There’s hardly a week go by that I don’t get a chance to go to one of the hospitals in town to see someone who is either preparing for surgery or in need of medical care for some ailment. I’ve been to the hospital hundreds of times during the past almost 25 years.
Last week Connie and I were in Cooper City, Florida sharing with the brothers and sisters at Christ the Rock Community Church. February is “Missions Month” at their church and I was the first speaker to come in and share with them. The other pastors will come and encourage the church to reach out, but my aim was to lay the foundation for the month by urging them to work for a healthy church which is a place of healing, restoration, comfort, discipleship, and fellowship for those the Lord will bring in. The imagery I used to help paint a picture for them was that of the hospital—God’s Holy Hospital.
As I’ve gone from hospital to hospital I’ve learned some things which have helped me to see the church in a new light and hopefully it will help all of you this morning as well.
There are two kinds of people you will find in a hospital. First, there’s the staff, the team that has been assembled with purpose, direction, passion, and clarity of mission. From the candy stripers to the cafeteria workers to the nurses, doctors, specialists, janitors, and chief of staff—everyone who is part of the team knows their mission, purpose, the role they play, and the importance of carrying out their assignment for the success of the team.
The second group of people you will find at hospitals are those who are sick and want to get well. Can you imagine being ill and needing to go to the hospital only to find absolute chaos, confusion, and drama when you step through the front doors of the hospital? You walk in and there’s blood on the floor, trash laying around the reception area, people in lab coats running around frantic, out-of-control, and without a clue as to what they are to do and how they are to do it. Coming in another direction are a group of doctors and nurses yelling and cussing at each other like a group of boys in a high school locker room. If that were your experience then I bet the next time you’re ill and in need of medical attention you’ll try to find a different hospital to help you with what ails you.
We live in a broken world and that brokenness manifests itself in many different ways. Much like a hospital is a place where sick people go to find healing and have their health restored, so in this broken world Jesus calls us to go into all the world, enter into the brokenness of others, and share the Gospel with them. He calls us to bring them in so that they might find restoration, so that those who are lost can be saved, so that those who are broken can find healing, so that those who are lonely can be set in families, the family of the Body of Christ. Yet, if we bring them in to a church which is full of chaos, drama, backbiting, bickering, and bellyaching then those we bring in will not stay for very long.
For many of us today who are part of the Body of Christ, in the local church, we spend much more time, effort, and energy on going out than we do on realizing how important it is that the team, the church, be strong and unified. The strength, unity, and love we are to share as brothers and sisters in Christ is so important that Jesus, in His prayer before He went to the cross, prayed for us. Listen to His prayer from John 17:20-21.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:20-21 NIV)
We here at Britton Christian Church are a part of the team. The team is not made up just of those on the staff of our church, but each and every person who comes to BCC is an important part of this team with a two-fold purpose. I want to spend our time this morning taking a look at each of those purposes. As we take a look at Scripture and talk about our two-fold purpose this morning I want to encourage you to remember that each of these purposes are equally important.
Building Up The Body
First, we are to build up the Body of Christ. There’s so much packed into that little phrase, but it is best understood by taking a look at the early Church so that we can learn what they did and why they did it. Turn with me to Acts 2:41-47 and let’s read together.
41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:41-47 NIV)
How do we, each and every part of the team at Britton Christian Church, work to build up the team, the Body of Christ, at Britton Christian Church? I have an answer for us and it is by committing to the same things we just read about. The followers of Jesus were committed “to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” We can keep reading and find that “all the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need,” but this type of sacrificial love for one another was nothing more than an overflow of their commitment to the four things mentioned in verse 42. They were devoted to the Word of God as taught by the apostles, they were devoted to spending time together, that’s what “fellowship” means, they were devoted to sharing communion together, being reminded of the Cross, never forgetting the One who called them and held them together in the family, and they were devoted to prayer. Inherent within all of these activities of the followers of Jesus is worship. Worship is the adoration, praise, and honoring of our glorious God and worship should pervade, saturate, everything we do as Jesus’ followers.
It is easy for a church to get off track and make other endeavors their passion and purpose, but it is imperative that we maintain an attitude of worship as we stay focused on teaching, fellowship, community, and prayer. If we, each and every one of us, will keep this at the forefront of our minds then we will see the Body of Christ built up in strength, unity, and love. I would go one more step and say without hesitation that if we, as the team of believers in this place, fails to keep these at the forefront of our minds and embedded in our hearts then we will fail miserably in developing strength, unity, and love in this church.
It was Jesus’ heart that His followers would be united in His love. Do you remember the Scripture we read at the beginning of our time together? Jesus prayer in John 17 was that we would be one just as He and the Father are one. Do you realize what a crazy prayer that is? Do you realize just how utterly impossible that prayer is? Stop and think with me for a moment. Unity is hard enough to maintain in a family isn’t it? How many times have you and your family members had disagreements, times when a “cold war” took place, or even an absolute break in family relationships when folks stopped talking to each other? I would venture to guess that there are folks here this morning whose family is broken and they may have family members who have not talked in years…and that is in our families where there are only a few members and we are blood relatives!
Now imagine the difficulty of maintaining unity when you bring together such a diverse group of people as we have here at Britton Christian Church. Different ages, different cultures, different economic situations, different perspectives on what we each would prefer and desire—how in the world do you please everybody? The truth is you don’t and you can’t and if you try you will miserably fail. Can I share with you a real life example of what I’m talking about?
In the life of this 100 year old church, for the vast majority of our history those who gathered in this building were all white folks. Even when I moved here, surrounded by a diverse community, we only had white folks walking through our halls. Let me let you in on a little secret, they didn’t all agree with each other. Then the Lord blessed us, we became more diverse, and as I looked out over the congregation I saw black and white faces staring back at me. Along with that beautiful diversity came challenges. One group of folks liked the old hymns, another group liked black gospel songs, and still others liked modern-day praise music. That’s just one of the challenges we were confronted with back then.
Today, with Irvin Rodriguez joining our staff, we must prepare for new challenges. Our challenge will not only be those who are limited in their command of the English language, but also the challenge of learning about an entirely different culture and their way of doing things. If we expect to see unity fostered and maintained with these new challenges by taking a course in political correctness or instituting some government program then I’ve got news for you—we will fail miserably. Political correctness and government programs can no more get diverse groups of people to love one another than they can persuade the lion to lay down with the lamb. We are just too different. I’m not speaking of “us” and “Hispanic” folks; I’m talking about all of us. We each have our own way of doing things. I have my way, you have your way, she has her way, and he has his way. What we need is His way and that is why we come to the Word of God over and over and over again—to seek His way… a buscar la manera de Dios!
If we will stay focused on having a heart of worship as we come together as one people, one team, to study God’s Word together, to fellowship together, to share at the Lord’s Table together, and to pray together…then unity will flourish at BCC!
We are to be united, but united in a very specific manner, and that is “in love,” in “His love.” Jesus urged His followers to love one another and He expressed it in different ways, but underlying each of the ways He verbalized it is the command for us to love one another in the way He loves us. Let me show you just a couple of the ways Jesus expressed this command. In John 13:34, Jesus said,
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV)
We are not given the option of loving one another when loving is easy, when we agree with one another, or when the other loves us back—I am to love you in the way the Lord has loved me and leave the rest to Him.
A little earlier in the same chapter of John, Jesus washed the feet of His disciples as an act of love and an example for them and us. Then, in John 13:14-15, Jesus said,
14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. (John 13:14-15 NIV)
Love is an emotion, but Jesus’ love goes beyond mere emotion and sentiment, His love acts. Love is a verb. Love is expressed by our actions. Love does. Jesus, in washing the feet of His disciples demonstrated that we should be willing to do the most menial of tasks with honor, as a privilege, in service to the Lord because of His love for us.
Reach Out to Bring Them In
Before we leave here this morning we need to spend some time taking a look at the second aspect of our purpose as the Body of Christ and that is going out to bring them in. The final two verses of Matthew’s Gospel records for us Jesus’ command to His followers. Read along with me from Matthew 28:19-20.
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV)
Unlike the hospital staff that waits for the sick to come to them, we are to go to the streets, the office buildings, schools, locker rooms, and in every place where people gather and reach out to them. Phillip was led to go to a chariot carrying an Ethiopian eunuch, Peter was led to travel some 35 miles to the home of a Gentile named Cornelius who lived in Caesarea, Jesus went to the other side, to the region of the Gerasenes, to deliver a man who was being tormented by a legion of demons, Barnabas reached out to Paul, a young convert who scared everyone in the church to death, and the list goes on and on and on.
Our city is full of broken people, people who have needs, people who are hurting, people who are lonely, people who are lost, people who are stuck in grief and despair and addiction and we are called to go. Go and share the Gospel with people, go and meet them at their point of need, go and love people, and invite them into the family.
I was at The King’s Klinic this past week and had the most amazing experience. I saw many people from BCC who were working alongside of others were giving of their time and using their skills to meet people at their point of need. While I was there I met a doctor who is originally from Iran, but who came to the United States to get medical care for her daughter who was very ill. The help she needed was in Oklahoma City and while she was getting care for her daughter she heard about The King’s Klinic. Now she is studying to gain her certification to practice medicine in the U.S. and volunteering her time to help the hurting at The King’s Klinic.
I have to make a confession to you this morning. When I first found out that she was Muslim I was confused. The King’s Klinic is a Christian clinic in every sense of the word. The doctors and staff pray with the patients, speak to them about the Lord, and the medical care that is offered is unmistakably administered as an extension of the ministry of Jesus. Later, after I left the clinic, the Lord brought a thought to mind: “What better place is there for Neda to learn about Jesus and the impact that He makes on people’s lives than at The King’s Klinic?” Neda is just like the young medical students who come to volunteer their time at the clinic. We don’t know if they are followers of Jesus or not when they come to use their gifts to help the hurting, but while they are around our folks they learn what it means to be a Christian doctor.
Just yesterday we celebrated the life of Bart Miller. I have to tell you how proud I am of all of you who came to Bart’s funeral. You blessed his family in ways that words can’t describe. After everyone cleared out of the funeral home I was standing by the casket with Bart’s sisters as they said their final good byes. I said, “I bet you had no idea of just how wide the web of friends you’re brother had did you?” Seeing all of you will be a memory they will cherish for the rest of their lives.
Bart has had an impact on many of our lives. Bart has been homeless for the better part of 40 years. You could find Bart any day of the week at Baker’s Garage hanging out with Bear and Tracey Baker. Bear and Tracey have let Bart shower at their home, wash his clothes at their home, he’s put his feet under their table, and ever lived with them for a period of time. Then, a few years ago, Bart met Sue Woolum at The King’s Klinic. He’s suffered from COPD and other ailments for a long time. Sue and the other folks at the clinic have helped him with meds. Then Sue invited Bart to come to church with her. You would have to know Bart to know what a struggle it was for him to come for the first time. He didn’t do well around people, but he came. The first time he was here he was detached, watching, sizing everyone up, and taking it all in. Then he came back. Then Sue invited Bart to the Pairs and Spares Sunday school class. Then, in March of 2013, Bart accepted Christ and I had the blessing of baptizing him. The man who had been homeless for most of his life found a home right here at Britton Christian Church. Most of the world and sadly, many within the Body of Christ, would never give Bart the time of day. After all, he was just a homeless man, but to you he was your brother. You welcomed him and he found a home.
I’ve got to share just one more story with you as an example of how we are called to go. Six or eight months ago I went to the leaders of our church and told them that I had driven up and down the streets of our neighborhood one day and had seen tons of Hispanic kids out playing. I’ve seen lots of kids at BCC through the years, but none of them have been Puerto Rican, Mexican, Cuban, or from any other countries in Latin America. I asked the Board to begin praying with me for the Lord to send us someone who can help us reach out to the Spanish speaking community in our neighborhood. We began praying and I began talking to friends in ministry, asking them, “Where do you find a Spanish speaking pastor?” Nobody I asked had any answers for me other than, “Good luck” or “Get in line.”
A few months later I got a phone call from a professor at Dallas Christian College who wanted to come to Oklahoma City and talk to me about how we have become a diverse congregation. While we were talking I told him about the new community that has formed in our neighborhood and that we were praying for the Lord to send us some help. He had been taking notes, but he looked up at me and said, “I’ve got just the person you need to talk to. His name is Irvin Rodriguez.” I invited Irvin to come and visit. He went to lunch with the staff. I began to share with our leaders about Irvin and on his next visit he met our Personnel Committee. Everyone liked him and sensed that he was the leader we’d been praying about.
When Irvin arrived I said, “We don’t have a Job Description to give you. For the first couple of months all I want you to do is go out and meet people.” Irvin has been here for one month now and it is so exciting to see how the Lord is using him. Irvin goes out and walks the streets of our community. He knocks on doors and introduces himself while giving the residents information about our church in Spanish and English. One of the first houses Irvin visited is just three doors down from the church. The family of seven is an arm’s reach from our front door. As Irvin introduced himself to the mother she said, “My kids have been begging me to go to that church, but I told them that is an English church…they don’t want us.” Irvin being at her house spoke loudly that we aren’t an “English” church, we are Jesus’ church and we do want her and her family.
Irvin has been working hard trying to get some English as a Second Language classes started for those who want to learn English. When I got back in town Monday afternoon Irvin came into my office and said, “I’ve got good news.” I said, “What is it?” Irvin said, “I put our ESL classes on a Facebook page called, “comprar y vender” which is buy and sell page for Hispanics in Oklahoma City and I didn’t get any response. I did it again at the end of the week and still no response. Then I went to the Sweet Hour of Prayer Sunday night and I prayed for the Lord to help me. Today I got 8 responses!” We were celebrating like Tom Brady and the Patriots after the Super Bowl! Wednesday afternoon Irvin came back by and told me he had 42 people signed up for ESL classes at BCC! Those who will come to the ESL classes will think they are going to learn English, but Irvin is going to use that time with them to minister to them, to share the Gospel with them, pray for their needs, and invite them into the family.
I pray that you, now more than ever before, understand how important it is for us to be a healthy church, a church that huddles up around God’s Word, huddles up around the Lord’s Table, spending time to together, praying for one another, and reaching out to those who need the Lord. If we will make this our focus then when the Lord brings people to BCC the lost will be saved, the broken will find healing, and the lonely will find their place in the family, the family of God. What an amazingly glorious thing it is to watch God work and to be a part of His work.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
February 15, 2015