worship services documatation of Nov. 2007

The Early Christians in Ministry:
…In those days when the number of disciples was increasing…
In the book of Acts we catch a glimpse of how the first Christians understood their commitment to their Lord. They did not come to a “user friendly” church which attempted to attract people by pampering them or catering to their whims. They did not appeal to potential converts’ desires to be entertained or hear wonderful music. The appeal was not to come and have their needs met. The first Christians told the story of Jesus and proclaimed him Lord and Savior.
 
The community of faith was drawn together by their devotion to their Lord who had taken the role of a servant, washed the disciples’ feet and instructed them to do likewise. When we look into the book of Acts it is as though we lift the roof off of the early church and peer inside to see what their life together was like. We see how they interpreted their commitment to their Risen Lord. Here is what we find. Those early Christians understood that commitment to Jesus was a call to practical engagement in mission. Mission is God’s sending people to accomplish something. Mission is witness to who God is and what God is like; mission means service to this God. It puts legs on faith and gets moving exhibiting to the world the good news of Jesus. Jesus preached “The Kingdom of God is at hand”, He proclaimed, “it is near even at the doors”; He announced, “The kingdom of God has come upon you”; “the kingdom of God is in your midst”.
 
This kingdom of God was already present in Jesus standing there in their midst. It was there in its reality but not yet in its completion. This means that already we are beginning to live under God’s reign. What would it be like if God were King? What would it be like for God’s subjects to serve him devotedly?
 
In Acts 6 we get a clue. The first Christians living in Jerusalem only weeks after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus put legs on their faith and opened a soup kitchen of sorts. They distributed food to the most vulnerable sector of their society, the widows. Why would they do this? Because God was king presently ruling through his appointed Messiah, the Anointed One. Deep in the Hebrew mentality is the notion that the mighty creator and sovereign God cares for the weakest and most vulnerable of society.
 
A nation is judged not by its military might, not by its scientific and technological advances, but by its mercy shown to the poor, the weak, the marginalized, the orphans and widows, the mentally challenged and the destitute members.
 
The Church had been schooled thoroughly in the Torah (the Law of God). They understood that God is the real king, no matter what earthly king they had to endure for the moment. They believed in and confessed their faith in the Lordship of God, the maker of heaven and earth. Deuteronomy 10 tells us about this God: For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.
 
If that is the kind of Divine King we are to serve, then it makes sense to engage in practical ministry to the widows, the orphans, and the marginalized. This is what cooperating with God means. This is what it means to be god-like, to imitate God. At that time there was no system of social security. No Medicaid and Medicare, no workman’s compensation or pension plans. Life was pretty much dog eat dog. Those who lived on the edge of society scratched out a living by begging. There were no government sponsored safety nets. They often depended on the good graces of kind people. But Israel confessed their faith in God as the one who defends the cause of the widow and orphan. God takes sides: not with the mighty. He accepts no bribes. God is incorruptible (unlike corrupt human judges). 
 
Those early Christians turned their faith into deeds. They engaged in practical mission. Their heart gravitated to the place where God’s heart gravitates. They saw a need and sought to meet it as part of their kingdom work.
 
Conflict occasioned by ethnic diversity:
…the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews…
Those who choose to belong to a missional congregation will find that they will meet with frictions and disputes. We are human beings, fallen and selfish ones at that. When we get together in groups, conflicts and contradictions will occur. So we find in this early church that not everything was sweetness and light.  They were like us, fully planted on earth and all too human. Their very success and numerical growth brought with it new occasions of arguments and conflicts.
 
I have served in pastoral ministry long enough to anticipate discontent and friction, arguments and hints at division occasioned by differences of opinion. People are people. People don’t always get along. People believe gossip, rush to conclusions, misunderstand and take things the wrong way. We also just plain disagree.  Relationships aren’t always smooth. People use sharp words and get their feelings hurt. People murmur and complain. We are no different today than way back then. People process what they are not happy about in the parking lot and in the foyer. It is human to do so. I like the way the King James Version puts it: And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews…Murmurings; people whispering and complaining. Do you know what I heard?” “No, tell me, I can’t wait!”
 
What had them upset? Well, they experienced their first in-house conflict. The occasion was about ethnic diversity. Now all these early Christians were Jews or Jewish converts in Jerusalem those first few months after Pentecost. But there were two kinds of Jews: The home grown Hebrew speaking Jews and the Hellenized, or Greek speaking Jews.  You know, ever since the Tower of Babel language has been a divider among people. We just don’t always understand one another well. We can’t fully express ourselves and we can’t quite grasp another person’s meaning fully. That leads to frustration. Birds of a feather flock together.
 
Now maybe the problem lay in a little attitudinal discrimination. The Greek speaking widows all flock together talking. The Hebrew widows forma group over here. But it seems that every time the line is open the Greek speaking widows get served last. By the time they get to the pot the soup is pretty thin.  I don’t know exactly why. Maybe the worker didn’t really like Greek speakers. Why can’t you speak proper Hebrew? You’re  Jew aren’t you? Why do you only know the language of the pagans (the Goyim?) [Joke English language]
 
I know that some of the American Born Chinese (ABCs) feel discriminated against because they don’t speak Mandarin well or because they speak with an accent. So, whether deliberate or not, they get ignored. This kind of thing happened among the first Christians. There’s nothing new here. The dispute could have escalated into divisions and oppositional camps had it continued. They could have had a church split: Greek speakers over there and Hebrew speakers over here.
 
Now the Apostles were doing all they could to model the work that Christ called them to do. They preached and taught, held Bible studies; but they also spent time serving in the soup lines. They purchased the vegetables and meat with church offerings; they dished it out. But now that the flock had grown exponentially, they couldn’t keep up with the load. They didn’t have enough assistants. Every church worker knows the feeling. “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”. These early Apostles had to learn also how to delegate and share the work. That is when they were driven to expand the ministry.
 
Solution: Division of labor
 … choose seven men from among you…
A missional congregation will find creative solutions to enhance the work and spread the responsibilities out. This is exactly what those first Christian did. The Apostles instructed the people to select more workers to help serve the growing pool of widows needing assistance. This involved more servants in the mission. This plan pleased the people. They wanted the ministry to succeed. They wanted to see the soup kitchen prosper and more widows have daily food. It took work, but they arose to the occasion. Here was the plan: Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word."
 
They figured how many workers would be needed. They presented the need to the entire congregation. They needed, in this case, seven men. Not just warm bodies, but persons known to be faithful: They were Spirit filled and wise. These were Christians who exuded Jesus Christ. They had a reputation for faithful loving service. The whole feeding program could then be turned over to these 7 assistants so that the Apostles could get on with their proper work. This was Body Life in action. This was delegation of responsibility. More people entered the field of service.
 
Everyone thought this a great idea. Everyone participated, because they wanted to solve the problem. They were solution-oriented. They didn’t just gripe. They sought a solution. How can they address the problem at hand? How can they show more of Jesus’ love? They wanted to find the way to minister more effectively and efficiently.  They selected the staff for this mission endeavor: Seven faithful men. Remarkably, they all had Greek names which could indicate that every one of them came from the Greek speaking section of the congregation, the very segment that had experienced the discrimination.
 
These first Christians understood the purpose of the community of faith. This community of faith was, to them, best expressing faithfulness to Christ when it is missionally based, solution oriented, and engaged in practical missionary activity.
 
Now I want Keith Schneller to share his story of how he came to TIC and got involved in one of the ministries of TIC: I grew up on a farm on the plains of Colorado . My parents moved us from job to job at least six times before we settled down when I started 2nd grade.  My three brothers and I started driving tractors before we were 12 years old.  Every Sunday my dad would drag us to Sunday school and church, but he would usually go right back to work as soon as we finished our regular Sunday lunch together. 
 
My mother was always the glue of our family, even though raising four boys gave her some gray hair!  I loved listening to my mother sing and developed an ear for those old Bach hymns that we used to sing in the Lutheran church.  I joined our church choir as soon as they would take me and have been singing ever since.
 
My father’s dream was for us boys to take over his farm, to find wives, raise grandkids, and live happily ever after.  However, in the mid-1980s, due to high interest rates and low grain prices, we lost our farm.  My brothers and I left our hometown and put ourselves through college.  This was a very hard time for my family and we all had to do lots of praying to make it through. 
 
After leaving the farm, the Lord helped me find my way and I began a new life at age 25 by entering Colorado State University .  One of my professors told me about working overseas as an agricultural attaché.  That’s about when I met Julie, my future wife, who helped me focus and achieve my dreams. 
 
After we got married, I received my Masters degree in the UK through a Rotary Scholarship and went on to get a job with the Foreign Agricultural Service.  Since then, we have served in Eastern Europe, Southern China and now in Taiwan .  In 1995, the Lord led us to adoption where Ben and Anna came into our lives from Korea .  They have been such a blessing and are brave and eager travelers.
 
Thus my story brings us to Taiwan where Julie and I want to make sure that our children are raised in a Christian environment.  We immediately felt at home at TIC.  My daughter Anna started Awana last year and I volunteered to help with the pine box derby races.  That’s when I finally realized that my work in my office is not nearly as important as the work to be done at home with our Children in teaching them about Christ and the way He lived. 
 
I decided to volunteer this year with Awana every Sunday after church and to do more to support Pastor Doug, Ed, Eilene, Katie and all the other volunteers who work so hard to support our Children through Awana.  It has been a very emotional experience reviewing the Gospel through these children.  Anna has memorized several verses and it makes my heart sing every time I hear her.   Sometimes life is not easy to understand and I think we’ve all had hard times that we’ve had to struggle with.  However, I know that God loves us and will always be there to look after us.  Knowing this gives me strength to keep working harder to become a better father, a better husband, and a better person in Christ. Thank you!
 
TIC is an active missional congregation. We have many opportunities to serve and get involved in practical missional outreaches. Let me name just a few: This past Monday our TIC Council approved a Youth Center. We are nearing the signing of a contract and renovation of a building to house the Youth Center. We will need dedicated volunteers to participate to make this a wonderful and safe place for our teenagers and high school age youth to gather and have positive activities. Every Sunday afternoon we have AWANA, Children’s Church and Sunday School. The more teachers and helpers we have the better the ratio of teacher to child and the better opportunity to extend care to each child during their time with us. We would like more people to share in the ministry of greeting, especially the visitors and newcomers to TIC. It is a ministry, not busy work.
 
The early Christians engaged in mission. They interpreted their Christian existence as mission in action. Whatever they did was for the glory of God. They fed widows, shared their faith with their neighbors. They cared for the local poor. Some taught, some gave, and some sold their houses and lands and distributed the proceeds to those who were needy. The congregation functioned like a body, each member doing its part. And so, what happened as a result?
 
Results: Growth
…So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly…
This missional involvement issued in a spread of the Gospel. There were no high pressure sales pitches; just people sharing and caring.  People gave of themselves, often in little mundane ways. These little acts of kindness witnessed the good news to the world. And people were drawn to the Christ. It was a work of the Holy Spirit. The “word of God spread”, that means the message of the Gospel stretched out further into people’s hearts and lives. The writer of acts included that …a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. Some of the most unlikely candidates, the Temple priests also embraced the faith when they saw they way the Christians served and heard the message of truth: That Jesus who was crucified is now risen and exalted to God’s right hand. Jesus is Lord and presently reigns over us!
 
Notice how the writer words it:  a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. This message of Good News was backed up by the committed lives of the disciples. They were not mere believers, they were disciples. They were obedient to the faith. Disciple means apprentice, a devotee, a student.
 
The church did not focus on getting new members. They focused on getting the believers they had to follow Jesus. They discipled the believers they had. They found ways to demonstrate God’s kindness and love. They went about their humble service with little anxiety about those who have not yet believed. But the results were rapid growth, more opportunities to serve, more people committed to Jesus and obedient to the faith. Maybe that is where we can focus at TIC. Let us learn Christ together and then practice what we learn. Let us turn our faith into random deeds of kindness and senseless acts of love.  Amen

About alwayscola18

*Always be misunderstood. *Majored in business administration, but contributing to satisfaction of primary living needs. *Prefer to speak out, and enjoy silence. *A Mandarin speaker, but not a grand-China nationalist; a Hokkien dialect speaker, but not an aggressive grass-root activist; an English reader, but not negative to my homeland; a baby Christian, but not a confrontationist to the God of earth. *With personalities of patience, cleverness, discernment, toleration, self-confidence, and friendliness.
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