As I read the passage that introduces Paul's letter to the church in Thessalonica I was struck this week with the testimony of the church. What Paul was alluding to in his opening greeting here is something that I covet for us here at REZ - that we would be known in the area of Centennial, of Denver and of Colorado, even around the world for the testimony of Jesus and what He has done in our midst.
Don't you have that same desire?
I want to look at some of the phrases that Paul uses in this greeting to the church and then drill down on three areas in particular:
he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.
I will never forget the first days of my ministry with this group of people at REZ, then St. George Episcopal Church. God gave me a blue print from Ezek 37 - the valley of dry bones -- that was an apt description of the state of the church when I came in the door - hanging on for dear life, but hanging on!
Three facets of that Word from Ezekiel struck me:
A. Walk among them
[Eze 37:1-2 NLT] 1 The LORD took hold of me, and I was carried away by the Spirit of the LORD to a valley filled with bones. 2 He led me all around among the bones that covered the valley floor. They were scattered everywhere across the ground and were completely dried out.
B. Speak the Word
[Eze 37:4-5 NLT] 4 Then he said to me, "Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, 'Dry bones, listen to the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again!
C. Invite or Command the Wind (Spirit) to come
[Eze 37:9 NLT] 9 Then he said to me, "Speak a prophetic message to the winds, son of man. Speak a prophetic message and say, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, O breath, from the four winds! Breathe into these dead bodies so they may live again.'"
As I obeyed the Lord in those three areas He revealed some truths to me about this church and its people.
When I came they (some of you) were like broken soil, ready for the planting. I was simply to be the sower.
I was to sow out of this source - the Word of God - to preach from an open bible, something that had not been done much to that time. To plant the Word of God in this broken soil.
And I came to love the tenacious spirituality that I found. People that would not give up! I will never forget, we did a summer ALPHA class for some of the young adults that were in our church at the time, and Marge Peterson, we called her MUM - an English war bride who was the matriarch of St. George's parish, was our cook, along with another young lady named Winnie. They would come mid afternoon and begin their duties in the kitchen, and feed about 25 or so of us each week, and then as we began the video they would clean and close up the kitchen and head home. One night as I was sitting and watching the video, I glanced down the hall, and the two of them were heading out the front door, hand in hand. And I started to cry. Even as I wrote this I cried! God was proud of the two of them! He gave me a glimpse at His heart for the people who had hung in and hung together for so many years - through thick and thin (mostly thin in those days.)
As we began to love on people, preach the Word and call on the Spirit, God answered with amazing miracles, testimonies of God's love and power, long prayer sessions, and I felt as though I was a stander by at times, watching God do it. I think that is how He likes it!
Fast forward - God has continued to mold us through His Word and His Spirit into the body we are today here at REZ. It's not been a journey without bumps, stops and starts, uphill climbs or rough roads, but God, over the years, has given us a testimony and a reputation - a name - among the churches of the city of Denver.
What does REZ stand for?
REZ stands for JESUS first. We are known to be a people who love Jesus and who walk out that love for Him in real, tangible, visible ways.
REZ stands for The Word of God. We are a people of the Book. Not the Prayer Book, but the Bible! While the prayer book is important for us, the Bible is essential.
REZ stands for the Kingdom of God, manifested locally and connected globally. It's not just about us and our church - this thing we are doing is the work of the Kingdom of God. It is Him and His Kingdom that we seek first,
trusting that all else will be given to us, according to our need and His provision.
and finally, REZ stands for the Anglican way of worshipping and being Christ-followers. A way filled with beauty and symbol, with piety and devotion, with history and with God's presence in our midst.
In the greeting to the church at Thessalonica Paul says...
you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known
Is it undue boasting for me to say that REZ has such a name? Here in Denver and around the US and the World.
You received the Word with joy, inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit
You are and example to all the believers in Denver and in Colorado and all over the world!
The Word of the Lord is going forth from this place, from this people as your faith in God is becoming known.
But Paul commends them first in three areas - and I want to camp for just a few minutes here:
We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Work of Faith - The Labor of Love - The Steadfastness of Hope
I spent a few minutes looking at the action words here:
This is the word Jesus used when He commanded us to "Let your Light so Shine before men that they may see your good WORK and glorify your Father in heaven"
The same word used by James who said that "...faith without [the accompanying] works is useless."
This work is the result of faith - it grows from faith and is the culmination, the outcome of real faith
LABOR: Paul uses this word as well in 1 Cor 15:58, one of my other favorite verses:
[1Co 15:58 NASB] 58 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.
This is the troublesome part! Love is toil - trouble - bother! It is labor! Not just work. Love is hard work, it produces weariness, feelings of being beaten down.
No its not just unique to you!! You thought it was just you! No, Love is hard to do.
And the love that is being spoken of here is the word AGAPE - God's kind of unconditional love.
Perseverance, Endurance, how about Tenacity! Now there is a picture:
A Tenacious HOPE! Just let that sit for a minute in your mind.
What is the hope that you continue to come back to? Over and over and over and over again, through the dark times, through the rain and storm, through the good time and bad times?
Our hope is of Jesus, Our love is for Jesus, Our Faith is in Jesus.
This has been a very long month of travel and activity, as you all know. I have felt the bouying effect of your prayers along the way and it is really good to be home. As far as I know I'm home now through the holidays. We look very much forward to a more regular pace and getting back into the normal swing of life at REZ.
I look at you as I return from these trips and say with Paul:
We always give thanks to God for all of you...
we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you...
in every place your faith in God has become known
[how you] serve a living and true God, and wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead-- Jesus!
Shall we pray:
God of grace and glory; You have called us as Your people - a people of the RESURRECTION to live a risen life, to glorify you by the lives we live, and to tell others of your glory and goodness.
Come, wind of the Spirit, and blow on us, who are your chosen people. Make us glow with the light of your fire, and draw to yourself through our witness, those you are calling to yourself.
Blow among us, Lord Jesus, by your Spirit and warm our hearts, refresh us in our work, cause us to be renewed and empowered for the work of ministry. And send us, dear Lord; send us to a broken and dying world, so in need of your love, your healing and your peace.
Clothe us with your Spirit that we may touch, speak, and heal in Your Name. That Name that is above every Name, the Name of Jesus.
This morning I want to show a couple of short videos about the My Hope program with Billy Graham.
As most know, I've been advocating with other churches across the Front Range and across Colorado for participation and partnership with BGEA on this outreach. Now its our turn.
This morning's scriptures are the vine scriptures, where God warns Israel over and over and over about their fruitlessness. Jesus, in fact, made the story even more specific in his words from this morning's gospel, "the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom."
What do you think are the "fruits of the Kingdom?"
It is abundantly clear from scripture that the fruit that God is after here goes back all the way to his first conversation with Abram. Listen to what God said: Gen. 12:2-3
"And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed."
Friends, we are blessed to be a blessing. What God has done for us and in us is not FOR US exclusively, but it is for the world.
My Hope is an opportunity to take the message of hope in our hearts and share it with those we love, those we work with, those we meet.
Here at REZ, we're starting this morning, to pray with intention for some names that God gives us. I want you to pray each day, keep the cards in your bible, or somewhere you will see it each day, and lift up the names listed on it.
We are planning the outreach for the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving. Some will be gone, but many have guests coming in, or you can invite those who don't have a place to go, to come and be with us that evening. We will show the new HEAVEN program for the sermon that evening and I will give an invitation to receive Jesus Christ.
I want to watch a couple of videos this morning about how to go about this and why, and then we will end with a 1 min trailer of the new HEAVEN program. Fasten your seat belt!
I've asked our ushers to help pass out our prayer cards. Please take one and put it in your bible. As you watched the videos, names were beginning to pop into your head already. Put the names down, Begin to pray and prepare to ask them to come to the service that night before Thanksgiving.
Friends, this is the fruit of the Kingdom. Your are blessed to be a blessing and you are meant to carry to others the hope that God has placed in your heart.
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross, hat everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace; so clothe us in your spirit, that we, reaching forth our hands in love, might bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you, for the honor of your Name. AMEN.