At Gateway Church in Austin, we began a new series called God Likes You.
Throughout history followers of Jesus have experienced the importance of having the support of other believers to stand up against tyranny or persecution. We can see many instances where the church would have crumbled had the body of Jesus followers not stood together against a government or ruler that wanted to twist the church for their own purposes. The importance of the body is made evident during these moments as one person, or small group, discovers others standing with them in their most dire moments. From these seemingly hopeless moments, candles are lit, and the light grows person by person to pierce and envelop the darkness that seeks to surround them. What does this mean for you? What can you do to light a candle to pierce the darkness?
Work through the following questions and Scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
Message Notes from John Burke:
A Small Church and Revolution
When the Soviets overran Romania in 1944, Nicolae Ceausescu, had just been released from Prison.
- Seeing his opportunity, he quickly rose to power in the Union of Communist Youth.
- By 1970, he was President of Communist Romania. Ruling from a Versailles-like palace in Bucharest, he brutally plundered Romania.
- Though Romania’s soil was the most fertile in Eastern Europe, the Ceausescu government managed to starve the people while exporting most of Romania’s produce (much like Venezuela today). While the people went hungry, his top officials had to watch their cholesterol levels, and his wife made Marie Antoinette look frugal.
- The people were herded off their land and into Communist Apartment buildings, with central heating maintained at about 55 degrees through harsh winters.
- Seeking to fortify his labor force, he demanded that Romanian families have 5 kids each, but when parents could not even feed their children, Hundreds of state-run orphanages shot up.
- Ceausescu gained control of the Romanian Orthodox church, instituted state-taught atheism in the schools, and bullied most churches to close their doors or preach the communist way. Many pastors compromised, but not Laszlo Tokes.
In 1987, Tokes became pastor of a small church of 50 people. Tokes had a dream to see what could happen if the church understood God’s vision for it – a community of people who would be a Spiritual Light in a Dark Romania.
Tokes announced a new vision based on Ephesians 4, the passage we’re studying today. He said:
- “I’m not the only pastor,. We must all be like pastors to each other and those outside our walls.” And these 50 people began to do just that.
- Instead of fearing and distrusting everyone, they began to care, and serve and pray for the people around them.
- Within a few years, the church swelled to over 5000 people – people growing together with a new sense of hope and love and purpose they were finding in God.
But this was a threat to Ceausescu’s communist regime.
- Tokes was accused of “violating the laws of both church and state” and barred from ministry.
- But he kept on speaking truth and uniting people.
- In 1989 Tokes church reached across old lines of division and invited members of the Catholic church, Orthodox church and protestant church to a big celebration of unity. That was too much!
- The Communist Secret Police began threatening members of the church – standing in front of the church cradling machine guns.
- Going to church became a silent act of protest. (Just imagine for a second – how many of us would be here today if you had to walk past that kind of threat? Our biggest threat is the parking lot—not to minimize it, that can be scary—I’ve seen some of you drive).
Afraid for their 4 year old son, Tokes sent him to live with relatives.
- Shortly after, 4 men in ski-masks armed with knives, broke in, Tokes and friends fought them off, but Tokes took a knife wound to the face.
- Soon after, one of Tokes friends was murdered. They realized that killing Tokes would make him a martyr, so they killed his friends.
- A court ordered Tokes eviction and deportation, set for Dec 15, 1989.
- The Sunday before, Tokes addressed his church and told them of his eviction that Friday.
- 5 days later, the Secret Police came to Tokes’ apartment. A human shield had formed around the apartment. Not only his church, but Baptists, Adventists, Pentacostals, Orthodox, Catholics – all denominations and different nationalities surrounded his apartment.
- Tokes shouted out “We are all one in Christ. We speak different languages, but we have the same Bible and the same God. We are one.”
The town’s communist mayor came to try to break up the crowd by pitting Romanians against Hungarians, but it didn’t work.
- As dusk settled in, a college student named Daniel Garva, walked over to his pastor Peter Dugulescu, and opened up his jacket – Peter half expected weapons, but he saw dozens of candles.
- At one o’clock in the morning, Tokes looked out his window to the sight of 100’s of candles piercing the darkness.
- Tokes thought, “I don’t know what tomorrow brings, but I know the Spirit of God is with us.”
- That morning before dawn, December 17th, the Secret Police broke through the crowd, beat Tokes until his face was bloody, and hauled Tokes and his wife away.
- But the fire had been lit. The crowd moved to the public square, and others began to join in protesting.
- By nightfall 1000’s of candles lit up the night as the crowds sang.
- The government moved in.
Daniel Garva remembers distributing the candles then marching down the square as soldiers open fired – the girl on his right dropped to the ground.
- Another explosion and he fell, his left leg blown away.
- In the confusion and darkness the savage gunfire claimed victim after victim, but the people stood strong, and by Christmas, Ceausescu was gone—Romania was free!
- Churches filled with people thanking God.
- That was the beginning of the collapse of the oppressive Soviet Union.
- Peter Dugulescu visited Daniel Garva several days later in the hospital – he had a stump where his left leg had been, but Daniel’s spirits were high.
- “Pastor,” he said, “You know, I don’t mind so much that I lost my leg. After all, I lit the first candle.”
True story of how the church can be a force for change!
God has always intended that His church would be a force for change in the world. Because there are plenty of forces that oppress and destroy people’s lives all around us. God’s plan is to use His church to set people free—to bring Life and Freedom through you, and you, and you and me function as His Body, the church.
Darkness in Our World
Let me give you a few societal snapshots of the oppressive forces around us:
- Marriages are breaking apart at alarming rates – and in the wake of all that pain and hurt and turmoil, apart from God’s church, who will be a force for change?
- How about the pain of all the single parents with no families nearby, trying to cope, and the many children – dizzy from being spun around between parents. Who will care and support and be a force for change, if not the church?
- Or think about the many people who have pursued health, wealth and prosperity, but can’t find lasting love, peace or joy. What will make a difference? Who will care and be a force for change if not the church?
- Or how about the addict who can’t find any power to overcome—or the kids who grow up in so much turmoil they have resentment and anger boiling out of them. Who will care and be a force for change?
- Or what about those who in our community who are suffering injustices that can be difficult for all of us to understand or even see. From the El Paso shooting this year to the ongoing issues around racism, we are surrounded by so much pain and evil. Who will become cross cultural agents to advocate and uplift the dignity and agency of others?
- How about the 1 of 3 or 4 people who have been sexually abused, still acting out or struggling because of it, and who will care and show compassion and a path toward healing if not the church? We, Gateway Church, you, me, us together are seeing God set people free from all these oppressive, destructive things. It’s why our Next series is How God heals you from these abuses.
God’s Plan For Better Or Worse Is Us!
You, and you, and you, and me—living and functioning together as His church—to bring His light to a dark world.
We’ve been in Ephesians—a book to a church like ours.
God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places…For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! Ephesians 3:10, 5:8
You can’t do everything or change everything—but you can light one candle. The question is, will you light the candle God’s given you?
Today, we’re on chapter 4 of the book of Ephesians talking about How we can cooperate with God to Change the world around us. Because that’s what you were made for! That’s when you’ll truly feel alive. It’s your Identity in Christ—you together, are His Body. God likes you so much, He wants to include you in the family business—His Work—and you are His body to accomplish His work. It’s a great mystery, you can’t do it alone, but together you can be a powerful force for change if we’re all willing. And anyone willing is included.
But you have to be willing to do your part, to light your candle, along with others. So what does that mean?
Ephesians 4 begins:
Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4 For there is one body and…one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all. – Ephesians 4:2-6
To do this, we need to walk in step with the Spirit of God.
And as Ephesians 5 will say:
Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit…. – Ephesians 5:18
God gives His Spirit as a gift, a seal, when we trust in Christ. But just because the Spirit is with us doesn’t mean He’s filling our minds and lives—that’s a daily choice.
Many of us have experimented with alcohol or drugs taking control of our minds and bodies—but have you experimented with HS? Letting the Holy Spirit influence your mind and actions to love, joy, peace, patience, self-control so you can change your world?
The letter to Ephesians explains how God wants His church to function—it may surprise you.
11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. – Ephesians 4:11-12
Don’t miss this because one of the reasons the church becomes ineffective is when we think it’s the job of the Pastoral staff to do God’s work, the rest sit and listen and give. Not true. This says God gave certain functional roles, or offices:
- Apostles are spiritual entrepreneurs helping the church start new initiatives.
- Prophets keep the church true to God’s word and built up in God’s promises.
- Evangelists bring hope and love to people hurting, oppressed, without God’s love or grace.
- Pastors make sure everyone gets connected and cared for spiritually, and
- Teachers make sure we’re learning God’s ways. But what’s their responsibility? To do all that themselves? No—to equip all of God’s people to do his work and to build up the church—like one big body functioning together from our diversity of parts.
We all have a part to play…
He has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ. Ephesians 4:7
See God has given you a gift to use to do His work with others in His Body. If you are a Christ-follower, you are a minister. If you’re not a Christ-Follower, understand God made you special, gifted, unique for a reason—He wants to show you that if you’ll follow Him. Peter puts it like this:
You are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. – 1 Peter 2:9
You’re His priest. Don’t freak out, you don’t have to wear robes or don a pointy hat—those stereotypes sabotage what God intended. But You have a ministry to do using the gift or gifts God has given you.
So you need to discover what those gifts are, and you need to develop them, and find a ministry to use them in to serve others with others.
Often we don’t realize that when we do this for others, we receive from others too.
Jessica started serving in the preschool at Gateway South. She loves kids and wanted to get more connected with her church family.
She said: “I feel like I’m definitely benefitting from the power of a community. More so a community that is centered around Christ. Being in real community has actually always been something that I’ve battled with even since becoming a Christian. I LOVE being by myself. I have to push myself to engage and invest in all of those kinds of relationships. I’ve been pushing myself to attend my life group. Sometimes I share things in the small break off groups. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I go to those kinds of things because I think God loves it even if I feel awkward.”
In the midst of her trying to honor God by serving others, she found herself in a really difficult place financially and with her school and career. Eventually she was facing being homeless and living out of her car. One of the women she serves with is Nancy. Nancy discovered her struggle and invited her to come stay with her family.
“Honestly, being in such a tough place with finances, and school, and career, I’m benefitting from community – SO much more than I’ve given any of them. I’m just benefitting from other people’s kindness from being in a community… I’m trying to work on becoming stronger in wisdom and knowledge so that I can eventually be of help to others too.”
So how do we discover our gifts?
I find you often have to start serving, try new things, and pay attention to where God uses you to spiritually build up others. Consider where do you make a difference and come alive as you serve others? That’s a good indication.
When others mention how your service points them toward God or God uses it—that’s a good indication you’re using the gifts He gave you.
If you don’t know your gifts, go to Gatewaychurch.com search “Gifts” take the Spiritual Gifts Assessment & Do the Spiritual Gifts Outcome on our Spiritual Growth Path.
In addition to serving on Sunday we have all kinds of Serve Networks where all kinds of different gifts can be used together—take the starting Gate Tour, start serving, and we’ll help you find your niche. If one place isn’t a great fit, our staff will help you find another.
When we’re all serving in a place of passion and giftedness—it’s life giving for all and we are stronger as One Body—our light grows stronger in this world. So every growing Christ follower is meant to use the gifts God’s given you—but to do what?
Ephesians 4 continues:
13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. – Ephesians 4:13-16.
Healthy, Growing, Full of Love–that’s what spiritual maturity looks like—we keep including new people, struggling people, addicted people, skeptical people—find acceptance, explore faith.
And we cannot give up when people being divisive, distrusting, cynical, but instead in love and truth, we help each other grow to be more and more like Jesus.
We lovingly speak truth to help each other follow God’s ways. The sign of a healthy church is that together we demonstrate the attitudes and actions of Jesus. I wrote Unshockable Love so that we could see what that actually looks like. He studied the attitudes and actions of Jesus. If you’re wondering if Gateway is for mature Christians, go read Unshockable Love, and I think you’ll see how different maturity looks when Jesus is the standard instead of religious tradition (even modern tradition).
Ultimately, the end goal is “healthy, growing, and full of love” – but notice something important.
As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
I can’t do this for you, our staff can’t do this for you, we can provide motivation, equipping, organization, but it only happens “As each part does it’s own special work (you have a ministry to do), and you CAN help others grow.”
Everyone has a ministry to do, and everyone can spiritually develop someone—that’s maturity. But too many Christians never grow to spiritual maturity.
Think about in a Parable–imagine our lobby full of infants in diapers, crawling all over, crying because no one will feed them. While grown adults step right over the infants, talking to each other about how much more mature they are than all these babies, and how they need more mature food—so they’re going to Texas Land and Cattle to get some steak–they step right over the hungry infants because they’re more mature. Then they get mad at the wait staff at Texas Land and Cattle because they refused to cut their meat up and feed them. That’s not maturity.
See maturity is growing up in love for God and others, until you’re not just playing the “What’s in it for me church-hopping game.” You become intentional about knowing God.
Our 4 Values are about living this out:
We say Come as you are—it’s Grace, what we studied week 1—God accepts us as is, forgives us in Christ, sees us as chosen and blameless. So we can then offer grace-giving acceptance to others first. [I had a teenager ask me a tough question once. She said, “You say Come As You Are,” but what if you’re a nudist? I was tempted to say, “Then Go to Hippy Hollow.” (it’s Austin’s nudist beach—actually we’ve had former nudists here, but their clothes had been redeemed). She was joking. But Come as you are doesn’t help anyone if we stay as is.
On Sundays you come as you are and you pray this prayer: “God, what do you have for me and what do you want from me?” Listen and look for ways to learn and ways to serve every Sunday.
We can’t fully be who God designed alone—we must Live Connected—as One Body. Problem is, we’ve all been hurt, and hurt people hurt people, which drives us apart (that’s why our August series Triggered).
And then you become committed relationally to a group of people in a network. That’s our Live Connected value. That’s why we say “the best way to get connected is to serve others with others.
GatewayChurch.com/South or Starting Gate
After you are connecting and serving, you choose to grow intentionally (Be Transformed). So we must also Be Transformed –we all need to grow spiritually to be rooted in God’s love (as we talked about last week) so we have a Higher Love
you’re using your gifts to serve in a ministry, and developing other spiritually (Change Your World), and your growing in generosity so our Body is healthy, growing, full of love—extending that to more and more people who are still in dark, oppressive, isolated places.
What our world needs are people who humbly let God grow them up spiritually into more loving, life-giving, patient, kind, servant-hearted people who Change Your World. But You can’t change much by yourself. One candle can’t light a city street, but 1000s can together. That’s God’s plan,
When we all do this, God heals and restores our broken world through us, his Body.
See, God never intended there to be one Pastor in a church—he wants us all to be that for each other. I can’t possibly be that for all of you, and if you expect me to, I’m going to let you down. I can use my gifts to serve the church, and I can spiritually build into our leaders. And if those 8-15 people develop 3-15 others who do the same—in time, it changes 1000s of lives as we each light the candle God’s given to us and hold it high—that’s how this church has grown—its how the church in a little town in Romania changed their world.
It’s how God will use you to change your world.
Will you light the candle God’s given you?