Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ephesians 2:8-18

"Crock Pot Church"
6 November 2011
MasterPiece Church

Lord, you have given the Bible to be the revelation of your great love for us, and of your power and will to save us. Grant that our study of it might not be made in vain by the callousness or carelessness of our hearts -- but that we might wisely hear your words, not learn, and inwardly digest them so that we might become mature, convinced, and convincing followers of Christ Jesus.

I brought two objects for your consideration. The first is a ______________? (McDonald’s bag) What comes from this bag?
  • fast food
  • questionable nutrition sometimes
  • standardized food
  • ubiquitous food -- The food from this bag in Laveen is probably going to be pretty much the same as the food coming from one these bags in Boston.
The second object is a ______________? (crock pot)

I love this crock pot. I bought it from a hardware store when I was 20 years old and living by myself in Santa Cruz, California. It still works well. We use it often. You’ve probably had chili prepared in this crock pot.

What can you do with a crock pot? ___________

Yes, it is pretty versatile. You could make soup from a can in here but it is more likely that you’ll make something from your own ingredients. You put food into the pot in the morning and let it cook on low all day long and have a simple stew or a gourmet meal of potatoes and roast in the evening.

McDonald’s represents fastfood. And BTW, I’m not necessarily against fast food. It has it’s place. And I’m in McDonald’s hanging out meeting people perhaps three times a week. But McDonald’s represents fast food. The crock pot, on the other hand, represents slow food.

There is actually a slow food movement that developed in the 90’s and has been growing globally since then -- albeit slowly. Essentially the slow food movement seeks to “counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.” ~

Fast food is about standardization and speed. Slow food is about encouraging local, contextualized meals with emphasis on paced grassroots living -- life conducive to the crock pot. That’s why as we pause to mark a year of worshiping together and examine where we’re headed, that the crock pot is perhaps a good symbol for us.

There is actually a slow church movement developing. I’m not sure that I buy the whole thing but their slogan is, “Slow Church -- because you can’t franchise the kingdom of God.”

And that’s true. You can’t standardize or cookbook what God is doing in each place -- or even in each community -- or congregation. The masterpiece that God is developing here is not going to look exactly like the masterpiece that he develops in downtown Phoenix or Chandler or Orange County.

All churches do not need to have the same exact feel or flavor. People are different from one place to another. We all talk differently, have many different interests, and even different cultures. The slow church is determined to move at a pace that the local flavor can surface. The slow church is interested in what God is doing here and not so interested in imitating what God is doing there. Slow churches are more like simmering crock pots than microwavable, mass produced meals, or fast food. 

We call ourselves MasterPiece Church -- a name that is totally unique. I don’t know of any other congregation with that name. It came to me when I was reading in the New living Translation Timothy Botts calligraphy edition of the Bible and I was reading Ephesians 2. And this picture jumped out and grabbed me.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

You see the masterpiece in Ephesians 2 is the church -- uniquely called together through the grace of Christ (2:8) to be a body of reconciled people -- Jews and Greeks. Scandalous at the time. That is, all the forces of the time where trying to standardize and at the same time fragment the church.

There would be a Jewish church, which did Jewish things and there would be a Gentile church, which did Gentile things. Separate but equal -- at least more or less. External structure imposed from beyond. But the apostle Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, is adamant that there is one church characterized by reconciliation. The masterpiece is painted with the brush of reconciliation.

Verse 15 --
He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.
Because of Christ we’re now like a crock pot meal simmering together in the same pot -- sharing flavors -- enhancing one another.

And quite frankly in a low-flavor world this kind of crock pot masterpiece gourmet meal is going to not only be unusual but it’s also going to challenge the palates of those whose understanding of spiritual food has been formed under fast food conditions.

So, what exactly is it that we have stewing in our MasterPiece Crock Pot. What are the ingredients in the recipe?

First in our crock pot is BIBLICAL MEAT. The meat of the word -- God’s message -- his standard -- his direction -- which we have as the Bible.

We value the Bible and see it as the authoritative guide for what we believe and how we live. When read it in context and with wide angle lens it accurately reveals God’s heart and actions. So we preach and teach from the Bible -- always with God’s big picture in mind. We don’t want to be saying more -- nor less than what God reveals. We are a biblical church.

And so I’d also encourage you to be biblical people -- shaped and transformed by the message.

Second into our slow cooking crock pot are the DEVOTIONAL VEGGIES. By my way of thinking the vegetables are the main part of the meal. Sometimes I’ll go into a restaurant and order grilled veggies -- and that’s it! A full plate -- peppered lightly and covered with cheese! Veggies are full of vitamins and nutrients. I love vegetables! They stimulate growth and alertness.

And by devotional we are saying that we are devoted to Christ Jesus and to growing deeper and deeper in our relationship with him. We want to be praying people -- worshiping people -- people impacted by the presence of the Holy Spirit -- so that Christ would be honored. He is what it is all about for when we are with him we are transformed. And we become a part of his Kingdom -- his mission.

That leads us to the third ingredient -- MISSIONAL FRUIT.

We see ourselves as a grass-roots missionary force in our homes, communities, and workplaces. Everyone is a missionary!

And by mission we're talking about the whole mission of God -- sharing God's Word and challenging people to become followers of Christ, feeding the hungry, caring for refugees, the stranger, the afflicted, the addicted, the struggling -- and in the name of Jesus addressing the issues that keep people down. Whether we're doing this in Arizona or Africa we want to be a hands-on mission community.
  • This is why we’ve got the MasterReaders Club -- which provides tutoring to middle school students who are struggling with reading.
  • This is why we’re developing the Laveen Community Children’s Chorus.
  • This is why we supported the Luis Palau City Fest last year.
  • This is why I’ve done two evangelism training sessions in the last couple of years.
  • This is why we were involved in job placement for immigrants this year.
  • This is why we helped start 20 family farms in Congo last Christmas.
  • This is why we were involved with raising money for earthquake relief in Japan -- and before that Haiti. Do you remember the 5K race that Rochelle organized?
  • And this is why this Christmas I’m encouraging us to take on a new mission project in Haiti. Covenant World Relief is partnering with Habitat for Humanity to provide upgradable shelters for 450 families affected by the earthquake.
I’m very excited about the creativity and the engineering behind all of this. These are very basic and simple houses which will meet the immediate need to put a roof over the heads families -- to get babies and toddlers out of the mud -- and into a dry environment where the children can start to go to school and families cook real meals -- and start gardens.

These houses are designed in such a way that they are easily upgradable as people improve their situations. They’ll be able to add the blocks around the structures -- a necessity in a hurricane region. I am proposing that we take on the funding of at least one of these upgradable houses this Christmas. They cost $4,200 each.
I love it that we have such wonderful missional fruit in our crock pot. Hey, we may still be small but what we do has big impact on the lives of real people.

Fourth, in our crock pot is what I’d call CONNECTIONAL GRAVY. We are connected people. We are not an independent church -- but an interdependent church. MasterPiece is a part of the Evangelical Covenant Church and is in fellowship with all faithful Christian bodies which proclaim and live out the historic Christian faith -- regardless of denominational labels or structures.

This means that we see ourselves as connected with all who have lived as followers of Christ throughout the ages and connected with the faith that they have confessed -- an important thing to note on All Saints Sunday. We stand in the stream of history connected with all who acknowledge Christ as Savior and Lord.

Also, as a part of the ECC we share some common missions (for example: youth camping, world mission projects, ministries of compassion and justice), values (for example: emphasis on core biblical teaching and freedom in non-core matters, openness to women in all areas of leadership), accountability, and history with other congregations in our extended church family.

We are striving for relational connections within our congregation, too. Frankly, this is a bit of a struggle for us. Some of it has to do with the fact that we live such fragmented lives -- and we have over extended ourselves in so many areas that we don’t really do relationships as well as we should. But we know that and we are going to aim at strengthening our connections with each other.

I would suggest that the first step in doing so is to work together on the mission. Jump in and help with the tutoring or the Haiti work or I’m hoping that three or four people will go with me to Guam for a few weeks next summer to help out on the Pacific Islands University campus. A chance to foster relationships while serving together in mission.

Several years ago I was the pastor of the fastest growing Covenant church in our North Pacific Conference -- perhaps even the fastest growing Covenant church on the West Coast. Some people remember that from back in the mid-80’s. What they perhaps don’t realize is that for the first two years that I pastored the Selah Covenant Church, in Selah, Washington, nothing happened. There was no real growth.

But I can remember the Sunday that things started to explode. A new young couple visited our worship service. And as it happened a few minutes after they sat down another young couple, new to the area -- visitors to our church -- came in and sat down next to the other couple -- not knowing that they too were visitors. Within a few minutes they were talking with each other. By the end of the service they had figured out that they were going to lunch together.

Both couples came back the following week and other young couples started noticing that there was a young couples group. Well, actually there was no organized group -- just some people who started connecting and hanging out -- and caring for each other. And one thing led to another.

Soon people in the Covenant were noticing the growth of the church and they began asking me what my secret was. Which programs were we using? What kind of music were we doing?

And so I began to think about the discipleship program we had started -- the confirmation classes -- the changes in church structure. But I finally just came to the conclusion that none of these great things we were doing were at the heart of the growth.

The church grew because two new couples randomly visited on the same Sunday (and I say randomly with my tongue in cheek) and developed some relational connections in our context.

It had little to do with the programs or the great preaching -- but everything to do with God bringing people together at just the right time. Connections. Connectional.
  • Biblical
  • Devotional
  • Missional
  • Connectional
Those are the main ingredients in our crock pot -- and our masterpiece gourmet concoction.

Now, I could spend an hour talking about the type of seasoning that goes in there with it all.

We could mention hospitality, freedom, flexibility, and simplicity. But I don’t have time to cover all of that right now so let me just talk briefly about the spice of simplicity. Note that I’m not saying simplistic -- but simple. We are striving to become a SIMPLE church.

We're saying that we want to keep things simple enough that ordinary people feel empowered to take risks and initiate ministries without having to navigate a complex church bureaucracy. We value lay-initiative. The tutoring club is happening because Donna took the initiative -- perfect example.

If you want to start a miniChurch or a Bible study or a mission project -- I hereby commission you to jump into it and see where it goes. While I like to know what is going on I don’t want the ministry of the church to center around the pastor or the staff. We’ll try to be supportive and figure out how to empower you to follow through with it. But if you start it, it is your baby. We’ll bless the baby and help as we can but it is still your baby.

Please, though, don’t come up with a lot of good ideas that other people should be doing. You know that there are some of us who can generate idea after idea -- but we just assume everyone will jump in to implement the ideas that we come up with -- and we get frustrated if others don’t or can’t support every new thing that we dream up.

We, as a church, want to keep things simple enough that ordinary people can take the lead. Let’s do a few things well in a simply structured environment.

And perhaps the most important thing about simplicity is to be encouraging of others -- to draw their gifts out -- to encourage them to follow the ideas that God gives them. You don’t have to be an expert or have a well-developed program. This isn’t like a slick fast food franchise. We’re talking about grass-roots slow cooking crock pot church.

You have perhaps noticed that I often begin my sermons with the same prayer.
Lord, you have given the Bible to be the revelation of your great love for us, and of your power and will to save us. Grant that our study of it might not be made in vain by the callousness or carelessness of our hearts -- but that we might wisely hear your words, not learn, and inwardly digest them so that we might become mature, convinced, and convincing followers of Christ Jesus.
That last line is the measure of our success as a church -- if we are producing mature, convinced, and convincing followers of Christ Jesus.

It’s not about how many programs we start or how excited people become. Don’t get me wrong. Excitement can be good. Programs can be helpful. But the bottom line is whether we are serving up mature, convinced, and convincing followers of Christ Jesus.

I want to suggest this morning that when you look at it from that perspective crock pot cooking is what it is all about.

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