CHURCH IS NOT A BUILDING – CHURCH IS THE PEOPLE OF GOD

WE WILL CONTINUE TO DO CHURCH – WE WILL CONTINUE TO BE CHURCH

2020 VISION – WE NEED TO SEE THINGS CLEARLY – FROM GOD’S POINT OF VIEW

HOW IS THE CHURCH GOING TO BE DIFFERENT?

PART 6: WHERE WILL I BE A WITNESS?

SUPERNATURALLY NATURAL

INTRODUCTION: IT JUST HAPPENS!

Over the sessions so far we have – rightly – considered the mission to which we have ALL been called – to go into all the world and spread the Good News of Jesus. This is a message that leaves many of us crying “AHHHH!!!!!!” Our vision of fulfilling this is to leave all we have, put on our shoes and walk the streets stopping strangers and telling them that they need Jesus; or of standing at “Speakers’ Corner” and arguing with all-comers concerning the truth in which we believe.

But, we are all different, and we all have different callings and different abilities and different God-given strengths. Are we all called to go to Outer Mongolia? Are we all called to stand on the street corner and cry out for Jesus? 

Or are we all called to be supernaturally natural? And if so, what would this look like?

David Pavey tells the story of Tony Campolo, the well-known American preacher, who thought he was being called by God to go to speak at a Pentecostal College chapel. Well, he did go. But God had other ideas in mind. While the elders were laying heavy hands on him, one of them went “off-track” and started praying for a man called Charlie Stolzfus who lived in a silver trailer a mile from the chapel and was planning to leave his young wife and 3 children. Tony thought nothing more of the matter till driving back from the meeting he felt led to stop and offer a lift to a hitch-hiker. They exchanged names and to Tony’s amazement he discovered he was giving a lift to…Charlie Stoltzfus! Well, he turned his car right round and drove back to the silver trailer. Charlie wanted to know what was going on – and Tony was able to honestly tell him that God had told him who he was and what he was doing and God wanted to stop it. Wide-eyed, Charlie rushed out of the car and told his wife – whom he had just tried to leave – what had happened. There and then Tony led them both to the Lord. 

You see, it wasn’t the “meeting” where God wanted to use Tony, it was in his car – right where he naturally was – that He did something supernatural. God had prepared it all – Tony just had to show up where God wanted him to be.

Might this not be the same for you? My contention in this session is that you have been uniquely placed exactly where you are to be God’s witness – to help someone – maybe even to bring them through to salvation. So, don’t spend your time thinking you can’t be His witness in all the world because of where you find yourself right now – for where you are right now is exactly where God wants you to be – right now!

[You can watch the whole video by Dave Pavey at: https://vimeo.com/432297119]

IT’S PERPLEXING – HOW CAN I DO IT ALL? AND IT’S ALL PRETTY TERRIFYING!

The Bible tells us to focus on SO MANY things! From feeding the hungry to praying without ceasing; from taking the Good News to the ends of the earth to showing endless love to the people of God.

How can I do it all???!!!

There are simply not enough hours in the day!!!

One commentator puts it like this: “When God commands us to pray, to evangelise, to help the poor and so forth, He is speaking primarily to the church as a whole and only secondarily to each of us as individuals. These are works that the church must do. Each individual in the church must contribute to their fulfilment. But HOW the individual contributes will depend upon his gifts and calling. Not all are called to pray 6 hours a day or to ring doorbells in our neighbourhoods”

 Each one of us has a part of the work to do – and NOT all of it.

Phew! Maybe my calling IS achievable! 

But what am I called to do?

It should be supernaturally natural…IF we are living in close relationship with God through Word, Spirit and Prayer. That’s how it was for Tony Campolo – it was him being natural and being led supernaturally. That’s how it was for Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch – he was being natural and being led supernaturally.

What might this look like???

SUPERNATURALLY NATURAL AND PAUL

We get a good understanding of what it means to be supernaturally natural in our mission to tell all the Good News by following the story of Paul and the shipwreck found in Acts 27

[To get a good and simple overview of this chapter I recommend that you watch this children’s video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkt00DptsW0&t=160s]

Just a little note here before we look in detail at this famous story. To this very day it is acknowledged by historians that this account is the most accurate one that we have of what it was like to sail, be in a storm at sea, and then suffer shipwreck from the whole of the ancient world. Acts 27 is today the standard text used by all marine historians and archaeologists to understand what things were like.

Here are the key verses:

1.When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment…We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete… 

We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens…Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous…So Paul warned them, 10 ‘Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.’ 11 But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. 12 Since the harbour was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on…

13 When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. 14 Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the ‘North-Easter’, swept down from the island. 15 The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along….17 …Then they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Because they were afraid they would run aground…they lowered the sea anchor[b] and let the ship be driven along. 18 We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. 19 On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved. 

21 After they had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: ‘Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. 22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 23 Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me 24 and said, “Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.” 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. 26 Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.’ 

27 On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic[c] Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land…33 Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. ‘For the last fourteen days,’ he said, ‘you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food – you haven’t eaten anything. 34 Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.’ 35 After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. 36 They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 Altogether there were 276 of us on board. 

Paul Is here in a ship, on his way to Rome. He is in shackles, a prisoner; and he is in a storm. The ship looks like it is going to sink, and the crew and passengers are all terrified that they are going to die.

He is not in control of the situation or of what is happening to him. He is not free to be where he chooses or to do what he wishes. Doesn’t it feel like this for us so often? Don’t we feel that we are not able to be His witness because this is not the right place and we are not free to speak about what we believe. For years I worked in education. I was in a place where I was not in control of what went on or what was taught (good old “National Curriculum”!!!). I was not free to speak to either staff or students about what I believed. IF I did, I could have lost my job!

This does not seem like an ideal mission field…or does it?

It is where Paul is. It is not an artificially contrived situation. He has not made a decision to go and stand in the forum of the largest city in the area. He has not distributed leaflets to say he is going to hold a Gospel meeting. It is where he is. And it is not a particularly pleasant place to be. But it is here that he is truly a witness for Jesus. It is here that he is used by God. It is here that he speaks words of hope and comfort to those who are naturally with him – not those who have been invited along for a meeting.

Wherever you are is…wherever you are! Whether you are in a classroom or in a front room; whether you are on the factory floor or the dance floor, whether you are waiting in the bus queue or sitting in the doctor’s waiting room; whether you are “cooking the books” or cooking the dinner; whether you are a worker at the factory gate or a mother at the school gate; whether you are working in the garden or working-out in the gym; whether you are with screaming football fans on the terraces or with screaming kids in the garden…this is where you are! And it is HERE that we are used by God; here that God speaks to us; here that we are naturally with people who are naturally with us. This is our mission field to which we have been called! Like Paul we don’t always get to choose our mission field – very often it chooses us.

But Paul was ready for mission; Paul was ready to be a witness in the ship that he found himself in. He didn’t say “God, WHY have You put me here?” No! He said “Lord, THANK You for putting me here!” Let us have the same attitude – a “thanker” rather than a “moaner and a whinger”. 

And his witness was not a “brief encounter” where he had to be a witness in a few short minutes. He was under guard in a ship with the same people for days – if not weeks – on end. So it is with you. Your witness is going to be less often with the person who suddenly stands before you, and more often with the child or the parent or the friend or the colleague with whom you are relating to day-after-day.

And how does Paul minister? How does he fulfil his calling to be Christ’s witness?

  • He builds up relationships with those around him even with the centurion who is there to guard him and is certainly NOT his “mate”. In the same way we are to build relationship with those whom we are naturally with. Not “bull in a china shop” banging them over the head with the Bible, but true friendship.
  • Out of relationship he gives those he is with clear warnings of danger. They don’t listen to him – they sail in any case – but what is now important is his reaction. He doesn’t go “all moody” with them and have nothing more to do with them. You too will have the natural opportunity to warn those you are natural with of what is happening in the world today. As like as not they too will ignore you. Well…just continue to love them in any case.
  • He prays for them. And he TELLS them that he is praying for them. Easy isn’t it – to pray for those we are naturally with. But, maybe NOT so easy to tell them that we are praying for them. Well…no-one said it was going to be easy…
  • But he also seeks a word from God for them. God has told him that none of them are going to die (but that they will lose the ship). In his natural situation he is clearly seeking supernatural words of knowledge that he is going to share with those who are naturally around him. So too for us: let us trust that we are wherever God wants us to be – and acknowledge that we need supernatural guidance and input to make a difference where we are – and be willing (and brave enough) to share this supernatural word in our natural place.
  • He is not just “spiritual”, he is very “practical” as well. He encourages them to eat so that they are strengthened. In the same way we are not a witness if we are “so heavenly minded that we are not earthly good”. We must offer practical help to those we are naturally with. Bring cakes into the office on a Friday; help carry the shopping of the mum at the school gate who has a buggy to push as well as a child’s hand to hold; hold the weights up at the gym; help your neighbour change the tyre on their car.

And what happens if Paul is not on that ship? Or if he never advised them to all stay together? Or never told them to abandon ship? They would have all died! And – yes- it would have been HIS fault for he was “put there for a time such as this”. NO PRESSURE – but you and I have been placed where we are. This is OUR mission field. And if we don’t talk to the mum at the school gate; if we don’t put a comforting arm around our daughter whose boyfriend has just dumped her; if we don’t warn the assembly-line colleague who is boasting about the affair he is having; then they will not hear the Good News and they will not be saved. It’s THAT important!

You may not be in your dream job, with your dream partner, in your dream house, with your dream friends. But you ARE where God has put you. And this is naturally where He will give you supernatural guidance to be the person – the witness – that He has called you to be.

CHALLENGED TO BE SUPERNATURALLY NATURAL

We are being called to be “Good News people” in the places where we spend most of our time. 

We are called to be natural – and then to be filled with the Spirit so that we are supernaturally equipped to do the work to which we have all been called.

We cannot rely on our gathered “church” to change the nation; it’s when we are released – or “scattered” – into our everyday environments that real mission and difference can take place.

Let us return to where we started from: Tony Campolo was not called to be God’s witness at a BIG meeting that day – he was called to be God’s witness in his car and in a silver trailer to a man he met who was walking out on his wife and kids. It was a naturally supernatural encounter.

And so I repeat at the end what I said at the beginning:

Might this not be the same for you? My contention in this session is that you have been uniquely placed exactly where you are to be God’s witness – to help someone – maybe even to bring them through to salvation. So, don’t spend your time thinking you can’t be His witness in all the world because of where you find yourself right now – for where you are right now is exactly where God wants you to be – right now!