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Trinity Assembly of God Midlothian

Generations (12-31-2017)

This morning’s message is two-and-a-half months in the making. I heard a version of it at our annual district pastor’s retreat on October 10 and at the top of my notes that morning, I wrote that I need to preach this on December 31. When those kinds of promptings happen, I view them as direction from God.

This is based on a message from Waylon Sears, pastor of Victory Worship Center in Tucson, Arizona. I heard it in Chestertown, Maryland.

If you are a guest with us this morning, you notice that I am primarily talking to insiders this morning. Please listen in any way; it will give you a picture of how we’re trying to do things at Trinity.

          Before I get into the message, I want to share my devotional from the annual business meeting that took place on Sunday, September 24. Those folks who attended that meeting have already heard this but most of you have not.

Last year, I stood before you at this meeting and said I was grateful and humbled because I had revealed to you some of the big dreams God put in my heart for Trinity – church planting and XA – and because you had jumped right into the process of making those things happen.

          This year, I stand before you concerned. By all accounts and measurable statistics, things have been going well at Trinity in the six plus years I have been the pastor. However, I feel a stirring in my spirit that troubles me—it is a stirring of discontent. It’s not that I am discontent but that some of our Trinity family members are discontent…discontent with the way some things have changed or seem to have changed.

          For the past few years, I have referred to changes and disruptions as growing pains. I still view them that way. But I’m not sure I have treated them well.

          At some point in the year before our house burned down, I began to experience growing pains. (You know what growing pains are, right?) We didn’t have children’s Tylenol or children’s ibuprofen back then, but we did have baby aspirin so my mom would give that to me for the pain. To this day, I remember that orange flavor which I absolutely loved…and still love to this day! Krista thinks I’m nuts for that!

          Anyway, somewhere along the way, without consulting the doctor, my mom concluded that I was allergic to chocolate. I was rarely allowed to have it and she was convinced that I stopped having growing pains as a result.

          Fast forward to my hospital stay after the fire. My mom was in the hospital in Baltimore and I remember a nurse coming into our room one evening asking my brother and me if we would like some ice cream. When we said yes, she asked what kind we would like…we both said chocolate. She returned to our room with two Dixie cups—one chocolate and one vanilla. She gave the chocolate one to my brother. When I said that I too wanted chocolate, she apologized and said she’d just seen on my chart that my grandmother informed the staff I was allergic to chocolate.

          Long story short, I have never been allergic to chocolate or anything else that I know of. My mom, grandmom, and nurses kept me from what I really wanted because they thought they knew what was best for me.

          Shepherding a church is hard work—not in the same way that laying block or chopping wood is hard work—but it is hard work in its own way.

          One of the biggest difficulties is looking at where we need to go as a church and figuring out the best way to get there. I am trying to do that with all my heart.

          As we journey along this road God has mapped out for us, it is necessary that some things will need to change…and change is its own kind of hard work for all of us—especially when we have grown accustomed to something being the same for such a long time.

          On this journey, I ask you for three things to help me…and to help Trinity:

  1. Trust – I hope that many of you have known me long enough by now (I’ve been at Trinity for 19 of that last 23 years and for the last 15 in a row) to know that I want what’s best for God’s kingdom. I don’t pastor with the mindset that I know what’s best for us. I’m not about things being my way or else. I want what God wants…whatever that looks like. I have no agenda other than that.
  2. Communication – If you are having a hard time with some of the things that are changing, please talk to me. I want to hear from you…but I don’t want to hear from others who have heard from you. Do you know what I mean? That is grumbling and complaining, and Scripture condemns it. Besides, I probably react to grumbling and complaining the same way you do…not well.
  3. Love – I need to know that you love me and that you want God’s will as much as I do. That doesn’t mean we will always agree, but it does mean we will each submit to what God wants for us.

          Some of the changes we have made and will likely make in the future are precipitated by the many ways our culture has changed. This doesn’t mean that we are giving up ground to the culture. Our methods must change from generation to generation, but our message must never change. We can choose to curse the darkness, or we can choose to shine a light…I choose to shine a light.

          America is now the third largest mission field in the world, behind only China and India. According to the Barna research group, there are 146 million unchurched people in America. Today, 70% of young adults drop out of the church by the time they are 30. That makes this question from Aubrey Malphurs so poignant for me…and probably for you as well:

  • What would I be willing to change, what would I be willing to give up, to see my children and grandchildren sitting next to me in church and serving the Lord?
  • For me, the answer is that I’d be willing to change and give up anything except the gospel to see my kids and grandkids in church, and serving Christ as their Savior.

Scripture says, “where there is no vision, the people perish”…I don’t want that to happen here! Let’s work together to see it doesn’t happen. Our enemy would love nothing more than to pit us against one another and derail God’s plans to use us to build his kingdom here. Let’s not let that happen! We’re in this together for the long haul!

Are you with me this morning? With that as the backdrop, let’s get into the message.

  • Every generation is significant to the body Christ.
  • Every generation brings something significant to the table
  • God’s family was never intended to be about one generation, but about multiple generations
    • older generations bring wisdom, experience…and finances
    • Younger generations bring new passion and energy

We need every generation to see the kingdom of God move forward! We need to get over our differences when it comes to our generations. Differences will always exist because each generation is getting older every day. And for most of us, getting older seems to creep up on us. For me, getting older has crept up in at least two tangible ways:

  • I now have aches and pains in places where 10 years ago I didn’t know I had places.
  • I still love the music I’ve always loved…but I don’t like it as loud!
    (Night Ranger and Rend Collective concerts)

Getting older happens to all of us and we all watch generations come after us. But, allow me to offer this piece of advice as time marches on, “Don’t lose the sweetness of your spirit as you age.

  • Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you have to get sourer.
  • Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you have to ignore all filters between your mind and your mouth.
  • Don’t lose the sweetness of your spirit as you age.

 

God introduces himself

          We’ll begin in Exodus 3, but we’ll spend most of our time in 2 Timothy 2.

 Exodus 3:6 (NIV84) – “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

          This is how God introduced himself to Moses at the burning bush…and it was not a unique form of introduction.

  • In Genesis 26, we read that God introduced himself to Isaac as the God of your father Abraham.
  • In Genesis 28, we read that God introduced himself to Jacob as the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.
  • In Exodus 3, we just read that God introduced himself to Moses as the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.
  • When God introduced himself, He did not begin with a list of his attributes or a description of his nature; he showed himself to be the God of generations.
  • Everything God wants to do in this church, everything God wants to do through this church is bigger than one generation.

At every turn, God says I am the God of generations. I began in one generation, but I never intended to complete it in one generation, I’m going to carry it into the next generation…and probably the next generation after that.

Could it be that we’re not the end of the story for this church but just a part in the middle? Our tendency is to think that the story is all about us and we’re not always concerned about who comes after us. We say we are, but we act differently. What if the story isn’t about us and we’re just part of something bigger?

Could it be that our insistence that everything be done our way and to our liking might hinder what God is trying to do in this current part of the story?  Could it be that it’s time for us to lay down our pens and let God write the story the way he wants to write it now?

Our God is the God of generations and his work and his story span generations.

If we look again at Exodus 3:6, we see that God didn’t just introduce himself as the God of generations, he also introduced himself as a father.

The church was always intended to be a family. We are not called to build a thriving organization. We are not called to make a name for ourselves. We are called to build the family—God’s family—and families need spiritual fathers and spiritual mothers.

There are challenges as families transition from one generation to another. God help us to do it well. Help us to do it with the heart of a family. One day, we will all be replaced, but we get to choose how we will influence the next generation.

  • We can ignore it.
  • We can criticize it. (Sometimes, there are criticisms to be made, but it doesn’t have to be our knee-jerk, default reaction, does it?)
  • We can prayerfully and biblically shape and mold it.
  • We can choose to be a part of what’s coming next or we can choose to check out and leave it to the next generation alone.
  • We can choose to be part of the solution or a perpetual part of the problem.

Let’s choose to be multi-generational…but how? We can follow Paul’s lead.

 

Pass on our knowledge to faithful people coming after us.

(page 842) 2 Timothy 2:1–2 (NIV84) You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to [faithful people] who will also be qualified to teach others.

For the remainder of this message, I’ll address two groups of people. I’ll let you decide which group you fall into. I’ll address older folks and younger folks. Again, I’ll let you decide where you fit but keep in mind that you can be in either group depending on what you’re doing and who you’re with.

Let me warn you though, that my words will be disproportionately addressed to older folks because it is our primary responsibility to start the process of pouring into and preparing the next generation.

  • We live in a fatherless generation with an orphan spirit.
    • The orphan spirit says, “I have to do it on my own. No one is going to help me. I have to figure it out for myself.”
    • To older folks, this translates as independence and rebellion but, it’s an orphan spirit that needs to be broken by spiritual fathers and spiritual mothers…
    • It’s not a spirit that is broken harshly because the orphaned already know a harsh reality.
  • Rather than automatically condemning anything and everything that is new, older folks need to look for faithfulness and nurture it.
  • Younger folks, you need to embrace this process because older folks have wisdom and experience you don’t have…and you often don’t know you don’t have it.

So, what is this faithfulness I’m talking about?

  • Faithfulness = worthy of belief, trust, confidence, and faithful to God.
  • Faithful ≠ gifting, talent, influence, personality, relationships, likability, intellect or attractiveness
  • Faithfulness = the character of the heart, not outward trappings
    • We learn this from the story of David’s anointing in 1 Samuel 16
    • God tells Samuel that people look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.
  • Faithfulness is a combination of
    • Commitment
    • Spiritual maturity
    • Emotional health

(page 842) 2 Timothy 2:3–7 (NIV84)Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. 5 Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules. 6 The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. 7 Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.

Older folks, when you are looking for faithfulness to nurture, you are looking for four characteristics—perseverance, self-denial, submission to authority, and delayed gratification. Let me caution you, however, that you cannot nurture these qualities in others if you are unwilling to exemplify them yourself.

 The first part of faithfulness is perseverance – being emotionally strong enough to endure hardship

  • We don’t always know what will happen next in life…and life often takes twists and turns we didn’t choose and don’t want.
  • How do we react to these twists and turns?
    • Do we blame God?
    • Do we blame others?
    • Do we throw fits?
  • What if God allows these things so that we don’t become so comfortable that we’re unwilling/unable to follow where he wants us to go?
  • What if God allows these things so that his work can be accomplished in and through our lives?
  • We cannot teach people how to avoid pain and difficulty, we must teach them how to walk through it with God, his Word, and his family.
  • When we’re doing God’s work, it’s easy to stand with someone when everything is going great…because we stand to reap the benefits.
  • We’re looking for people who will stand with us through the twists and turns we didn’t expect.
  • We can’t escape difficulty, we must learn how to walk through it. I know it’s cliché, but it’s true, the difficulty will either make you bitter or make you better.

Faithfulness includes perseverance. It also includes…

Self-denial

  • We need to be strong enough to lay down our own desires for the cause of Christ
  • It’s not about me; it’s not about you.
  • Life doesn’t always go our way. Church doesn’t always go our way.
    • Are we willing to stay the course for the cause of Christ?
    • Are we willing to submit to the authority and the leadership God has put in place?
  • Are we willing to embrace Jesus’ attitude in Gethsemane, “Not my will, but your will be done”?

Faithfulness includes perseverance and self-denial. It also includes…

Submission to authority

  • Paul said we must compete according to the rules.
  • We struggle with this in our western culture where we learn that we can have almost anything our way.
  • We need to understand that Jesus is king; he wasn’t elected.
  • There is no ground to say, “Not my king.”
  • We need to be people who are faithful, not rebellious.
    • I don’t mean “yes” people. Sometimes dissent and debate are healthy and helpful.
    • I mean that we don’t need to be saboteurs about the things we don’t like.
  • We should not be people who say, “I’m here as long as we agree and things go my way.”

Can I let you in on a secret?

  • Submission isn’t really needed until we disagree!
  • This is how pastoral ministry works: God calls a person to a church and then he either imparts a vision to that person or that person embraces a vision the church already has.
    • If it’s a person’s vision, it will fail at some point in time.
    • If it’s God’s vision, it will not fail…not matter how it looks at any given moment.
  • Submission is the doorway to unity.
    • I know some of you have all kinds of ideas about what should be done and how it should be done.
    • If you will nurture faithfulness in your life, you may get a seat at the table. For all of us, our attitude determines whether or not our ideas are considered.
    • Listen, we don’t have little ministry kingdoms at Trinity: not men’s ministry, not women’s ministry, not Sunday school, not kid’s ministry, not Rangers, not Mpact, not youth ministry.
    • No one ministry is more important than another one.
    • If we can’t work together, then something drastic will need to change.

This isn’t just the doorway to unity…

  • Submission to authority is connected to honor.
    • Paul wrote to the Romans, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10)
    • We need to be people who honor, not ones who dishonor.
    • We don’t need to be people who talk behind the backs of others. We need to be the kind of people who own our gripes and deal with them biblically by talking to the person or the people we should be talking to.
    • We don’t want to be the kind of people who talk about how we disagree and how everyone is wrong but us and how every way is wrong but ours.
    • If we do that, we’re only going to reap it in our own lives.
    • When we operate in honor, we release honor in our own lives.

Faithfulness includes perseverance, self-denial, and submission to authority. It also includes…

Delayed gratification is the final characteristic of faithfulness

  • We must be willing to work hard before seeing the rewards/fruits of our labor. (The farmer)
  • Stay at it. Don’t quit.
  • Keep working, keep praying, keep submitting.
  • Understand there is a period of sowing long before there is a period of harvest.
  • This is difficult in an instant gratification society.
    • Some of us get ticked off when our wi-fi is too slow.
    • Think about that. We can be connected to the entire world, but if it doesn’t happen in 3-1/2 milliseconds, we think we have something to complain about.
    • Think about our idea of fast food.
      • It wasn’t fast enough so someone came up with the idea of punching a hole in the wall and throwing food out the window as people drive by because that would be faster.
      • That’s not fast enough, so now we put two lines outside.
    • Our instant society doesn’t translate into healthy spiritual lives. It is diametrically opposed to the admonition of the Psalmist—Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him

          As we think about how God is writing his story through the family at Trinity, let me remind you of something I said in a message on January 4, 2015—We are not setting out to write a new book. In fact, we are intent to continue the story God has been writing at Trinity for over 100 years.

          There is one author of our story—it’s not me and it’s not you—it is God. He has a part for each of us in the story he is writing. We don’t need to try out for it; we only need to accept the role. As we grow older, our parts necessarily change and evolve. We can kick and scream against the author, we can demand editorial control, or we can accept the nuanced changes that come with the passing seasons of life. We can trust that we know what’s best or we can trust that the Author (capital A) knows what he’s doing and will write the story (including our part) better than we could ever hope to write it on our own.

What if we spent more time praying for God to work than we spend criticizing the stuff we don’t like? Imagine what might happen then!

          I’m going to wrap this up by suggesting three ways you can respond. I hope you’ll only need to use two of them, but I’ll give you the third just in case. (And when I dismiss, we have reminder cards you can take home and put it on your refrigerator.)

3 Ways to Respond

  1. Pray for your church—the pastors, leaders, ministry workers, church family in general.
  2. If you have a concern, communicate with me directly. I really do want to hear from you.
  3. If someone begins to share a complaint about the church, please respond like this:
    • (1) Have you been praying about this?
    • (2) What is God telling you about it?
    • (3) Have you spoken to Pastor Rob about it?
      • If the answer is yes, “What did he say?”
      • If the answer is no, “Let’s contact him now.”

          Folks, we’re in this together…growing pains and all!

          This story isn’t about style, music, the temperature of the sanctuary, parking spaces, seats in the sanctuary, or the sense of entitlement I think longevity gives me.

          This story is about lost people who need Jesus…and they’re not here…they’re out there.

          Can we agree on that and allow God to write the story in such a way that we care more about reaching them than we care about everything aligning with our preferences?

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