Church Planting Sunday
Church Planting Sunday
Back in 1984, East 91st Street Christian Church had a parking problem. A few years earlier, E91 had left East 49th Street to move to the faraway plains and prairies of Castleton. This area all around us was new and growing. And our church was experiencing rapid growth.
What shall we do? Where shall we put the all the cars of these suburbanites commuting weekly to the E? Some of our leaders had heard of this newfangled enterprise called church planting. We found out later that it wasn’t so new after all.
Fuller Seminary was hosting a church planting conference in November of that year, so we sent John Wasem and Steve Hall to find out how to move hundreds of cars, and their drivers, to another location.
Well a funny thing happened on the way to parking lot. It turns out church planting is not about overcoming parking problems. What we discovered, or perhaps rediscovered, is lost people matter to God, and God uses new churches to reach lost people. And with that revelation, E91 launched a vision to plant 20 churches in 20 years.
Today we will look at two men and the visions God gave them. We will see not only does God love lost people, but He loves people we consider unclean, and He calls us to love them too.
A couple weeks ago Rick’s theme was Jesus makes the unclean, clean. I had already started working on this message before I heard Rick’s so I will take this as evidence that God wants to teach us more about unclean.
First, that none of us are so unclean that Jesus can’t make us clean (Rick’s point). Today, that God loves others we consider unclean, and calls us to do likewise. God loves people we consider unclean and calls us to do the same.
We come now to the book of Acts. Having told the disciples to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth, the Resurrected Jesus ascends to be with His Father. The disciples pray and wait for the promised Holy Spirit
On the day of Pentecost He comes. Peter preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ, His life, death and resurrection. People are cut to the heart. Thousands repent and are baptized. God births His church in Jerusalem. Despite external and internal challenges, the church in Jerusalem grows. But it is still in Jerusalem.
Following the stoning death of Stephen, God allows a great persecution to break out. Believers scatter throughout Judea and Samaria, taking the gospel with them. Even some Samaritans, hated by any orthodox Jew, as a half- breed mongrel race, come to faith in Jesus. There is the conversion of an Ethiopian eunuch. But the church has yet to intentionally push the gospel out to the Gentiles. In the eyes of any orthodox Jew, Gentiles were so unclean that Hebrew midwives were commanded not to help Gentile mothers in labor, lest they bring another unclean pagan into the world.
We arrive at Acts 10 featuring a Gentile named Cornelius, a Jewish believer named Peter, but starring a God who loves all people even those we consider unclean. We begin with Cornelius.
I. The Man: Cornelius
A. Acts 10: 1-2
B. What do we learn about this man Cornelius?
1. He was a centurion. That means he was a Roman soldier who commanded 100 men.
3. He was devout, feared God, gave to those in need and prayed continually. He sounds like a great guy, a good man.
4. But He is still lost. Being good is not good enough. All religions are not the same before God (Jn. 14:6, Acts 4:12). Cornelius needs Jesus. So do we, and others who practice religion, give, pray, but are still lost in their sin.
5. The good news is that God will send more light to those who respond to the light they have been given.
God wants us to help people come to Jesus, even people we consider unclean. God wants to make us like Himself, and He loves all people, even those on our unclean, unworthy, undeserving, unacceptable list.
6. We move from the man Cornelius to his vision.
II. His Vision
A. Acts 10: 3-8
B. Do you ever wonder if God hears the prayers of those who are lost? He does, and he responds. God always responds to those who seek Him with all their hearts.
C. While God-fearing Cornelius is keeping the Jewish hour of prayer, God appears to Him.
D. We don’t know what Cornelius was praying. Perhaps He was seeking a peace He knew not. Creation and conscience declare the reality of God (Ps. 19, Rom. 1-2) but we need to know Jesus to know God.
E. Jesus tells us the Father is always at work, drawing people to Himself, that He prays for us, that the Holy Spirit convicts of guilt: sin, righteousness, and judgment.
F. God also tells us faith comes by hearing and hearing by Word or message of Christ.
G. God remembers this good man who is still a lost man. And He tells him to send for another man named Peter.
H. Have you ever wondered at the inefficiency of God? The angel is already there. Why not have Him tell Cornelius about Jesus?
I. Because God has invited us in to His work. He wants us to co-labor with Him. He wants us to be like Him. This demands learning to love all people, even those we choose to hate, fear, or ignore.
J. We need God to transform us if we are going to be like Him. God gives us opportunities to be transformed. The story moves from Cornelius to Peter.
III. Peter and His Vision
A. Acts 10: 9-16
B. As a devout Jewish Christian, Peter practices the regular hours of prayer. About the sixth hour, or noon, he goes up to the roof top where it is cooler, and quieter, to pray.
C. He becomes hungry, calls down for food, and while they are preparing it, he falls into a trance.
D. God gives Peter a vision that rocks his world. At the center of the vision is a mixture of unclean and clean animals that would disgust any orthodox Jew, even a Jewish Christian.
E. You couldn’t eat things sacrificed to idols, things strangled, or dead of themselves, or killed by beast or bird of prey. The blood and fat of bird and beast was sacred to the Lord. None might eat the blood. Even the flesh of unclean animals was considered unclean if not properly prepared.
F. Peter finds the command to eat of this unclean mixture, revolting as evidenced by his response. Lord, I have never eaten anything unclean: implied, I don’t plan on starting now.
G. But God makes this paradigm busting pronouncement: “What God has made clean, do not call unclean, or common.” This happens three times. God is making His point. And what is the point?
H. This is not a vision about food. It is about people. Later when Peter stands before Cornelius he declares, “God has shown me I should not call any person unclean or common.” In other words, all people matter to God, and therefore should matter to us.
I. This is not a new lesson. It is just one we have a hard time embracing. God chose His people Israel to be a light to those hated Gentiles. But Israel took God’s call and made it one of favoritism and exclusion,
J. God tried to get this message through to Jonah whom He called to preach to his hated enemies the Ninevites. But Jonah fled, because He was afraid that they might repent and God might show mercy. They did and God did, and Jonah was angry—angry enough to die, He told God.
K. We come to the New Testament, and the religious leaders criticize Jesus for hanging out with the wrong kind of people. Jesus responds with stories of a lost sheep, a lost coin, a lost son, who matter to God and should matter to them.
L. We have to celebrate, because this brother of yours was lost and is now found, was dead and is now alive.
N. Yet despite seeing all of this, those early disciples have a hard time loving those who are different than them.
O. And that problem has continued through the ages right up to today. So the question for all of us right now, June 9, 2013 is this. Who is on your sheet? Who is it?
P. Application: Is it Blacks? Whites? Latinos? Asians? The immigrants, legal or illegal? Is it the rich, the poor, the up-and-outers, the down-and-outers? Democrats or Republicans? Catholics or Jews? Is it North Korea, or Iran? Is it Muslims? Who are the “those people” on your radar that if you were honest about what is on your heart, you would consider unclean, not as deserving as you of God’s love and salvation.
Illustration: Indy International—an opportunity to be and share the gospel of Jesus Christ. A vision to send back church planters.
Q. People, God not only loves those we consider unclean. He not only calls us to love them. In Christ, He has ordained that we are one family because there is one Body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
R. We need to repent of making God in our own image, and allow Him to remake us in His image, as those who love and seek to reach all people.
S. Peter responds to God’s transformative work in his life. The messengers from Cornelius arrive at Peter’s house. The Holy Spirit tells Peter to go with them. He obeys.
T. When he arrives at the home of Cornelius, he reminds them how unlawful it is for him to associate or visit a Gentile. Demonstrating God’s work in his life Peter exclaims, “But God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean.”
U. Application: Will you allow God to change your heart? Will you ask the Holy Spirit to love others through you, and teach you along the way? Will you surrender to the Resurrected Jesus, who died not only to reconcile us to the Father but to one another?
V. Do you know that Jesus prays for a oneness that transcends ethnic, racial, cultural, economic differences so that the world might believe the Father sent Jesus, and has loved us even as He has loved the Son?
W. Peter responds and preaches the gospel. While He is still speaking Cornelius and the others come to faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit falls on them and they begin speaking in tongues, extolling God.
Y. Peter and the others baptize them in water, and there is more rejoicing in heaven over these good but lost people who repented, than over those who have already repented.
A. Why do we plant churches? So lost people like Cornelius and his household might know Jesus. We plant churches not only to reach lost people like us, but lost people not like us.
B. For we follow a God who loves all people, even those we consider unclean. He calls us to love them as well.
C. Let’s pray. Jim and Leslie Penhollow
V. Jim & Leslie Penhollow and Steve & Shelly Larson
A. If we were to continue through the book of Acts, we would read about the gospel of Jesus Christ coming to the cosmopolitan city of Antioch.
B. God birthed His church in Antioch, and it became one of the greatest church planting churches of all time.
C. In Acts 13 we read about their leadership team sending off two of their best Paul and Barnabas, to plant churches.
D. And this brings me to the two Gentile Christians and their wives standing before you today.
E. Jim and Leslie Penhollow came to E91 in October of 1994. We were ten years into our church planting vision and had planted eight churches. I had the privilege of helping to plant daughter church #9, and Jim agreed to give us way more money than he should have, because he did not know any better.
F. Jim grabbed hold of this vision and began making it a reality. A couple years later E91 sent Steve and Shelly Larson to plant Crosspointe Church at Cary, NC, which for many years was the largest church E91 had ever planted. Today through that church, and those it planted, some 5,000 people are touched each week.
G. In 2001, E91 finished her vision of 20 churches early, in 17 years. As part of a new vision, we sent Jim and Leslie back to their roots, to help start a church planting movement in the Pacific Northwest, one of the most unchurched regions in our nation.
H. And that is what they have done very effectively for over 12 years.
I. Steve and Shelly Larson spent over seven years in Cary, NC Leading Crosspointe Church. When they left, the church was running over 1,000, owned 20 acres of land, and had its own building.
J. Steve came on staff and E91 sent him and Shelly to their roots, to help plant churches across the frozen tundra of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. And that is what Steve has been doing for about nine years.
K. Over the last eleven years, their efforts have resulted in the planting of 45 new churches.
K. Today we want to honor these men. Jim Penhollow is retiring after 19 years of serving church planting at E91. Steve Larson has served E91 in both roles for about 16 years. He is resigning to work with CDF.
L. I want to present both of these men with a special plaque which I will read. Jim Penhollow will also be receiving a special retirement gift later this summer.
N. We will be having a reception for the Penhollows and the Larsons down in the Community Room. I invite you to stop by and thank them personally for their service.
O. Let’s pray.