Launch: Summit Like a Sherpa
Summit Like a Sherpa
Jeff Jones, Senior Pastor
November 2/4, 2007
Acts 10:1-46; Acts 11:2-3, 18
Everest Bumper Introduction
Today we continue our series on the book of Acts called Launch, how God helped that church take off and how we too both as a church and as believers fly the mission God has for us. Each week, we’ll start with a different kind of launch, today the launch of an Everest expedition. If you have ever seen Into Thin Air, or have seen other films about Everest, you know how challenging such expeditions are. Everyone on the team has to give everything they have to make it.
The reason climbing that summit is so difficult is because the mountain is so inhospitable. The reason it takes so much planning, technology, and teamwork is because the environment up there is so hostile. The temperatures can dip to -76 degrees, and often combine with hurricane force winds. At those temperatures, any part of the body will become frostbitten almost instantly. Even more severe is the lack of oxygen at those heights. The altitude is the same as international flights fly at, and there is 1/3 less oxygen up there than down here. Because the oxygen loss is gradual as people climb, they gradually begin to lose the ability to think clearly and often make huge mistakes.
For most people, Everest is not a hospitable place. As exciting as it might be to reach the peak, for most people it is never going to happen. Yet, for the people who live there, the Sherpa people, Everest is really quite different. They live in the mountains, and their bodies have adapted to the lack of oxygen and extreme cold. For the Sherpas, Everest is their backyard. It takes people like us years to prepare and incredible technology to even make it possible, but for the Sherpas, it is really no big deal. They can climb the summit in a day. They are hired not only as guides, but they carry all the stuff Westerners bring along in order to be able to climb. For people like us, Everest is not a hospitable place. To the Sherpas, it is home.
Now, let’s talk about the environment of church as people try to climb the summit to connect with God. We think of it is a very hospitable environment, because we are used to it. Environments like this are like home to us. Yet, what we tend to forget is how foreign of an environment church can be, and how foreign Christianity can seem.
We can easily forget, once we’ve been a Christian for a while, how hard it can be for people to come to God, or come back to God. We forget that people can’t imagine or grasp the heart of God as a loving Father who is waiting for them to come home. They expect condemnation. They can’t imagine a God who is waiting to forgive.
We can easily forget, as Christian Sherpas, how hard it can be for people to show up at a place like this, because this is our backyard. Yet, most people don’t consider places like this hospitable environments, or desirable places. They expect to find in places like this a spirit of hypocrisy and judgment, or a group of people that just want to recruit them for their money or time. They come into churches and it feels like a different country, with a different language and customs. We forget once we’ve been around a while that churches are not automatically hospitable environments.
And we can easily forget, as Christians, the real heart of the Father, who like the father in Jesus’ story of the prodigal son, is always on the lookout for his lost children to come home. He isn’t passive, he is out looking on the horizon, waiting to throw his arms around them. We forget that what he calls us to do is to be on the lookout with our arms wide open. Often we don’t even realize that we are so busy being Christians that we have our backs turned to a world of people he wants to reach. We don’t even realize all the ways we communicate this (gesture) when God’s heart is this (gesture). We saw last week how we’ve been given the mission to bridge people to a growing life in Christ, and this week is critical as we look at how to build bridges and not walls. In the early church, it took a while for them to really grasp this. For those believers in Acts, the earliest Christians, God had to do some big work to widen their welcome and force their arms to open up. It took them a while to understand what it means to create a hospitable environment, to help people get to the summit. I believe that we like those believers 2000 years ago really don’t grasp how much work God has to do to make our hearts like his. We all feel like we have wide-open arms and a welcoming spirit. I’m not sure we really understand how much work God might have to do in our lives and hearts to begin to match his. I’m not sure we understand how we naturally create inhospitable environments and how much work it really takes to be good Sherpas. Today let’s be open to how we might do this (gesture), when God calls us to do this (gesture).
Turn in your Bibles to the book of Acts, this week all the way to Acts 10. In the earliest days of the church, the key leader was the apostle Peter. Jesus had told Peter that he was giving him the keys to the kingdom. What did that mean? I believe it meant that God was going to use Peter to open up the doors of Christianity to two groups of people, first the Jews, the people of God in the Old Testament, and then the Gentiles, which means all the nations of the earth other than Israel. In Acts 2 and 3, it is Peter that God uses to give the first sermon, where thousands of Jewish people in Jerusalem choose to become Jesus followers and the church is born. Those were exciting days, and yet Christianity stayed too long in Jerusalem and too long just among Jewish people. The mission was to take the good news to the nations, to the Gentiles, but for the first six years of the church, Christianity was exclusively Jewish Christianity. Peter had the keys, but he wasn’t letting everyone in…not just him, but all the Sherpas, all the new Christians. God was patient with them, but he had to break something in their lives that kept the Gentiles away. God was going like this (gesture), but they were clearing do this (gesture).
The mission was a mission to the nations, but the Jewish Christians were not so excited about that, and they didn’t really get it. They were very Israel focused, which is why last week we saw their big question was, “when are you going to restore the kingdom of God to Israel?” They weren’t really concerned about the nations, and growing up Jewish under captivity by the nations, they learned to hate them. Jewish people at the time used the Hebrew word for nations, goyim, as a word of contempt. Jewish midwives were not even allowed to help gentile women give birth, because it would bring one more gentile into the world. They had huge prejudices against and disdain toward the gentiles, and they assumed that Christianity was for Jewish people, not for all people. They considered gentiles “unclean” and not worthy to follow God. Peter had the keys, but he wasn’t opening the door for the Gentiles, and all his church buddies were very happy with his commitment.
So, in Acts 10, God has to do something in Peter’s life to help him understand the heart of God. God used a man, a Roman soldier, a gentile, named Cornelius to open up the way for the rest of the gentiles to come to God. Let’s start reading in
Slide: ______________) Acts 10:1-2
At Caesarea, there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and god-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. Cornelius was a centurion, which meant he commanded 100 men. Not only that, but he and his family were god-fearers, which was a particular designation in Judaism. A god-fearer was a gentile seeker, someone who was interested in God and came to synagogue to learn. He was not yet a convert though, because a convert was someone who had been circumcised and was fully “in.” Good Jews were not allowed to socialize with god-fearers because they were not yet circumcised and fully converted. God-fearers were required to sit in the very back row of the synagogues (back then people wanted to sit in the front). One thing we have to understand is that the Jewish Christians were okay with gentiles if they converted to Judaism first, then to Christianity. That’s the way they expected it to work. They assumed that if Gentiles wanted to become Christians, then they needed to get circumcised if they were male, become good Jews, and then accept Jesus as their Messiah. They expected Gentiles to adopt a Jewish way of living, which included a kosher diet, and all the traditions. If a Gentile did all that, they were cool with the Gentiles coming into Christianity…they moved from “unclean” to “clean” and were therefore acceptable to God.
But that is not exactly creating a hospitable environment to the Gentiles. Circumcision alone was a pretty big hurdle. Imagine back then inviting someone to church and explaining that before they come to check it out, they really need to get circumcised. That would be a hurdle! They would probably pass. But the Jewish Christians didn’t get what God was doing. He was opening the door to not only Jewish people but also Gentile people, who didn’t have to become Jews first. So, let’s move on with the story, picking up again in v. 3:
Slide: ______________) Acts 10:3-6
One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, ‘Cornelius!’ Cornelius stared at him in fear. ‘What is it, Lord?’ he asked. The angel answered, ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner (a lot of people don’t realize they had tanning booths back then, Planet Tan is nothing new), whose house is by the sea. Cornelius wakes up and does just that, sends a soldier and some servants to go get Peter.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Peter is in Joppa, this house by the sea, v. 9:
Slide: ______________) Acts 10:9
About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. Back then, the roofs were flat, and a very common place to go hang out on a nice day. It probably would have had a tarp-like cover over it to provide shade, kind of like this area of our new church building. This is my favorite space in the building, this little outside covered roof area over-looking the woods. Peter was looking out over the sea. And he falls asleep or as the NIV translates the word, into a trance:
Slide: ______________) Acts 10:10-13
He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. Then a voice told him, ‘Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.’ So, Peter sees this sheet coming down with all these animals and birds on it, including or perhaps exclusively including animals and birds that good Jewish people did not eat. The Old Testament laws in Leviticus 11 about food said that such animals were unclean, pigs, lobsters, seagulls, buzzards. But God now says, “Go ahead, eat them.”
As a good Jew, Peter responds,
Slide: ______________) Acts 10:14-16
‘Surely not Lord!’ Peter replied. ‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’ The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’ This happened three times (So, Peter keeps on refusing and God keeps on commanding), and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven. So, three times God tries to get Peter to eat these things considered unclean, saying, “What God calls clean stop calling unclean.” You know you have a problem when you are more conservative than God is, and a lot of Christians are that way. They are called either weak brothers in the Bible or legalists. Do you know people who are more conservative than God is? Anyway, God was trying to get a very big point across here. It took a while for Peter to understand, but once he did, he realized that this was a pivotal moment in his life that he referred back to often. The four corners represented the four points of the compass, north, east, south, and west, and the animals represented people, the gentiles, the nations. The mission was not just to Jews or gentile converts to Judaism. He was beginning to get it that Gentiles didn’t have to clean up their lives first in a Jewish sense to come to God. It took a while though, as we will see.
Slide: ______________) Acts 10:17-18
While Peter was still wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there. Keep in mind that these were three gentiles, one of them a Roman soldier all decked out.
Slide: ______________) Acts 10:19-20
While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.’
Peter does go with them, and he takes some of his Jewish Christian friends along. When they get to Cornelius’ house, Cornelius greets them and brings him in the house, where he has gathered this huge crowd of people, all of whom want to hear from Peter and become Christ-followers. So, Peter comes into a whole house full of Gentiles.
Slide: ______________) Acts 10:28a
Verse 28 says, He said to them, ‘You are well aware that is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him.’ This had become custom, but was not really Old Testament law and the amazing thing is that Peter had spent three years with Jesus who constantly hung out with Gentiles. But old traditions die hard. He goes on:
Slide: ______________) Acts 10:28b-29
But God has shown me that I should not all any man impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. Catch that. He got it. The vision was about people, not just about food. Yes, he could eat lobster now, but God was doing something way bigger than adding lobster to the menu. He then asks Cornelius how he can be helpful. Cornelius shares with Peter his own vision, and he says,
Slide: ______________) Acts 10:33
So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord ahs commanded you to tell us. Wow, a preacher’s dream. A crowd of people who are just ready to hear whatever God’s Word says. Then hear Peter’s first words. These are profound. He is getting it:
Slide: ______________) Acts 10:34-35
Then Peter began to speak, ‘I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right…’ Peter goes on to share how Jesus died for the sins of all people, and all who come to God through faith in Christ can enter into his family. Peter is really understanding the mission for the first time… that God is accepting everyone, without favoritism. He is opening the door to the Gentile as widely as he did to the Jew. At the end of the message Peter says,
Slide: ______________) Acts 10:43-46
‘All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’ While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
When the Jews first became Christians in Acts 2, the same thing happened. The Holy Spirit came and showed that he had come by giving them the ability to speak in other languages. It was a miracle to authenticate that the door was really open. The Jewish believers were shocked, because God was doing the same thing with these Gentiles. Peter was finally using his keys again. Peter stayed a few days with these new Gentile believers, and I’m quite sure that Peter’s head was still spinning. God really was doing something new, and Peter was still trying to figure it all out. All he knew was, that God had opened the door wide open to the Gentiles, and that Gentiles didn’t have to become like Jews first. They just had to come as they are, and that is how God accepted them.
When Peter got back, he had some explaining to do to his Jewish Christian buddies back in Jerusalem.
Slide: ______________) Acts 11:2-3
says, So when Peter went back up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’ Peter then shared the whole story, and in the end, in verse 18,
Slide: ______________) Acts 11: 18
When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.’
What a story! Now, these Jewish Christians still had a long way to go. Notice they keep saying “even the Gentiles.” Prejudices run deep, and the early church struggled for a few more years really trying to accept that God was really doing what he was doing…because what God was doing was radical. God was saying to everyone, Jew or Gentile, the same thing he says to us today, “Come as you are. Don’t try to clean up first. Just come as you. I will accept you as my own, and then through relationship with me, your life will begin to change.” And what God wanted to create in the church was a community of Christ-followers who understood that, and created a hospitable environment for people to come to God and begin a growing relationship with Christ.
Once you understand that, then you understand a lot about what Chase Oaks church is about, and what God wants us to be increasingly about. God wants his church to be a hospitable environment for those wanting relationship with him, not like an Everest. He doesn’t want the Sherpas to get comfortable and forget how close it is to God’s heart to make sure that everyone who comes finds that they are accepted here and can come to Christ here.
What does this mean for us as we replant our church? It means three things, and if we don’t get this right, then we will grieve the heart of God who is going like this (gesture) as we create a culture that is saying this (gesture).
· A Diverse Circle
The church should be the most diverse and welcoming of all kinds of people kind of culture on the planet. However, just as we saw in Acts 10, when we become Christians, we bring our prejudices with us, and it can take years for God to weed them out. Ghandhi shares in his autobiography about how when he was a student, he was deeply impacted by reading the teachings of Jesus in the Bible and the concept of Christianity that seemed to offer a solution to the caste system in India, which he hated. One Sunday, he decided to go to a church to ask the pastor to enlighten him on concepts of salvation and the Christian life. But when he entered the worship space of this church, the ushers refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go elsewhere to worship with his own people.” He never considered Christianity again, because he thought that if we had our own caste system, he might as well stay a Hindu.
We would never refuse anybody a seat who is different from us, but let’s not let ourselves off the hook too easy. As Sherpas, we think everyone feels welcomed here, but maybe not. Without realizing it, in many ways, we can send a message that says, “Unless you are like the rest of us, you are really not welcome here.” Let me give us a little test, and I’m going to ask us to be honest. Think about your circle of friends, and if people were looking from the outside in, would they get the message that all are welcome, or would they hear, “you can be one of us if…
You can be one of us, if…
- you are middle class
- you are married
- you have children
- you live in a similar kind of neighborhood
- you are the same color as me
- you are not “too ethnic”
- you seem to have your life together
- you don’t struggle with certain sins
- you voted the same way I did last election
- you haven’t committed some of the “really bad” sins
I think most of us don’t realize the messages that we send out, but we are always sending them out. It is hard to see our lives from the perspective of an outsider, but be honest. If someone were wanting to be your friend or join your group, what message do you think they are getting?
· A Come-as-You-Are Culture
A come as you are culture reflects the heart of God, in that it says, “You don’t have to have your life together to be accepted here. Come as you are!” 2000 years ago the Christians expected the Gentiles to become good religious people first, but they were wrong. We have to be careful we don’t send the same message. You can be here and follow God if you become like us. Just clean up your life first. God designed his church to be a come as you are environment, because it is the only way we really can come. We couldn’t clean up our own act if we wanted to. That’s God’s job.
The last time I talked about this, I wore a shirt like this one. Reveal “Dysfunctional, but growing” t-shirt.
I should wear this every time I speak, because that is all we are. All of us are dysfunctional, and that is how we come to God…and as we come, and begin a relationship with him, he begins to change us…dysfunctional but growing. If you feel dysfunctional, you are going to feel right at home. The only people who don’t feel comfortable at Chase Oaks are perfect people. I mean it. I sometimes meet new people and I can tell that they are very together people on the outside, but you sense this inauthenticity, this Christian game, and if they don’t quit playing it, they don’t stay here. This is a place not for perfect people, but messy people. We are all messy in different ways. You may be together in one area that I am a mess in, and visa-versa, but we are in process. Let’s make sure that we stay a come as you are church, full of messy people who are in the process of God redeeming our lives and healing our hurts and hang-ups.
· A Welcoming Spirit
Because church can be a scary, inhospitable environment to someone who is new, we have to go out of our way to be welcoming. The Bible commands us to greet one another, to go out of our way to let people know how welcome they are. We just forget what it was like for us when we first came, or starting coming back to God. We can forget how important it is to create a welcoming spirit. I believe we are doing a fairly good job of creating a come as you are culture, and we need to protect that. But to be honest, I don’t think we are doing a good job on this welcoming spirit part of it, and that really scares me with the numbers of new people that are already coming and certainly those who will come when we relocate. We don’t mean to be unwelcoming, but it happens.
A few months ago, we hosted a group of pastors from around the country who were here to study four or five churches in our area, one of them being us. Our staff met with them, and it was a great time. On Sunday, as a group, they decided to stick together and visit two of those churches, our church and one other large church in our area. After the services, they debriefed their experience, and they did have some nice things to say. Yet, they described our church as unfriendly, which is surprising. What they said was that they could tell that we all had relationships and were friendly with each other, but it didn’t spill over to them. Nobody who was not official, meaning the people at the door that say hello, ever said anything to them. They didn’t feel welcomed. They loved our church environment and described it as highly authentic (come as you are), but unfriendly. By contrast, the other church they visited they described as highly inauthentic (dress up your life first) but very friendly. They had this little debate about which is better from a newcomer perspective, to be authentic but unfriendly, or inauthentic but very friendly. They concluded it is better to be inauthentic and friendly. It hurt to hear that, but truth though painful can be a good thing. We want to be authentic and friendly, and we’ve got some work to do.
The great news is that the authentic community is very had to create, the being friendly part is much easier to work on, but we do have to work on it. So, when you came in, you got a name tag that says “Chase Oaks Church.” That’s where you are right now, Chase Oaks Church, and what I’d like you to do is go ahead and write your name on the name tag and put it on. Please go ahead and do that. Thank you for doing that, because all of you just signed up to be on our welcome team. That’s the way we need to think of it. We do need more people to help us on the official first impressions team, out in the parking lots and at doors and in hallways, so please get information about that that the information booths when you leave, but what I am saying right now is that you are all on the welcome team. Here’s what I want you to do. Commit over these next few months especially to come early and stay late, so that you can not just hang out with friends but greet people you don’t know. On November 17 and 18 we will have tours of the new building. Come, so you know where things are and can help other people.
What I’d like all of us to do is to greet 10 people we don’t know before we leave church, every week. Don’t leave until you have talked with 10 people you don’t know. Some of you who have been around a while may be worried that you’ll greet someone who has also been around the church forever, but who cares? Get to know them too. That happens to me all the time. I say hello and ask how long have you been at this church, and quite often someone will say, “15 years!” or “10 years!” It is only really embarrassing when they something like, “You did my wedding!” But that’s okay, I’d rather make that mistake than make the mistake of making someone that God is drawing to himself and has led to this church feel unwelcome. The great news is that it really doesn’t take much effort to say, “Hello, how are you? I’m Jeff, and I don’t think I’ve met you yet. How long have you been at Chase Oaks? A few weeks? Cool. How did you find out about it. Any questions? Great to talk with you!” Not hard. We can do this.
A great friend of mine who came here not knowing Christ now does and is growing like crazy in her faith, but when she came, she was scared. It was like scaling Everest for her, because she had been out of church a long time and took some paths in her life that she wasn’t proud of. She assumed she needed to get her life together before she could be accepted by God, much the same way that people did 2000 years ago in Acts 10. She expected to be judged. She expected condemnation. She was afraid that people would somehow figure out that she didn’t belong here. But she came, to give church a chance, to see if God might welcome her back. She came a few minutes early and sat right over there, and waited for the service to start, nervous. But soon an older lady in front of her turned around and introduced herself. She said, “I’ve never met you before, but I’m so glad to see you here. I’m a little older, and I love seeing young people around me.” They talked a minute or so, but that minute made all the difference for her. She could breathe. She felt welcomed. Then the service started, and she sensed God’s presence. That week we were actually talking about grace, and she was blown away by a God who would accept her as she is, with all of her mess, and that there was hope that God would bring about change. She came back and before long became a believer and has been walking with God for 4 years now. If you look at here life now versus then, you would say it is a different person…but it isn’t. Same person, just now connected to God.
2000 years ago it took the church a few years to figure out what God was up to, that he was throwing the doors wide open. Peter had the keys, and God had to work on his heart first, before the church could really be the church. That same God is the Lord of this church, and he is asking us to be wide open (gesture) in our welcome as well. As we take this replant step, we are committed to creating an environment that makes it easy for people to connect to God.
If you are new here, we are so glad that you are. You are welcome here, as you are. If you are a regular here, be a good Sherpa. Let’s help each other climb the summit. Help people know how welcome they are. Keep a come as you are culture. Widen your relationships to include people who are different from you. We are about to pray together, and let me encourage you to come to God right now as you are. Tired. Anxious. Guilty. Full of shame. Hopeless. Happy. Rested. Struggling. Joyful. However, you are, come, knowing that God is waiting for you just as you are.