Core Value 1: Blessing Our City
Topic: Default Passage: Acts 19:11–20, Acts 19:23–29
This week we begin a new series that is going to feel a bit different than what we normally do here at OGC. It is our normal practice to walk through books of the Bible teaching them the way they were meant to be understood and applying those teachings to our context today.
The next five weeks, though, we are going to be preaching through our five core values.
These are the values that guide many of the decisions that are made here at Orlando Grace. Our desire is that each of you would not just know our values, but understand how they influence our understanding of who the church is and what she does. These values are especially important in light of how many new faces there are here. If God has growth in store for this church, great, but we will need to work all the harder to keep crystal clear before us who we are and what we are called to do.
So, this week we look at our first core value, blessing our city, through the lense of the church in Ephesus in Acts 19.
If there is one church in the Bible whose beginning most any church planter would want to emulate, it’s the church at Ephesus. Paul walks into the city, preaches the Word, miracles happen, and in a relatively short period of time, literally the whole city hears about Jesus and is tangibly affected in one way or another by Him.
I was reading an article about the meteoric rise and dramatic fall of one of the largest and most influential churches in America this century and some of the people on staff at that church, looking back, said, “One of our great downfalls was that we thought we were the first to do everything right. We were the first to do music the right way, we were the first to do teaching the right way. And we were the first to do community the right way.”
A good look at the Ephesian church should keep all of us humble. They were killing it before the word ‘Christian’ was even known by all the churches. They were planted by Paul, pastored by both Timothy and, later, the Apostle John. Their pastors aren’t just writing books, they were writing THE book. Yet, it seems that this church, like the one I was reading about, lost the main thing that was fueling its growth and impact on its city.
What do you think it looks like to bless our city? How would you articulate to someone outside the church what we mean when we say we want to bless this city? The best way I would know to answer that question would be with Jesus’ teaching on prayer.
What we now call the Lord’s prayer. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.” If we are blessing our city, it will tangibly begin to look more like heaven! It doesn’t mean everyone will like it, but it does mean that increasingly love will reign, humanity will flourish, and God will be glorified.
So, I want to look at the rise of the Ephesian church in Acts 19 and the fall of the Ephesian church in Revelation 2 and understand why it is that this church had such an impact on this city in hopes that we can too. I want to look at the outward marks of a church that blesses its city, the inward power of a church that blesses its city, and the path to becoming a church that blesses its city.
- Outward marks of a church that blesses its city
We see three marks in this passage of a church that blesses its city. First, we see that the Word is preached effectively. By effectively, I mean that it is preached faithfully and strategically. We know that doctrine was being taught faithfully in Ephesus because it was taught by Paul, Timothy, and John. We have these ancient letters between some of the early churches and they said that Ephesus was not a place where heresy can thrive because the Bible was so well taught there.
On top of that, we have Jesus Himself saying this in Revelation 2 to the Ephesian church.....[you] have tested those iwho call themselves apostles and are not, ando found them to be false. ...you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. - Revelation 2:2b,6 We don’t know what exactly the Nicolaitans taught but we know it was wrong and that this church could flat sniff out bad teaching.
So, the Word was taught faithfully, but it was also taught strategically. We know from verses 8-10 that Paul went into Ephesus and began to preach the Word publicly in the synagogue. He decided that that synagogue was the most strategic place to start. This was the lowest hanging fruit because they already believed in the One True God, they held to so much of the Word already, and there was cultural familiarity between them.
But, there came a time when the synagogue wasn’t the most strategic place. The hall of
Tyrannus was. This was probably a lecture hall of some sort either owned by Tyrannus or that Tyrannus was a prominent philosopher associated with it in some way. So, in verse 9, we see that Paul took his disciples there and taught them the Word.
Doctrine, that is, what we believe and teach, has always been very important to this church. We are unapologetically Reformed in how we read the Bible. We were planted on the campus of Reformed Theological Seminary. A big piece of the way we feel God calling us to bless this city is by continuing to hold to our doctrine and grow in our ability to bring it to this city. But, I’m going to talk more about that when we cover our value of equipping our people.
The second outward mark of a church blesses its city is that the supernatural happens. In this passage, we see the supernatural happening both inside the church and outside of it. Verses 18-20 show us the supernatural happening inside the church. Also many of those who were now believers came, s confessing and divulging their practices. 19 And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord tcontinued to increase and prevail mightily. - Acts 19:18-20
Do you see what’s happening? Believers are confessing their sins and divulging their practices. We can’t expect the supernatural to happen outside our walls if it isn’t happening inside our hearts. We can’t expect to be real with our city until we are real with ourselves.
And here is where I want to talk about community groups. Sunday morning isn’t set up to be able to have the kinds of conversations in the types of safe environments that lead to this kind of growth. We need other spaces in our church and this is why we have community groups. These are safe places where relationships are developed, usually with people who live in your part of town, and where the supernatural can flourish inside of us. It may be that the group meeting is where this happens, but it may be that the group platforms other places this can happen. Either way, we are convinced that relationships have to flourish for this kind of supernatural to happen.
I want to drill down just a bit more here and say that this isn’t simply some kind of program that the church has going on over here. It’s part of the DNA of who this church is. And every time I go to community group, I’m reminded of this fact. There are plenty of weeks I don’t want to go. I’m tired. Our family has a lot going on. But every time I go, I’m thankful I did. Angela and I are blessed by it, our kids love it, and we are refreshed by being around other Christians who are committed to being real with each other.
We have worked hard this summer to try and double the number of community groups we have and we want to invite you to fill out the card you have in your bulletin this morning so we can try and help you find the right community group for you. We also want to invite you to join us tonight at our Family Night where we will talk more specifically about what exactly this will look like.
The supernatural happens inside the church and it also happens outside the church.
Would that we would see such supernatural power in our ministry that others co opt our strategies. Apparently, it was happening on such a level that the itinerant Jewish exorcists (I just love that that was a job) wanted to use the name of Jesus so they could be more effective at what they do. And how does that turn out? The demons looked at
As a rule, if you came into a fight dressed and you left naked, you lost. Doesn’t matter how many good blows you got in. And here is our takeaway, we need to agree that God really can and does heal, but that the main healing this city needs isn’t physical, it’s spiritual. There is a real demonic force working out there and unless it is the supernatural force of the Spirit of Jesus Christ working through us, we are no more able to bless this city than the itinerant Jewish priests who just give lip service to the name of Jesus, hoping they can get something out of it.
We need to know and believe deeply that Jesus is who this city needs and if we do, I believe that we will see the supernatural happen outside of these walls. And we see the
Lord Jesus was extolled. - Acts 19:17
Everyone in Ephesus heard about it. It doesn’t mean they all liked it, but they all heard about it. Could you imagine if such significant spiritual healing and life change was happening in a few churches that the whole city was talking about it? That’s exactly what is happening at Ephesus and as this happens, the name of the Lord Jesus is extolled. That’s why we’re here!
And then, thirdly, we see the habits of the city changed. Verses 21-31. There were people who sold little trinkets of the Greek God Artemis and Paul was so successful in turning peoples’ affections away from these Greek gods and toward Jesus, that it changed the economy of that city and a riot formed.
Can you imagine if Jesus was so loved here that strip joints couldn’t flourish? What if law schools began to tell their students, “Don’t move to Orlando, they don’t sue each other there. They seem to work it out on their own really well.” What if the hurting were so well taken care of that Morgan and Morgan had to find a new home? What if Jesus was so loved that instead of racial tensions, we had real dialogue and a deep desire to understand the history, hurts, and hopes that come with our ethnicity? Mike Graham is going to talk more about this in a couple weeks when he talks about our core value of contextualizing our mission. What if Jesus was so loved that moms with unwanted pregnancies had nothing to fear because they knew they would be taken care of and treated with grace and acceptance and the abortion clinic across the street had to shut its doors?
Jesus changed the habits of the city in Ephesus and I believe that He can do that here too. When the habits of a city are changed, that is when I think we can truly say the church is blessing the city.
These are the outward marks of a church that blesses its city, but we still haven’t looked at the inward power that fuels it.
- The inward power of a church that blesses its city
To see the power, we need to fast forward 40-60 years and turn right in our Bible to Revelation 2. All the outward marks are still there. Jesus says, “Well done. You work hard, you endure well, and you are still known as a theological power house. But, the
power is gone. The most important part of your faith is waning. Jesus says lthe love you had at first. RememberBut I have this against you, that you have abandoned therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do mthe works you did at first. If nI will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you
repent. - Revelation 2:4,5
The church had lost its deep love and passion for Jesus. The doctrine flag was flying higher than the love flag. They still knew how to play defense, but had lost their offense. One commentator said, “they had gone from being propagators of Jesus’ love to being custodians of sound doctrine and proper decorum.” This church was against all the right things, but it wasn’t for the most important thing: Jesus. And this isn’t a slap on the wrist here. Jesus is threatening to close this church.
There is some fascinating research coming out by Barna as the spiritual landscape of this country changes fast and many churches are closing their doors. Research shows that once a church loses its first love, it generally has two generations to live. Much of what we are seeing around the country really began a generation or two ago. And when the church loses its first love, it will usually trend one of two ways as it dies. It will go liberal or go bunker.
The liberal church (and my use of the word ‘liberal’ here has nothing to do with politics) loses its first love and its doctrine is close behind. And once the doctrine is gone their primary reason for existing becomes more social in nature. They put their money and efforts primarily into social issues, but without the power to change hearts. Now, I’m thankful for the ways that liberal churches engage the city, but now a younger generation is wondering why is the church even necessary when there are other organizations engaging the city better than they are. The church gets older and eventually dies off.
But, that doesn’t seem to be the way the Ephesian church is going. They aren’t trending liberal, they are trending bunker. This is the other end of the spectrum. Instead of opening your doors wide to whatever doctrine might come in you door like the liberal churches do, a bunker church is going to narrow it significantly. Secondary and tertiary issues become primary and a wall is built around the church that keeps out people who don’t look like them, dress like them, educate like them, vote like them, and talk like them. And just like the liberal church, they will be dead in a generation or two.
When a church keeps its first love, Jesus, it holds tight to Him and all that He teaches, but let’s loose many of our preferences because when the grandeur of Jesus is clear in our hearts, these other preferences just don’t seem as compelling. Biblical love welcomes diversity, discomfort, awkwardness, and messiness. Biblical love sacrifices that others might know Jesus. This is the love that the Ephesian church had at first and one that they need to have again or Jesus will remove their lampstand.
Very early on in my tenure here, I made a remark about how a fruitful church will often be a messy church. And every time something happened this year, a few elders would ask, “Is this messy enough for you, Jim?” And for some kinds of messiness, yes, that was enough. But for others, we can never have enough and I got a good picture of that last week.
My wife took the kids to meet up with all their Mississippi family at the beach last week. I drove them up, but had to come back by myself for work. My house was quiet. It was clean. I didn’t have dishes to clean or bottoms to wipe. No toys were strewn across the yard. No fights to mediate. Everything was so quiet and tidy...and I hated it! My house is messy because there are children growing and learning and I want all the mess that comes with that. And the same thing is true in the church. If we are going to be a blessing to this city, this has to be a place where spiritually young people can come and grow and learn about Jesus. A place where it’s safe to be spiritually young and make mistakes.
And if I could get really honest here, we have about doubled in size in the past 8 months and that forces some hard conversations about where we find classrooms and teachers for twice as many kids, how to handle three dozen people in Discover OGC, and what will we do if and when this room fills up. But, it is crystal clear in our minds that the goal isn’t to attract the masses. Success isn’t filling this room up. Success is being a place where people and learn and love about Jesus. And where that love sends them out to bless this city. If that’s not happening, our numbers are worthless and we will never bless this city.
Jesus’ plan has always been to bless the city. You could say that blessing the city is a huge part of the narrative arc of the Bible. We had the perfect city in Eden, but we rebelled and cities fell. The rest of the Bible is God’s pursuit of us and His desire that we would love Him and each other. You could say that the Abrahamic covenant was the ‘bless your city’ covenant. I will bless all nations through you.
But, again and again, we couldn’t keep our end of the deal, so God keeps our end of the deal by coming in the form of Jesus Christ to atone for all our failings, including our failure to love each other by blessing our cities. And by doing so, we are both forgiven for our failures and we are put back on that original mission. Only now, we know that this mission will succeed and we will see the fruit of the labor He has called us into when He returns.
III. The path to becoming a church that blesses the city
Jesus has already said what the path is in what we read in Revelation. Remember and repent. We need to remember the love we had at first and repent for any ways we have lost that love. Works without remembering will not last and doctrine without remembering will have no power.
But, there is another aspect to remembering I think. Remember who we are as a church. Remember what we are called to do with this love. We are a sent people. Understanding that at our core we are a sent people changes so much about the way we view the church.
A consumer minded church is always thinking about what I get out of it. That could be the programs, it could be more visibility on your business, it could simply be getting the music you like. I asked one of my kids how we might be consumer minded at church and he said, “Going to church just to get a piece of candy for the kids bulletin.” Those little wins go a long way for this dad.
What we should be asking is how does this church send me. As leaders in this church, we need to be asking ourselves how we are doing at sending people out. If our goal is only to gather, we have lost our first love. But, if our goal is only to gather and scatter, then we will be a church that blesses this city.
If you are familiar with our 2019 strategic plan (which is on our website if you aren’t), you know that we have identified specific ways we can grow in the area of blessing our city in 2019. We recognize that over 5,000 people are projected to be moving into all these nice apartment complexes that surround our nearest Sunrail stop. We want to talk about how we engage them. We want to understand how the Sunrail is changing this city and see how this can be leveraged for the gospel.
We want to utilize the internet more effectively. We have a new webpage, all new social media accounts where we publish sermons, sermon clips, and blogs that are designed to bless the city. We think it’s important to utilize platforms like The Gospel Coalition, Ligonier, Rooted, and other outlets to platform the half dozen or so people in this church who write at that level. We are starting a very Orlando-centric podcast that Justin Holcomb and I will host aimed equipping Christians to bless this city, but you’ll hear more about that as we talk about our value of equipping the people.
We have identified two missing generations at OGC. We have lacked Gen-Xers in this church and their corresponding aged children. These families have communicated that we have lacked the resources to minister effectively to them and send them out well. We have listened to them and have hired Skyler Flowers to expand our student ministry. Our hope is that OGC would tangibly come alongside parents like me in this great age of opportunity.
We are looking at ways we can utilize the training Angela and I have as Family Life speakers to engage young or struggling marriages here locally. And, lastly, now that we are in the process of joining Acts 29 we are tangibly engaged in church planting in Central Florida. It isn’t just talk, there are two church plants in the works right now. One in Leesburg and one in Apopka. You’ll hear more about this when we talk about our core values of sending our best and stewarding our resources.
We have a long way to go, but it’s baby steps like these every year that, Lord willing, will make OGC a church that we can say IS blessing this city.
Before I finish, I want to say that I know I have talked a lot about how, organizationally, we plan to bless this city, but a huge piece of it is organic. As we love Jesus, that love is going to overflow into everything that each of us touches. No one knows exactly what this will look like. We hope it doesn’t involve riots. But we know that all of it is in the hands of the Lord, so it must be bathed in prayer.
Would you commit to praying through our core values on a regular basis? Praying that these things would be true of this church? That we would equip our people, contextualize our mission, steward our resources, send our best, and bless our city?