Raven Cannon, Children's PastorAugust 19, 2019
Let’s make loving one another the highest priority and refuse to be offended.
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I need to say one more thing, and it’s a little bit of a contrast to what we just shared, but 35 years ago to this day, something happened. It happened right here on this platform, 35 years ago to this day, August 4th. That was the day my wife and I were married on this stage. Isn’t that cool? Tight here, 35. Oh my goodness. She’s outside with the Java Team and all this going on out there. If you get a chance, if you know her say, “Hey, happy anniversary.” If you don’t know her, say, “Who’s Sheryl?” Just tell her and smile at her, she’s got the sparkle of life in her. She’s been an amazing woman. Someone was congratulating us and I said, “Thank you.” I said, “She had the harder job, I think. I really do.” She did. This is just truth actually, but I was thinking, the message is on. Oh, it’s good.
You know, the thing is, neither one of us grew up in a home where we saw our parents stay together. I was 12 when my mom and dad separated and she was just a little bit older. Neither one of us saw homework in terms of raising kids, staying together, staying in love, making our way through the seasons of life. This message today, which is called The Rise To Unity, actually is not only going to talk about the Church. It talks about one of the keys to relational success as well. They’re going to be a principle that we explore, and I’m going to say this. There were no models for us growing up. We’re not done yet, Lord willing, but the truth is both of us acknowledged that we need the Lord at the center of our lives. It’s not a cliche. We know for a fact that that is the critical piece. The key for us was it, each of us made a commitment to the Lord, which was even higher than the commitment we made to each other, and that commitment to Christ is carried today.
I want to acknowledge that because if it wasn’t for the grace of God and for His hand, and for a genuineness of love, not perfection, but a genuineness of love for the Lord and a desire to want to get past things that would otherwise create a fissure and divide. I know some have experienced great pain. I’m not comparing myself with anything. I’m just saying this idea of unity, it has power in Christ. It is real, it works. It can work.
I want us to now look at our teaching together. I want us to learn together. I’m going to look at a passage. The Rise Series has been essentially tracing the birth of the early Church through the Book of Acts. This is a study through the early part of the Book of Acts and we’ve been hearing some amazing messages. I was with you last week and we heard a great message on this idea of suffering, and how to work with that. These last few weeks, we’ve been sitting with different lessons from the teachings in the Book of Acts and I want to pick up on something.
My theme is unity, but it’s also about how to negotiate division. How to get past things, so they don’t capture us and tear us apart. There’s so much wisdom in the Scriptures. If our hearts are open, we can learn so much. Oh, we can be so much better. Our cap goes way up when we open ourselves up to the Lord, His wisdom, and His Word. Acts 6 is where we’re going to focus with just a few verses at the opening of Acts 6. That opening verse is not going to necessarily make sense to a lot of us. So we don’t have a background. You’re going to look at it. You’re going to read it and we’re going to go, “What are they talking about? What is this?” Acts 6:1, “Now, in these days, when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenist arose against the Hebrews, because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.”
Now this is a verse that gives us a fascinating insight into the early Church. It reminds us that it was not a perfect institution. The Church was not born fully formed as a community of believers. They had to stay open to the Holy Spirit and continue to make practical adjustments. The truth is, as we’re being told here, and I love the fact that the Bible tells us this, it doesn’t try to hide the problems. The way of the Lord is not a dysfunctional way. It’s honest. They had a problem. What we’re looking at here, and I’m going to talk about them, are all followers of Jesus. At the very beginning of the Church, they’re all Jewish. Everybody’s ethnically Jewish, but they’re culturally different. The early Church community of Jewish believers have come to a faith in Christ. But what’s happening is they’ve been living in community and there’s a fissure that occurs because one group feels that the other one is being given more favor. The two groups are described as being one, the Hebrews, and the other the Hellenist. Let me explain what they were.
Again, all the Church was Jewish believers in Jesus, but the Hebrews were the people who were more parochial. They had grown up in Jerusalem and Judea. They spoke Hebrew, Aramaic. They were more culturally and ethnically Jews. They had come to faith. They were local. They were, in a sense, very deeply rooted in their Jewish heritage.
The Hellenist were also Jewish people, but they were people who had been living in the exiles. As many of us know, the Jewish people have been scattered in different parts of the world. The world at that time spoke a common language, at least the known world, the Roman World. The language they spoke, which was kind of like the English of our day, was Greek. It was common Greek. In different countries today, you can usually get by with English, everybody knows a little bit of English. That would have been the case with the Roman World. Greek was the most common language of trade, of business.
So many of the Jewish believers in the early church had grown up in a different culture. They were Jewish, but they were very Hellenized, that is, they had been affected by Greco-Roman culture. They were very at ease intermixing with Gentiles, and that’s how they did business. Their first language was Greek, not Hebrew. You had these kinds of cultural differences, even though ethnically, everybody’s the same. They all had made a commitment to follow Jesus, believing the message of Christ, that He was indeed the Savior of the world, the Messiah, the Promised One. They have a division and it’s interesting because it says here that the Hebrew widows, it was the feeling that they were getting more attention than the Hellenist widows.
Do you know what’s interesting? It’s that, things haven’t changed that much. The argument here is around this word, equality, and the early Church is experiencing a division. It’s amazing how things never change. They were saying, “There’s a lack of equality here. You’re giving more treatment to the local people than those of us who have more Greek background and are culturally different than you. We feel like we’re not being treated equally.” The insinuation was that one segment of the other community was given favor.
You have to remember there were no government programs. There was no social security. That was a big deal. No disability. No life insurance, nothing. Things we take for granted in our culture. You have these things, they’re kind of fallbacks. Imagine if none of that existed and in some places in the world, it doesn’t. In those places that makes total sense why their situation is almost identical to what’s going on here. You rely on your family and your community. Those two things become far more important when there are no government programs to fall back onto. It becomes huge, and that’s one of the reasons why, when you read the Bible, you’ll see things mentioned about pure religion.
“Is this an undefiled?” I’m quoting from the Book of James. James says, “It’s that pure religion is this, and undefiled, that you care for the orphans.” Look at that, “Orphans and the widows.” See how important that was? “It’s undefiled religion before God my Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble.” But a lot of times people forget the second part of that verse. Live counter-culturally and, “Stay unspotted from the world.” Don’t let the world shape us into a way of thinking that excludes God and is disconnected from our morality and ethics. Both are there, but the reason that’s referred to in the early Church is that that was the community. If the community did not take and embrace the orphan without a parent and the widow without any way of surviving, if she didn’t have a family, then what would happen? The Church was to fill that gap. Again, that’s why that verse is there.
It’s very interesting. This is what happens. I just wanted you to have the background. What happens here is a division arises over what is a perceived disparity. The fragile unity of the Church is at stake. Prayerfully, the leadership made a decision, and we read about it in verse two. Look what it says there. It says, “And the Twelve,” that is the Twelve Apostles, “Summoned the full number.” The disciples brought together and they had a gathering, a community gathering, and they said, “It is not right.” They had come to a conclusion. They felt like the problem actually wasn’t because it was favoritism going on as much as it was an administrative issue and they took responsibility. It says, “It is not alright that we should give up preaching the Word of God to serve tables. Therefore brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit, of the wisdom of whom would appoint this duty, but we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.” I put a different version there in your handout because I thought a slightly different angle would help us.
Look at the bottom there of your handout at the NLT, the New Living Translation there on the bottom of the page there. I’m going to read these four verses from that version and it’ll make even more sense. It says, “But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers.” There it is, “Complained about the Hebrew speaking believers saying.” Saying what? “That their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers and they said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the Word of God.” This is interesting, “Not running a food program. And so brothers select seven men who are respected and full of Spirit.” They didn’t treat it casually, “And we will give them this responsibility.”
Remember it was a more patriarchal society at that time. It’s going to have a little bit more of a male component to it, but the Lord always made room for that shift and the engagement of women, because of one of the great stories of the Church. “Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the Word.” It was not because they felt that running a food program was below them, because Jesus had shown them the foolishness of that type of thinking. It was because they had limits. They had priorities and they had a conviction that they had to focus on their primary responsibility. We’re going to press more into that in a few minutes, but notice what it says there, going back to the top.
“Pick out some individuals among you, seven who are of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.” A couple of things to note here. What the Apostles say is this. We need someone to oversee this, to create greater peace in the community. The seven men that we’re selecting, one, can’t be from the outside. They have to be people who are known. Also, we need them to have a good reputation. What people think does matter.
They also need to have a vibrant, spiritual life, “Full of Spirit.” People with a recognized love for God and a vibrancy to their life with the Lord. Thirdly, “A Spirit of wisdom.” That is, they were to have sanctified common sense and tact. “And we will devote,” the Apostles say, “Ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.” Look at verse five, that sounded good. It pleased the whole community and they chose Stephen. Do you see that name? That name is going to come up later because Stephen is destined to become the first person ever killed over the faith of Jesus. At the time, they didn’t know that. They also don’t know that one of the men is going to be holding the clothes while Stephen is martyred. He is another man who is not a believer in Jesus but is destined to become the greatest, in terms of impact, follower of Jesus, this world has ever known. That is Saul of Tarsus, becomes Paul.
At the time, it says, “They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, Nicolas. These are seven men. He was an apostle out of Antioch. It says, “Then they said.” Look at this. “These, they set before the Apostles. They prayed. They laid their hands on them.” What is a result of this reorganization, which is what it was, “The word of God continued to increase.” Look at verse seven. “And the number of disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” “The Word of God continued to increase.” That’s the Bible’s way of saying the message spread. Because of the good adjustment that was made, there was an expansion that occurred. That realignment creates even more possible for people to come to faith. The Church grows numerically. We’re told on a side note, that even some of the priests began to embrace Jesus as Messiah and follow in His way. That’s what it means when it says, “Became obedient to the faith.”
So we have to understand something. When I realized this was my assignment to preach on these seven verses, I thought, “Ah, I get to preach on the problem in the Church, huh? The division.” I love the fact that the Bible, not that they had the division, but that the Bible tells us that they did because what it does is it strips the veneer off of the perception of a perfect Church. The reality is, there is no perfect Church. There is no Church that is perfect and if it was, it stopped being that way, the minute we walked in. You know why? Because each one of us is an imperfect, flawed person. As the Scripture says, “We all sin and fall short of the Glory of God.” We all need grace. We will always need grace and that’s the truth.
All of our stuff will come out when the wrong buttons are pushed. We all are capable of hurting ourselves and hurting others. That’s the truth. You know it, I know it, but I hear people, some say to me, “When I get my life back in order, you’ll see me back at Church again.” I say, “Bro, you got it all wrong. You come to the Church so you can get your life in order because we’re all finding our way on a journey of faith. We’re all growing and none of us will ever have this totally down. We all get to have a season of growth in our life with God.” Here’s one thing I do know. When we make a commitment to truly follow Jesus, we will always be better than what we would have been without Him.
That’s just a fact. We are basically a Church full of imperfect people, seeking to follow a perfect Savior. That’s what we are and that’s okay. By the way, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t contend for purity, peace, and unity and do our best to be life-givers and truly love one another. We shouldn’t be disillusioned by problems. We have a Holy experiment going on. Where else do you see this? So many different people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, and educational backgrounds. Different socio-economics come together with love for one another, based around a shared faith in Christ, and have experienced the transformational touch of His life in us, causing us to want to love one another and be better. How good is that?
I’ve noticed that sometimes when problems hit the Church and now I’ve been here many, many decades. I had a chance to watch a lot of Churches come and go in San Francisco. I’ve done it here as well. One of the things I’ve come to realize is that sometimes problems hit a Church of faith community and it’s so tough. I’ve watched some people stop following Jesus and become committed to a Church because of problems in the church, just like what was going on in the Book of Acts. I do understand this. Some situations are so toxic that some changes, serious changes need to be made. There may be a time to leave a local church, but never the Church. I’ll tell you why, because the Scriptures make it clear that every serious believer is to live in community with other believers. It was not only the command of Jesus. It was the undebatable pattern of the early Church. Let us be clear, even with its flaws and challenges, the Church was God’s idea for fallen humanity. It is the pattern He set in place for our wellbeing and for the sake of the lost. The church is where people come to grow in their faith in the Jesus way. It’s where people are added to the Lord’s way.
I was talking to my wife. I said, “The truth is you and I both.” I said, “Hun, you know it and I know it.” When you think about it because she was asking me what the message was about. I said, “It’s about problems in the Church that happened, and how we’re going to have problems at times that divide us.” I said, “But think about it. You and I both, our lives were altered for the Lord because of the Church, and the Church is a place where we can bring people.” Our mission statement, to live out our faith in Jesus and invite others into life with Him. This is the place to invite people, to experience Jesus, and then to grow. That’s what we’re about.
One of the things that we’re taught here in this passage is that there is value; I’m talking about our need in our life to prioritize our gifts and our highest leverage contributions. I want to talk about life. It’s true of a Church too, but do you see what the Apostles did? They understood correctly. They could not do it all and neither can we. We have limits. Some of us are a little bit out of whack. We are majoring in on the minors and we are minoring on the major. We’re undercutting our best selves by dispersing our energy in too many directions. The key to a growing thriving life with the Lord is to identify that our God assigned big rocks and tenaciously pursue them as our priority, our seasonal priority in our life.
A lot of times we get ourselves too committed in too many directions. We’re saying yes to too many things. We’re not really seeking the Lord’s wisdom on what are the key things that we’re to be putting our primary amount of energy into, and then tenaciously pursuing it. As a rule, it is important to prioritize our life around our gifts and our highest leverage contributions. It is wise to build our life around our gifts and our highest leverage contributions. In other words, we all have something that God gives us, that creates impact. As a whole, we are to focus the majority of our energy on what God has gifted us with and how we can use that to bless others. That means we have to think about our life.
You know how many times we just kind of move through life. We’re not thinking about the quality of our life, the impact. What I love about what the Apostles did here is they had a standing problem, and they began to say, “Look, we’re getting ourselves too spread out here and it’s taking away from the place that we are called most to pursue. We’re supposed to lead this community spiritually and we’re getting dispersed. We need to make a shift here.” That is the perfect lead in to the next thing that I want to say, which is the value of good adjustments. The value of good adjustments.
The Church was not so set in its ways that they couldn’t adjust. It reminded me of the power of adjustments in our lives, particularly when what we are doing isn’t working. Do you know what I’m saying? There is such a thing as a good idea, and you know what? Many good ideas are born out of dissatisfaction with what isn’t working so well. In other words, we have a problem and now it’s true, not every adjustment in life or business will work. We need to be careful about becoming habitually reactive and restless.
I’m going to say a complex thing here. There are times where what we’re doing isn’t working and we need to make an adjustment. It’s going to happen in a relationship, it can happen in a business. It can happen in our personal life. It’s as if we need to make an adjustment. This isn’t working right and we need to shift some things here. There are times where that is absolutely necessary, but then, there are other times when we need to give something more rope to play out.
Some of us are very active or very restless. If it doesn’t immediately pay off, then we’re on to something else. We can even say that we have a series of things we are constantly correcting here or there. We think, “Oh, it’s not working. I’m going to go do this. It’s not working. I’m going to do that.” The next thing you know, we’re always starting something. There are some things that need to be played out that we need to be patient with. We need to let it be for a bit. But then there are other times when you get to this point where you think, “You know what? I’ve let this thing play out. I got to make a change here. I’ve got to adjust this thing.”
I was talking to a businessman. He called me. He had taken a leap of faith. He emailed me actually and it wasn’t working. People told him, “You got to do anything. You got to take a risk. You have to take a risk.” That’s not always true. There’s a balance here, but I would say, by and large, some problems are so acute that they won’t go away on their own, and just trying harder is not going to solve it. The way I would say it is, ‘We need to be as much as possible people who are open and creative.’ Problem solvers.
Do you know God wants us to grow in our capacity to be problem solvers? Creative people? You cannot be creative when you’re filled with anxiety. That’s why, one of the main things we sometimes need to do is say, “Lord, calm my mind here. Calm my spirit here. Help me to line myself up with your truth. Help me to trust You in this place in my life. Help me to trust You to be open to Your creative solutions for me.” How can we even see things sometimes when we’re racked with anxiety and stress? “Be anxious for nothing,” the Scripture says, “But in everything by prayer and supplication with Thanksgiving, let your request be made known unto God, and the peace of God that passes all understanding shall keep your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.”
As we align ourselves with His truth, we begin to calm the waters down. Remember, one thing you cannot do, do not fight life. Do not fight life. Not going to work. Calm it down. Get good counsel. Not all counsels are the same. Why do we talk about the value of small groups, serving in ministry, living in community, and not just being content with being an attender? Why? Because it allows for the building of relationships that create safety to share our life. When things hit us, we are not alone. We can get collective wisdom, wisdom that is built-in trust and in love, Christ-centered, wise with His words.
I believe in good counsel. I really do, but some counsel when it’s not really bringing the Lord into it, will actually be counterproductive. The way of the Lord is a way of wisdom. That’s why we are to acquaint ourselves with His words. “Your word is a light unto my path and a lamp unto my feet.” You will show me the way through my life. You allow me to be nimble in my relationships. You allow me to make good adjustments, Lord. You keep me from stumbling. Lest I fall, you give me the ability to find my way through this. There will be times in our lives where it will be so hard, where the heat will be so intense and the temptation will be to quit or crumble. But if you build yourself, your life on the rock, and on the wisdom of God, what will happen is, He will show us how to make adjustments that will bring peace in life and blessing.
The third thing I’ll point out here is the importance of unity. There it is, in the Church and in relationships. Prioritizing with our gifts and our highest leverage contributions. In other words, am I saying yes to the right things? Should I be saying no to a few other things? On top of that, the value of making a good adjustment, aligning myself, making a shift here. If this isn’t working, then I need to make a shift. A good counsel, a wise shift not a reckless one. Next, pursue unity. What do I mean by that?
I’m going to be really honest with you right here. I was a young leader in a Church. It was a church split. The Church was smaller than just the one service we have here. I wasn’t the lead pastor but I was just beginning to really follow the Lord intensely. I remember how you had two sides, literally fighting each other in the same little Church. I was thinking, “This is a small Church, and who in the world is going to want to come and join this?” So they come in and they have to choose a side. I wanted to see people come to Jesus. I was just so sad by what I saw. It was so disheartening to me to see a Church fighting with one another. When there is such a division, it is impossible to reach the loss for Jesus.
The Church was born to grow, but it can’t when it’s divided. That’s why the Bible says to pray for your leaders and to guard the unity of the body. Be a life-giver. It’s true in our life as well. It’s true in our life as well. There is power in unity. I said that at the very beginning of the message, the power of unity. Psalm 133, “How good it is for the brethren to dwell together in unity.” The Psalmer says, “That’s like the dew on Mount Hermon. It’s like the oil that came down Aaron’s beard. There the Lord has commanded His blessing, the blessing of the Lord, more in unity.” In a home as in unity, is a blessing. Blessing, that’s where the blessing is. The fissure, the divide. No, find our unity.
Finally, let’s make loving one another the highest priority then. Don’t miss that last part. Refuse to be offended. Don’t walk around, “Man, why are they doing that?” Stop being critical. Stop thinking or saying, “What’s wrong with them? Why did they do this? I can do this better.” Can we be a blesser? I’m not saying that we’re settling for not pursuing quality. I am saying, let’s make loving one another the priority. That’s what our Lord taught us. Love one another and blessed are the unoffended. If you want to be angry at people, you always have a reason. We will always have a reason. You want to be mad at yourself, you always have a reason.
You want to be hurt? You can always find it. Remember, if you focus on the flaw of anything, you destroy its ability to bless you. If we focus on the flaw, we hinder its capacity to be the blessing it was meant to be. Stop it and let’s focus on Him and allow His goodness to be the dominant theme of our life. Do you know what Jesus said? I love John 13, “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another.” Look at each other. You’re competing. “You love one another as I have loved you.” Also, “Love one another. By this, shall all people know that you are my disciples.” Do you want to know what the badge of the Christian is? Think about that verse. “By this, shall people know that you are my disciples, by the love you show to one another.” That’s your badge, the badge of love for one another.
Let that be the dominant rule in our heart, in our home. Love of God in my home, love of God in our Church. Love of God. Let us rise up to the command and rise up into unity. That’s what the Lord wants for all of us. Keep our hearts aligned in peace in the Lord. I’m really big on this thing. The more we fight something, the more powerful it is. Align our heart with God. Keep our attitude in a good place. Stay focused on the goodness of God and the love of God, not on the flaws, but on His goodness. Allow that to be the dominant theme of our life. You’ll see blessings flying all around us. “Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Amen.
Lord, we want to ask you to take these words, bring life to them, water them in our hearts. I don’t know what part was meant to connect. I don’t know. You know. You know us better than we know ourselves. You see everything, every dark place. Everything, nothing is hidden from You. I know You love us. You call us upward, upward. Freedom in Your name Lord. Life in Your name, a blessing in Your name, Spirit and in soul and in body, I pray it over all of us, Lord. May the life of Jesus flow as we align ourselves in a spirit of unity, love, and Christ that Your light shines through our lives. I ask you to bless our time of giving. I know Lord, a lot of us have given differently these days, but we want to honor you. That’s our Church, we commit ourselves to it, and then we ask You to be with us in the closing song as well, so we can sit with what we’ve just heard and just enjoy You together in these closing minutes. I ask that we have a better life. We would hear Your wisdom for living and then seek to align ourselves in the way that allows for Your blessing to flow. Life evermore. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.