This morning, we’re continuing our new message series entitled, “Waiting on God.” Waiting isn’t exactly our favorite thing to do, but it is a critical part of God’s plan for every one of our lives.
So far, we’ve learned that while we’re waiting on God, we praise, pray, and serve (hand motions). While we’re doing our part, we learned last week that God uses these seasons of waiting in our lives to grow us within. After all, He wants our roots to grow deep and wide in Him so that never fail to bear good fruit in Him.
As Jesus was crucified and then raised again to life, those who chose to follow Him were certainly doing all of these things. They were praising and praying and serving all while God was definitely growing them as they waited on Him. As we learned last week, the growth that was taking place was an internal transformation while not much seemed to change from appearances alone.
As these 120 believers met together constantly seeking after God’s promise, transformation was happening within them. Fears were being cast away, hope was rising, and faith was growing tremendously. As they were seeking after Him, He spoke to them through His word the next thing that we’re going to learn about this morning.
14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”
20 “For,” said Peter, “it is written in the Book of Psalms:
“‘May his place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in it,’
“‘May another take his place of leadership.’
21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”
23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.
What God lead the apostles to do next while they were waiting on Him was to organize. There has historically been a struggle back and forth with followers of Jesus about becoming organized. In fact, the Assemblies of God began with division over this issue. Some felt that adding organization would stifle the freedom of the Holy Spirit to move, others felt that adding organization would better allow the move of the Spirit. There are still many today who adamantly oppose organization within the church and organized religion of itself.
For sure, there have been many hurts and much damage done by some who took advantage of the structure and organization within a church. Methods of selecting leadership have often encouraged people to make church into a political arena whose purpose and intent is simply to hold a position for their own pride and elevate themselves above others. There have been people who chose leadership simply to exert authority and gain control of people taking advantage of them. Abuse of positions within the church has taken place more often than we would like to think and give many valid reasons for being suspicious of organizing people of faith.
A quick read of just about any portion of the scriptures clearly reveal that it is the will and plan of God that His people be organized. It began with a man, added a woman in marriage, added children as a family, multiplied into cities. God chose a family to develop into an entire nation of Israel chosen to be His people. God then adopted all those willing to put their faith into Him into a world-wide family that we call the church.
God’s plan for structure and organization within the church is not so that anyone rises above others as if though they are better than the others. We are all equals who simply have different roles and responsibilities within the body of Christ. In fact, this power struggle started to happen as James and John sought a higher position than the other ten disciples. Jesus responded to it quickly!
25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Structure and organization is God-designed within the church simply so that every need is met and every individual equipped and enabled for service. Jesus equates the structure and organization within the church to our own physical bodies. If the structure within our physical bodies fails at any level, the whole body suffers. There are many unique parts and functions and we need them all to be healthy. So it is with the church, the body of Christ. With more authority within the church naturally comes more responsibility and accountability as well.
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
Paul also gives many qualifications to those desiring to be elders and overseers in the church in 1 Timothy 3. Organization and structure is important to have in place, but it is just as important to have the right people in the right positions for the whole to be healthy. If someone unqualified or unprepared is placed into that position, the whole church would suffer. That would be like if we tried to walk on our ears and listen with our feet. It just wouldn’t work. It’s not that there is anything wrong with either one or that either is more important than the other, it is just that they were designed and equipped for a unique role. Paul teaches about this extensively in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 and Ephesians 4.
God clearly is a god of order and structure as revealed through His creation and by His clear direction to His church. Organization and structure is a good thing. God would have never spent so much time covering it in His word if it weren’t something that the church should embrace. We were created with the need for one another. As Paul had to write and remind the church:
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
We need each other and it is important for us to meet together on a regular basis to spur each other on into good things. It’s so easy to get out of the habit of doing so, so we must discipline ourselves and remind ourselves that it is for our own good and growth that we come together. It is only in connection with the other members of the body of Christ that we truly fulfill our God-given purpose. We need each other!
It was while they were meeting together that God lead the believers to select a leader to take Judas’ place. God used His ancient words of old to bring fresh revelation for them in the here and now. The position itself was created by Jesus when He chose twelve apostles. Although the twelve all shared similar goals and purposes, they each had unique responsibilities as well. Judas, in particular, was the treasurer for Jesus’ ministry. This is referred to a couple of times, but most clearly in this account:
3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
I’ve often wondered why Jesus would choose a thief for His treasurer. Of course, it was this temptation that lead Judas to trade in Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. It sure did leave the other eleven with an easy job, too. Surely they could choose someone better than a thief to have the position of managing the money in the church!
The apostles created a few requirements for this position, then they nominated a few men, then they voted on which one of them would fill that position. Matthias may have won just been because his single name was a lot easier to remember and write than the three names of Joseph aka Barsabbas aka Justus. In any case, we trust that God’s will was done. The eleven apostles once again became twelve. Organization was added to the church.
While we are waiting on God, we organize.
God knew what was coming to the church. He knew that when He baptized these 120 believers with His promised Holy Spirit, that there was going to be a tremendous season of growth. These 120 were about to multiply to over 3,000 at one time. For this growth to be able to take place, organization and structure needed to be added to these 120 so that they could sustain this growth and have it be a blessing and not a curse to the church.
It was critical that this happened before the growth and not during or after it. Often, God calls us to do things in faith when it comes to the organization of His church. Although it is by faith and not by sight on our part, it is by God’s perfect sight and foreknowledge that He calls us to add structure in preparation for growth.
Most of us who have planted understand that a time comes when structure becomes critically necessary to the health of a plant. Planting a successful garden takes some planning and preparation.
If you plant a tomato seed and leave it go, it will likely grow roots, sprout up as a seedling, continue to grow in height and strength, and flower. This is all fine and happens without a whole lot of work from the gardener. However, if structure is not added very early in this process, that tomato plant will begin to bear fruit that will begin to cripple the plant. It will fall over and those tomatoes will begin to rot. If a little structure is added, the plant will have the support that it needs to continue to grow and bear fruit, reaching its full potential.
Without structure and organization within a church, the same thing can happen. What begins as a strong and healthy group of people that continues to grow and bear fruit can begin to fall apart if structure and organization is not present. Growth is awesome, but unmanaged growth can be dangerous and deadly to that same growth.
Structure and organization within a church exists by God’s will and design so that each and every one has the focused support that they need to reach their full potential. The balance for the church is not having too much or too little structure in place.
For example, let’s say that we see the need for our children to grow up strong and healthy in their faith. We begin to realize that they aren’t taking away as much from the adult services as they need to be. Therefore, we develop a children’s ministry to teach at their level and deal with the issues that they are facing. There are many awesome programs out there for kids, so it is hard not to see value in them all.
However, choosing to have a dozen children’s ministries with only twenty children in attendance and operating using only six volunteers isn’t healthy. Those volunteers quickly burn out and the classes feel too small and in competition with one another. If you prune that down to four children’s ministries, the volunteers will have a chance to catch their breath and the class size becomes healthier. Then, as attendance grows and more volunteers become available, more structure is added by offering additional classes or programs.
There are also often times when ministries are needed for a time and season. These structures are put in place for when they are needed and removed when they are no longer relevant. We have a tendency in the church to have organization and structure for its own sake and not really because it is necessary.
There isn’t much of a reason to have a mothers of preschoolers ministry in a retirement community. Nor is there much of a reason to start a motorcycle club in a community that has no motorcyclists. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with either ministry, they simply aren’t a fit or a need. It’s OK to add and remove structure and organization to meet needs for times and seasons. If it meets a current need, it’s good to have. It is also good to remove it when that need no longer exists.
Those who have gardened know just what can happen if they don’t add this type of support and organization to their garden, though. Those vine plants with no structures available to climb up will simply grow out everywhere and they usually end up killing the other plant life. They either steal away the sun and nutrients from other plants or try to climb up the healthy ones and can actually strangle them. Either way, it’s not healthy for any of the plants in that garden. With a little structure, things can be managed so that everyone grows. After the harvest is complete, it’s OK to remove that structure until it is needed next season.
While we’re waiting on God, we organize. If there is a promise of God that we are waiting on, it would be wise to take a look at our situation and see if there is something that we can do to better structure and organize to prepare for it.
For example, Jesus said that the truth will set us free. Let’s say that we want our children to be more open and honest with us so that they aren’t getting trapped and ensnared by situations. We could respond by screaming at them every time that they are caught in a lie and making the consequences for it increasingly worse. We could quote God’s word at them that they are to obey their parents and they must be truthful and never lie.
Will that bear the fruit of truthfulness? From personal experience, this reaction usually causes them to close up that much tighter from us and to hide even more from us. The longer that this goes on, the worse it gets and it starts to choke out truthfulness from other relationships in their life as well. It’s like that vine plant with no structure to be able to climb.
Instead, if we want the fruit of truthfulness to grow in our children, we could organize and put some structure in place. We could set apart time that we spend together. We can be more intentional about doing things that they enjoy one-on-one and practically showing them that we care about them. This structured time will create doors of opportunity for communication to naturally take place.
This structure allows us to build a personal and healthy relationship with our children. Yes, our blood runs through their veins and they might even still live in our home with us, but that in itself doesn’t create healthy relationships with them.
We can then open those doors of communication by sharing with them things that are going on with us; funny situations that happened, concerns that we have, and things that we are growing in ourselves. Once that door is opened by our openness and honesty with them, we have paved a clear path for our children to be more open and honest with us. Since they know that we genuinely care about them and did the hard work of building a healthy relationship, they will begin to be more truthful with us and allow us greater access into their lives.
Tight fists and angry voices suffocate honesty, open hands and gentle conversation invite and encourage honesty. All of this work of organizing and structuring prepares our children to receive the promise of Jesus that the truth will set us free. It’s not screaming at them to be truthful, but structuring our lives for truthfulness that eventually bears the fruit that God desires.
Proverbs 13 teaches that a good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children. Leaving behind an inheritance isn’t something that automatically happens, though. It takes planning and preparation, adding structure and organization to our finances.
This isn’t something that someone should think about when they are eighty and receive the news that they only have a month to live, but rather, when they are very young. This word of God isn’t going to automatically happen just because it is written by Him. God’s word is a seed and by His own design requires our cooperation and for us to co-labor with Him for it to come to pass.
There are countless situations like this example in life. Sometimes that reason that things aren’t going according to God’s word is simply because we’re too busy fighting and resisting Him to stop and listen to Him. Sometimes it is because He is waiting on us to prepare ourselves to receive His word. He’s waiting on us to John-the-Baptist ourselves and prepare the way for Him.
Consider a new mother still in the midst of her pregnancy. She works hard to prepare a place for that newborn and makes sure that she has everything that the child will need while she is still expecting. This nesting all takes place before the child is born. We ought to be the same way with the promises of God. While we are waiting to receive them, we do what we can to prepare for it will full expectancy that it is going to take place. We obediently do our part and trust God to faithfully do His.
While we’re waiting on God, we organize.