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Great Commission: Communion in Context

Great Commission: Communion in Context

Jesus put the mandate right out in front when he said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. As you go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

When the Gospel moved out of Jerusalem on Pentecost, amazing results occurred. Instead of hoarding the Good News in the Upper Room, the Holy Spirit moved the people of God to get up and MOVE. TRUE Communion with God always results in a blessing in the Context, on the street.
In Acts 16, we come across an incredible story.
Acts 16:6-15
(New International Version)

  Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 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.
  From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day on to Neapolis. 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 named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, 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.

In Acts 12-13, Paul completes his first missionary journey, traveling from Jerusalem to, Phrygia. The Spirit prevented Paul and his group from ministry in Asia at that time, but in a vision, recorded in Acts 16, Paul heard the cry for help from Macedonia, in Europe. So they took a boat from Troas, leaving Asia behind, and went across to Europe where God blessed their ministry. Was that visit about Europe alone? I don’t think so!
They ended up in Philippi, a place that became a dear and special place in Paul’s heart, people to whom the Letter to the Philippians was written.

It was there they were led to do a Bible study by the river, (but who could have known), that a woman named Lydia was there. She was a merchant, a business woman who sold purple cloth. Incredibly, the text says, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” But the blessings was not to her alone. Here entire household believed. And there’s more!

A friend ofmine, a gifted preacher and colleague in the Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Steven Yamaguchi from Los Ranchos, California, recently shared this story: I heard a very talented and gifted preacher once say in discussing this text, “So Lydia was the first European convert to the Gospel.” Well, that sounds good, right? But look closely at the text, or take a look at a map of the region. Lydia was not a European! The text says she was from Thyatira, a city in ASIA! She was Asian. She was a very successful, educated, resourceful, ASIAN who as an ex-patriot, an ASIAN immigrant living in EUROPE, believed in Jesus Christ. My preacher friend was right that Lydia was in Europe when she believed, but he was dead wrong that this story described the first European convert. God chose an ASIAN woman (in europe) who met Jesus and through her, to bring the Gospel to EUPOPE and through Lydia, an entire continent was blessed. We are here today because an Asian woman heard the Gospel! The Gospel got to Asia through a ministry in Europe.

The Macedonian call was to Paul a cry for help. In Communion with Christ, he now needed to pay attention to his Context. He had to cross borders. He heeded the invitation of the Spirit to take the Gospel into a new area. Asians, Africans, Europeans, everyone. Each person we serve in kindness and love, in the name of Jesus, can become another launching pad for the Gospel moving into new areas. We do not need to go to Europe to share the Good News with Europeans.

Many of you today are, through your ministry and love, sharing God’s blessings with people from all over the world. Not just in Taiwan, but everywhere. The world is at our doorsteps and the principle of Contextual Intelligence reminds us that God is planting us as grapes in his vineyard in communion, to bear fruit that the world would be blessed in context.

John 1:14 (in the Message), says, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” We need to pay attention to our context. In communion with the Holy Spirit, we must listen to God calling us into NEW neighborhoods. What can those of us living in Livingston have to offer to those living in Newark? Already many of you have been assisting with the ministry at Memorial West. What a wonderful expression of love! I commend you for this ministry.

What other voices are calling? Where is God calling you now? Is there a clearer voice from God’s Spirit, like the Macedonian vision, to come and help? How can your work with others in Newark Presbytery by serving on presbytery committees, or volunteering at Presbytery Center, or supporting community service and educational programs in Newark? How can your effort at Memorial West be a launching pad to even greater capacity to do even more?

Lydia knew that the inside had to get outside. She could not keep the Good News to herself. Lydia modeled her communion with Jesus Christ in her context in four ways:

1. Be real. Lydia was an authentic human being. One of the most frequent observations non-church folks make about church folks is that they don’t seem real. Since God loves you so very much, you need not act greedy nor be fearful. We can become more real, generous, and loving toward others!

2. Be a friend. Lydia was a good friend. Many don’t invite friends to their church experiences is because they don’t have any. Be a friend. Act as a friend. That’s the way we demonstrate God’s love for us. We can become more generous as a friend and loving toward others!

3. Be involved. Lydia was involved in her community. She was with others (ethnically diverse) by the river. Maybe you could volunteer in the neighborhood. Since God loves the world, how will your neighborhood know if you are not involved? We can become more generous with our time and loving toward others!

4. Be a leader. Lydia was a leader. Pastors, Elders, Deacons, key congregational people need to be leaders, not only managers. She responded to opportunities all around her. We are not put on this planet for such a short time to serve ourselves. Instead, we need to listen to God’s Communion call to bless our Context. We can lead by modeling humility and being more loving toward others!

Let’s understand that we must not continue to do the same things in the same way if we want different outcomes. If we are committed to reaching new people, the same old ways are no longer working, and to do ministry the same old way will not result in different outcomes.

Contextual Intelligence: The ability to read the forces that shape the times in which we live and seize on the resulting opportunities.

Our context is changing more rapidly than ever. We must change in meaningful ways to keep up. The world is on our doorstep. Our communities are looking for real friends and involved leaders who hear God’s call to demonstrate God’s love to all people. God so loved the world.... that's our true mission in context.



Greed Never Produces Good Fruit

Greed Never Produces Good Fruit

“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

What a great story. A man had resources, land, lots of fertile land and he put a vineyard on it. Following General Assembly a few months ago in San Jose, California, my wife, Melissa, and I visited vineyards in Napa valley. Beautiful vineyards, great wine. Wonderful. Well, this man in Jesus’ parable has a similar goal as Napa valley’s landowners. He wanted to grow grapes. So he hired workers to complete the task. You reap what you sow, right? So the landowner expected a great harvest at harvest time. Not before harvest time! No. The grapes would be ready when they were ready and the workers, the servants in the parable, cultivated and tended the vineyard so that when the time was right, the fruit of their labors, the return on the landowner’s investment in that land would come forth! Well, the vines were bursting with life and the presses were working overtime, but the workers said to themselves:

“The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

“But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

Wow! Instead of the grapes being pressed into useful and life-giving wine produced by the workers in COMMUNION with the landowner, the workers cared only about themselves and in GREED, too not only the wine, but killed the very son of the landowner!

When we are not in communion, when we are not in a right relationship with one another, we care only about ourselves, our needs, our wants, our desires, and in this state of greed, want what is not ours to have. The vineyard belonged to the owner, and to the owner’s son. Like some executives on Wall Street, they took what was not theirs and they cared only for themselves. The results were devastating.

The Harvard Business School established a database about the top 900 executives and published a book entitled In Their Time: The Greatest Business Leaders of the Twentieth Century by professors Mayo and Nohria.

They wrote about three leadership types in business, government, and the church, as well. Mold-makers, Mold-breakers, and Mold-takers. Mayo and Nohria offered an incredible insight when they considered the question: Was there one ingredient these great leaders had in common? Yes, they concluded, and here it is:

The ability to read the forces that shape the times in which they live and seize on the resulting opportunities. They called this ability Contextual Intelligence. Not being selfish about their own needs and viewpoints, but taking the time to see the community, the world, through the eyes of others is the key to healthier living. Contextual Intelligence refers to thoughtfully understanding the real world right now, and instead of taking from it, giving to it in Jesus’ name.

The church can choose to be less concerned about the church itself, and instead, invest its more energy in the real-life experiences of people outside our churches. Congregational transformation occurs when a congregation takes Communion with God so seriously that it considers its Context just as seriously, too.

What the vineyard workers did not understand was that if they were in Communion with the vineyard owner, they would have received great blessings. But greed led them to take what was not theirs and in the end, they received nothing, loosing their very lives.

The missional theme of our presbytery is Together Transforming Lives, Congregations, Communities, and World.

How we understand our context is critically important, not only for business leaders, city officials, individual congregations, but for the whole church and all its leaders. Greed never produces good fruit.