Theme: A major key to ministry success is the establishment and maintenance of healthy relationships. We will examine the components of eroding trust – secrets, and compare secrets with keeping confidences which are also vital to building trust.
I would like to start today by praying and after that I would like to start by taking a look at the mission statement of this church, but let’s pray. Okay?
Lord, we pray that your Spirit would speak to us today as we look into your Word, that it would indeed be a Word to our hearts, so that we might be conformed more to your image in Jesus name. Amen.
We will start by looking at the mission statement of this church. It’s on the wall as you come in you see it. You guys usually don’t have a bulletin, but it’s on the bulletin at the first two services and here it is. The mission of Central Presbyterian Church is moving people towards Christ. Now look at the next line, By being a community of faith. And it goes on to say what the elements of that community are, love, encouragement, equipping, discipleship and then service to others. And you know we can look at those words becoming a community of faith and we ask ourselves, do we become a community of faith just because we all worship under the same roof? Is that what does it? Or we can see these other elements, I mean you can see these other elements in other communities, and yet maybe there is a lot of fractures and a lot of problems as well with discipleship and different things going on. The text today, I believe points to the reason why community either blossoms or withers, and so I want to ask you to turn with me to Acts, Chapter 5 or again you can look at it on the screen. Acts, Chapter 5 and this is a rather chilling passage, I mean it is one of those passages that people just don’t like to preach on because it is really out there. So let’s look at it together. Acts, Chapter 5.
“Now a man named Ananias together with his wife Sapphira also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men, but to God.” When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him. About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.” Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at door and they will carry you out also.” At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
You know it is interesting that this is tax time. It’s a great time for this sermon to be preached, and I just wonder out there if anybody has been tempted a little bit lately when it comes to that? When it comes to that, one person came out after the 10:00 and confessed his sins, so hopefully that isn’t too pervasive. But if that is true, I want you to now line up and we are going to literally slay you in the spirit. Not like what goes on today, it’s going to be curtains, once and done. That’s it. And you know I was reading about this text and one person said you know if this were the norm today, there would have to be a morgue in the basement of every church. But it is hard to identify isn’t it? This text is really hard to get a grip onbecause it is so exaggerated in its results. I mean, there is no funeral. The wife doesn’t even hear about it for three hours. Now that isn’t a church, how can that be possible for three hours? And so it is hard for us to identify. There are wonderful things in this text that, this is one of the greatest text that starts to point to theology of God in the early church, because you notice how it says in Verse 3 that Ananias lied to the Holy Spirit? You lie to a person, you don’t lie to a thing or a force. And so the early church is starting to see that the Spirit was the one that was causing them to come together. And then later he says, you have lied to God and how could you test the Spirit of the Lord. Do you hear the Trinitarian emphasis in there? That is how we understand the nature of God in text like this. But that’s inside,and even though we can’t identify with the sudden and drastic nature of this, there is something we can identify with. We all can identify with the keeping up of appearances. And that is really what was going on here. In order to understand this text, we have to go back a few verses earlier to look at the description of true Christianity at its zenith. Look in Chapter 4, Verses 32. Go back just a few verses and it describes what the church was like. I mean this was really unfantastic in itself. Listen.
“All the believers were one in heart and mind.” That word mind really is soul. “All the believers were one in heart and soul. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them.
There were thousands of people in the church by then and there wasn’t a needy person among them, even though they were rich and poor, because they all had a common, sharing mindset. Have you ever seen this? I mean I have seen glimpses of it and I have heard of it, but in my life I do not think I have ever seen thousands of people, one heart, one mind, nobody claiming anything of their own. What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine. You need this car? Good, go take it. You need something, you have it. It’s a fantastic expression of the Spirit of God. This is true Christianity’s portrait. This is body life as it’s called,as opposed to counterfeit Christianity. Counterfeit Christianity is folks coming together, usually there is a common interest in a religious program or a religious project and it ends there. This is true Christianity. Here everything was in common. Different ages, classes, background, social status, brothers and sisters in one family belonging to each other, and it is true that only God’s Spirit can create this reality. Now I want you to note something in Acts, Chapter 4:32. That this commonness was both in heart and in soul. The one at heart is that they are spirit. They could say, yeah we are one. We’re one in the spirit. We are together. And many churches say that. But it also says they were one in soul, and that is not the same thing. Because the soul in the scriptures speaks of the intellect, the emotions and the will. The soul is our experiencing of life. Your soul is at work today. You are having an experience even as you sit here. Some of you are looking as though you are listening to what I am saying, see, but you may not be. Your soul, you might be somewhere else. That’s part of it. You may be thinking of other things. Okay?
Well in the early church, they not only shared this sense of unity, but it was felt at a soulish level. Now many congregations can have common beliefs and concur with the fact that we are one in Christ and call each other brother or sister, but its not a soulish experience. There is no sense of belonging and you can come to church week after week, month after month, year after year and not know, really know the people that are around you. In fact, some congregations get to the point where they say; I don’t even want people to know me. I am afraid that if they know something about me, what’s going to happen. Well that is not the way it was in the early church. They said, “Yeah we belong to God, but we belong to each other as well.” Now there should be no break in the chapter division. There should be no five there because this is how the rest of the text goes at the end of Chapter 4.
“From time to time those who own land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales, put it at the apostles’ feet.”
That meant here, no strings attached. You guys do whatever you want with it.
“And it was distributed to anyone as he had need. Now Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas, (which means the Son of Encouragement) sold a field that he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. But, (the NIV says now, but it should say but) a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also did the same thing.”
And then this text that I read for you today. What is this teaching us? I mean, it is certainly not teaching us, if you lie you are going to be struck dead. Because I don’t see that happening too much. But what is it teaching? What is it trying to say? What’s the principle that is coming across here? I think it is this. That true community blossoms when there is honesty, and it withers when there is not. Honesty is the core of true community. Obviously, the Lord Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of our Christian community, but the expression of honesty among us and realness is the beginning of body life and a reality in which Christ’s presence is felt at deeper levels. Have you ever heard the refrain, that there is more community at the local bar than there is at the local church? Okay. You have heard that before? I kind of think that is an exaggeration because the people that I have seen in local bars are not too spiritual to me. But what they are talking about when they say that, is they are applauding the candor that is shared in struggles. People are more open. After a few shots under their belts, probably does not hurt, but that’s what they are talking about. There is more community, why? Because they are being kind of real. AA same thing. More community and honesty in an AA meeting, than in many church circles. What that is all talking about and pointing to is the ancient discipline of confession. We have lost that completely in the church,pretty much. Even the Catholics have lost that. Some Catholic folks are getting back to confession, and it is helping. But the whole idea of confession as a discipline was sharing our sins with one another, that is on the sidelines. The great penitential Psalm 51. What does David pray? He says, Oh Lord, you desire truth from where? From the innermost being. That is where penitence starts,from the innermost being.
And so Ananias and Sapphira were not there. They conspired in a secret. They were in harmony regarding a lie. And they made it appear that they were like Barnabas when they really weren’t. Now I want to ask you something. What was wrong with what they did? They sold a piece of property. And they brought some of the proceeds and they gave it to the apostles. What is wrong with that? Nothing. Nothing is wrong with that. In fact, Peter says to them, you know what, you didn’t have to sell it at all. And not only that, if you would have sold it and just tithed on it and brought a tithe, nothing wrong with that. But you know what is wrong? You guys made it appear that you are something more than you are. Peter in the gift of a sermon was basically pointing to them and saying, you guys are phonies. You are a sham. How could you think such a thing? How could you dare to do such a thing, is really the literal sense of what he is asking him. Appearing to be something other than what you really are. What a penetrating lesson this is. Because this account shows us what happens in the early church when pretense is indulged in. When we appear to be spiritually impeccable, but we really are not. When that happens, the flow of the life of Christ starts to get choked. Think about that. It’s not that I stopped becoming a Christian, but when I start to pretend, it’s like a dead cell in the body. And if I pretend and you pretend, before long paralysis sets in and in the words of our Lord Jesus, he says it is like deadness starting in a branch. The branch still looks like part of the tree, but there is a deadness to it. And the flow of Christ’s grace and life starts to slow down among us.
You know my study in family systems has taught me this, as well as my own experience, as well as scripture and one of the things that is said in family, and it is kind of a motto or almost like a mantra even, secrets create anxiety in family systems. Secrets create anxiety and that anxiety is more deadly than the secret. You see, if you look at it this way, secrets are like, think of your blood flow of your system in your body. Secrets are like plaque in the communication network of the body of Christ. And like plaque in the vascular system, it doesn’t just appear to block just one spot in the system, it slows the whole flow of blood down in the entire network when we keep secrets and when we are dishonest. Here are some favorite subjects of secrets in families historically. Affairs, illegitimacy, elopement, terminal illness, abortion, adoption, institutionalization either mental or criminal, a previous marriage, a horse thief in the family tree, you know one of those guys back up there where we don’t talk about Uncle Joe, finances or anything, even a minor matter in a family when one member of the family says to another, but don’t tell dad or don’t tell mom, or don’t tell whoever. Okay?
In my case, the secrecy surrounded my parent’s divorce. And that is what I have learned since a long time ago, that the divorce itself had its own negative effects, as any divorce would, and thank God that He can heal that, but for the longest time there was secrecy around the fact. And so I was told as a kid that my dad had simply moved to New Jersey and that eventually, he was looking for a job up there, and eventually we would all move with him. Well that was okay for a few weeks or a couple of months, but after a while it was like, where is dad? And we would see him on occasion, but here is what happened. I remember I was probably only eight or nine years old. I was like in the fourth grade or something like that. I was chronically daydreaming in class and I have memories of this. I remember just looking out the window you know like not even there. And it is because that I couldn’t make sense of the world that I was in, so I thought I would go check out another one, I guess. Right? Finally, a wise teacher said, and she talked to my mother and she said, “tell your children the truth.” Because people can deal with the truth. When we have the truth, yeah it might upset us, but at least we can understand and make sense of it and not be so anxious because we can’t make sense of it. You see, it’s the chronic anxiety that kills. The truth never kills. The truth always frees. So when that happened, here is what happened to my anxiety. When she finally told us they were divorced, my anxiety went down. Now it took a while to find out why that happened and all that, and I wish I had time to tell you about what has happened since in encounters and conversation with my dad, especially how some healing has taken place around that, but I know from experience that secrecy creates anxiety and that anxiety can kill and cause a lack of trust to just take root. So much so, that if that is the case and I think that is what we see here in Acts, Chapter 5, that the carriers of that disease needed to be removed. Why, I am not sure. Maybe it is because it was in the infancy of the church, that God didn’t want anything to start allowing this to break down what was going on, but a little yeast the Bible says will leaven the whole lump of dough.
You go to Galatians 5; I was journaling in Galatians 5 not too long ago. You look at what just a little yeast can cause in the body of Christ. Strife, struggles, fighting’s, all kinds of stuff listed there in Galatians, Chapter 5. And here is the thing. For most of us, we don’t really want to do this and for a lot of us, this is unconscious how we can keep up appearances. You know, I will tell you what; I have never met really any purposely self-confessed hypocrite. I just don’t meet that many that say, yeah I would like to introduce myself. I am a self-confessed hypocrite and I want you to know that. I don’t know of any people like that. But all of us understand what it means to keep appearances, which is really what hypocrisy means. It’s to put on a mask like in a Greek drama. You put on the mask and you would present yourself as somebody else. We all understand that that can be very unconscious and we are all into image management at some level, we all struggle with showing others the true state of our soul.
You know, many people pray for or you may have heard people pray for revival and renewal. Well let me ask you a question. If that were to happen, what do you think would occur? Do you think we would all sprout wings? You think the halo would just look shinier? What do you think would happen? Let me tell you what happens historically. You can read about this in books. Some of you may have been in a situation where you have seen it occur, when it happens in churches, at campuses, halfway around the world, here is what happens. There is a deep sense of the presence of God and people are honest before God and then it starts to happen on a horizontal level and they tell one another the things that have just been a veneer of respectability up until then. I was reading about how this happened about 30 years ago at Taylor University. You know you would walk on that campus, a Christian school, everybody looking good, we are fine. And chapel services and I don’t know why it happened or what the chain of events was, revival broke out and people starting confessing to one another and sharing what was going on in their hearts, praying for one another. There was such a bond of love and peace. It went from 30 in one meeting and the next day it went to 300. You can’t explain that except by God’s hand. But that is what happens. We get honest before God and we get honest with each other. You know, you come into church and say, “hey how are you doing?” “Fine,fine. How’s the family?” “Good, good. We are just having loads of fun, having a wonderful time in our family.” And if it is not true, we die a little bit. We die a little bit, right? And that is what the church is supposed to be. They are able to share in common, even sorrows and difficulties as well as joy.
You know when we were kids, or parents with our children, when you fall down and get hurt, what do we say? Show me, where is the boo-boo? Let me see where it is so I can help you. That’s what I am talking about. Where do you hurt? See, I am not talking about, okay guys let’s huddle up and all share the worse thing we can share and have a sordid past-a-rama. I am not talking about that. I am not talking about what AA says or drunk-a-logs, where you hang out every piece of dirty laundry. I am not talking about that. I am talking about answering these kinds of questions. Where do you hurt? Where does it ache? Is there loneliness? Have you ever told anybody? What pressures are you experiencing in your life today? What problem could you share with another? That’s all. You know some of us we have dabbled in this and we have gotten burned. And so, we are not about to try again. But I think what this text is teaching us again, is that honesty is the foundation of Christian community.
So, how does this start? How does this begin? It begins as the Proverb says, at home. Charity begins at home. With the person that you are closest to. People that you live with under your roof everyday. Your roomy, your friend. And you can cure this disease as any disease in the Bible ever got cured. You know what it is? Two wordsevery time in the Bible,repent and believe. What does repent mean? Acknowledge that this is real. Be real. Acknowledge this. This is a problem. And then believe, what does that mean? Believe that in Christ you already have everything that you need and that He will support you as you openly share with safe people what needs to be shared. And when that happens, His presence comes among us in a way that we rarely feel. I wish I had time to tell you accounts and stories of communities and small groups and how it just brings people into a sense of Gods presence in such a real rich way. You can start small, but the main thing is start calling things by their right name. That is the beginning of spirituality. Confession is calling things by their right name. When this happens, the flow of Christ is among us. People who are looking and thirsting and hungering will see this, this reality, this realness and it will be like balm for their wounds. It is something that our community cannot live without,reality and honesty in Jesus Christ.
And we find that when this starts to flow, that our adequacy is flowing from God. You know so many of us come in here and we say, I am the only one that is inadequate around here. Look at all these people, they are so together, they are so adequate. I will be darned if I am going to take my mask down and let them see what is going on with me. That is so not true. Because the Bible says, who’s adequate? Paul says that to the Corinthians, who is adequate for these things? Nobody. But God is our adequacy. And that is why we come to this table again. Because we are reminding ourselves that we, just like we cannot live unless we eat and drink. How long do you think you will live if you stop eating and drinking? Not long. In the same way, unless we feed upon Christ, we will not be able to be strengthened in our own lives spiritually and with one another. He is the one that is our unity and He calls us to be one in heart and one in soul.
Let us pray. Gracious Lord, we love you so much and we thank you for the grace that you give us each day by the Holy Spirit and even now before we come to this table, just help us to be honest to God. Help us to be honest before you about where we hurt and be willing to take a risk and share it with another and find that perhaps they feel the same way and then together bow at your throne and bow at your feet. Just continue to manifest your presence, Lord we pray, just so we will be able to just be real. We ask it in Christ’s name. Amen.