God for HillSong.
Our core identity is built on three principles. We believe church is to be a safe place where people meet Jesus and are made new, and upon being made new are then sent into the world in Jesus’ name. Remember those three words – Safe, New, Sent.
We constantly strive for spiritual and emotional safety because Jesus was safe for the most vulnerable of people. Those with diseases and disabilities were viewed as people under God’s curse. They were called unclean. They were pushed to the far margins of society, denied participation in the community. Tax collectors, prostitutes, shepherds, and leather workers – these were all outsiders. Shepherds and tanners were unclean because of the nature of their professions, even though both werere needed by society.
Others were unclean and unacceptable because of their sins. Everyone - the sick, the sinners and the outcasts – all were welcomed and loved by Jesus.
If he was safe for people, then his body, his church should be a safe place. We are to be a community where it is safe to explore Christianity. It should be OK if someone doesn’t know the words to “Amazing Grace.” This is a safe place to not know. This is a safe place to cry. Emotional pain, can break a person. This is a safe place to be broken. This is a safe place to ask questions and acknowledge doubts. Or to propose new ideas.
We are far from perfect in this. Maybe you have had an experience where you felt this church was not safe for you. Maybe you have felt I was not a safe person to approach or to speak with openly. We have to constantly strive to be a safe place.
The second word, New, is about meeting Jesus. This is the part of our construct that is out of our control. We cannot make anyone new. We can set conditions so that people may meet the Holy Spirit in this place. But actually being made new is something the Holy Spirit does in us. This is God acting at God’s initiative, on God’s timetable. Our worship, our groups, and the entire atmosphere is intended to help people meet God. God will take care of the new birth, the transformation. We try to foster the setting in which this can happen.
Third, having found welcome and refuge in the family of God, and having met Jesus and become new creations as a result of the encounter, we are sent into the world to announce that Jesus is Lord and that all people can have life in His name. We are sent each week to be witnesses in the communities of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham, Raleigh, and Hillsboro. Some are sent from here on trips to faraway places. Some receive the commissioning prayer as they move out of our town. In those cases, we say goodbye with our arms open in love, not knowing when we’ll see them again.
We all need a safe place because sin dictates that there is brokenness in the lives of every one of us. We all need to become new creations in Christ. And everyone who is His is then sent to give testimony to His salvation.
The third portion of this vision for church – “Sent” – is a joy, but our enemies, Satan, sin, and death can use the greatest gifts of God against us. Read Luke chapter 4. The devil tried to tempt Jesus by quoting something beautiful, passages of scripture. Look at Mark chapter 10. Two of the inner of circle of disciples, James and John, let sin – their own lust for power – take their eyes off of Jesus and His mission. Read the Gospel accounts of Peter’s denial of Jesus. His fear of death led him down a path in which he not only abandoned the Lord. He denied Jesus, his rabbi. Satan, sin, and death; these enemies of God conspire to attack the Almighty by hurting us.
Midway through 2014 up through this past summer, we did the “sending prayer,” a lot. Well over a dozen people who were core HillSong members, people who made our ministries run, moved on. Each time, we laid on hands and joyfully expressed our love and tearfully said our goodbyes. And we held tightly to our vision of Safe-New-Sent. However, by Easter of this year, a spiritual enemy was speaking loudly to my spirit.
“Hey Pastor Rob! You’ve lost a lot of people.”
My response. This is part of our vision. We know will say goodbye. We are in a place where people come, stay for a few years, get a degree and then move one. We as a congregation embrace that. We thank God we can walk with people for a few years, love them and be a home for them while they are here and then send them on with our blessing. That is who we are.
My enemy’s response. “Keep telling yourself that, Pastor Rob. You can’t sustain a vision like that. It won’t hold up.”
I said back, listen, this church has maintained this reality long before I came. I just put words together to describe God’s work here.
My enemy: “Sure. But now you’re here and you’re a hindrance. Take a look around. You’re not getting new people to fill in the void left by those who’ve moved away. And, in case you haven’t been paying attention, not everyone who is leaving is a recent graduate. You’re losing people hand over fist. Churches all over America are in decline and you are no different.”
This tortured conversation kept arising no matter how many times I drove it down to the depths. I share all my struggles with my wife. She heard me and almost in passing dropped a wisdom bomb on me. She said, “Well, I have been in a Bible study that prays the words of Ephesians 1. Why don’t you have our elders pray that scripture.” So, I did. Imagine that. A Christ-follower has anxieties, comes to understand those anxieties are possibly a form of spiritual attack, and so that Christ-follower prays and asks others to pray.
If you think I am overspiritualizing concerns that can be explained along sociological lines and if I am guilty of seeing devils behind every problem, it makes no difference. We are a praying community. No matter what the source of the threat is one of our responses is to pray with great expectation. Praying demands that we wait, listen (in the spirit), and live expectantly. We wait on God, listen to God, and expect God to respond.
The Apostle Paul did this. In Ephesians 1, he says, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him.” God wants HillSong to come together and ask for wisdom and revelation in our lives as individuals and collectively as the body of Christ. God is calling us to pray for these things.
Paul had a profound sense that God would give these things. In verse 18 he speaks of our hearts being enlightened so that we know the hope of the resurrected Lord and the inheritance he gives us and his power at work in us. He believed God would give the wisdom and revelation he sought.
To close out chapter 1 he says,
20 God[f] put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
That is us, the body of Christ. When Paul writes the “fullness of him,” he means the Holy Spirit fills us – the church.
So, our elders, and Heather, Nathan and I, prayed, listened, and expected in preparation for this season we now enter. For the next 7 weeks, as a church family we will together pray for wisdom and revelation.
I conclude this morning by sharing a bit of wisdom God has given me and some specific things God has shown me. Revelation is what God unveils, knowledge, truth, and reality that we cannot discover no matter how hard we try. Divine wisdom and revelation are things God gives not things we earn.
I already mentioned one bit of wisdom. When I was struggling spiritually, God, by way of my wife, led me to pray. A second wisdom God has given is something that has helped me throughout my life at HillSong – the act of listening. In more ways than I can count, God spoke to me when I chose to listen to people. I pass that wisdom along. If someone is talking with you or at you, take a moment to fully listen. Listen and in your spirit, pray. No matter type of interaction it is, I think God speaks in it, but most of the time we only hear what he has to say if we are listening.
So the wisdom is pray and listen. What is the revelation?
What has God shown me? Recall the national recession of 2008-2012. In that time frame our church added an associate pastor and a youth pastor. We also added a partnership with the Care Point for at risk kids in Kombolcha, Ethiopia. Recall that from 2014 to 2015 nearly 30 people followed God’s call to other places. HillSong lost that many people but we really didn’t lose anyone.
We said goodbye knowing this is part of who we are as a church. We had the privilege of loving each family and sending them with God’s blessing. Moreover in that time, our church maintained the Ethiopia partnership, grew our Saturday tutoring ministry here in Chapel Hill, had one of our biggest Vacation Bible Schools yet, and explored partnerships in the Dominican Republic and in Quebec.
The devil would love for us to focus on the losses – loss of money from 2008-2012; loss of people from 2014-2015. When I heeded the wisdom to pray and when I listened, God showed me that God has been at work in our church family the entire time. God has involved our church in God’s work around the world. God does not depend on how much money we have or how many people are here.
God expects us to know Him through the crucified and risen Christ. God expects us to be responsive to the Holy Spirit. And as we respond to the Spirit, God shows us Himself and leads us in the life God wants us to live. And that life is where we experience the greatest happiness, deepest meaning, and lasting joy.
We’re going to end with prayer.
As music plays, listen to the Holy Spirit. After we’ve listened then pray for revelation. Ask God to show you what God wants you to see and ask God to help you see it. This can be revelation for your life or for our church. First listen, then ask for revelation and wisdom.
If you want to you can come and pray at the steps. We will have people at the front and back ready to pray with you. We enter into a time of prayer knowing that this is a season of seeking. Over the next several weeks we will explore different scriptures constantly seeking God’s wisdom and revelation.