February 26, 2017
Lead Pastor Jim West
The Freedom Campaign
This morning is a special day in the life of our church. If you are visiting or you are new to Colonial, you have come on a morning when we are introducing a new campaign to raise some capital funds for a youth facility here at Overland Park and other capital needs at both of our locations. Now I know that may seem like a bummer for some of you, but here’s my challenge for all of us this morning, even before we get started: let’s give God the opportunity to speak through His Word, through the history of His great provision here at Colonial, through the vision that is taking shape regarding our future, and let’s anticipate that we are seated here this morning because God has something to say to each and every one of us, regardless of how we choose to participate in the capital campaign, ALRIGHT?
Our text this morning is Acts 16:25-33. Please stand for the reading of God’s Word.
Here’s the context of our story this morning. Earlier in Acts 16 we learn that Paul and Silas have been sharing the Gospel in the city of Philippi. While they were there, Paul casts out an evil spirit from a young woman who was a fortune teller. When the men who made money off the fortune teller see that the woman will no longer make them a profit without the evil spirit, they falsely accuse Paul and Silas of “disturbing the city.” Paul and Silas are arrested, stripped, beaten with rods, and locked up in prison with shackles on their feet.
So we read in vs. 25, “About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” OK, stop there for just a moment. How many of us would be praying and singing hymns to God after getting falsely accused, arrested, stripped naked, beaten with clubs, and thrown into prison with shackles on our feet? Is that not an amazing picture? It is, but I actually do not think that is an unusual picture for Jesus followers. All over the world the persecuted church lives in a counter-intuitive way. Just over a week ago I was in India interviewing pastor couples who were experiencing extreme persecution as they shared Christ in a hostile, Hindu environment. Even in the midst of their extreme suffering, there was joy and gratitude. Among so many who were suffering in that place, there was worship, and prayers of thanksgiving. There was undeniable, unquenchable hope!
As many of you know, yesterday morning I witnessed one of the most difficult, heartbreaking and beautiful memorial services I have ever seen. Most of you are aware that our dear friends the Bohns lost their 14 month old child, Jude, after a terrible car accident last Saturday. As you can imagine, the family is devestated in a way that very few of us can understand… as all of us would be in such a sad and tragic situation. And yet…as a family committed to follow Jesus…they chose to sing “Great is Thy Faithfulness!” and “Amazing Grace” and “It Is Well With My Soul!” in the service yesterday. Jude’s parents stood among us and proclaimed the power and the truth of the gospel from the dark prison of their pain…unashamed and undaunted…though their hearts are broken beyond description. Such has been the witness of Jesus followers throughout the ages, and such is the situation in the dark, inner prison in Philippi. Notice that Luke records, “The prisoners were listening to them.” There is a unique and powerful platform for communicating the Gospel that comes about only in the midst of extreme suffering and persecution. Paul and Silas have a captive audience, and the testimony of their hope is having a powerful impact upon those who are imprisoned with them, and even those who are persecuting them.
Several years ago now our church went through a time of persecution and uncertainty. Our former denomination had finally crossed into heresy. Colonial had long desired to leave that denomination, but we were shackled by the fear of losing our property if we attempted to leave. When we finally made the decision to leave and enter into the EPC in August of 2010, our former denomination made a claim upon our property, and we ended up in lawsuits in two states. Lies were being spread about our church, and we felt the sting of persecution. But many of you remember that during that season we had some of the most powerful times of worship ever! There was joy in the midst of persecution, and rest assured…many were watching and listening to our testimony during that season of suffering.
Many of you will also remember that during that trying period in our history, we also trusted God to begin a new journey…a very counterintuitive journey. In November of 2011, we launched a campaign to eradicate over 7.8 million dollars of debt that was associated with the construction of our Overland Park location and the South KC Youth Facility. The debt had become a prison cell for us…and we sensed God calling us to freedom. That campaign that entitled, “Called to Cross” was the most counterintuitive capital campaign ever because we didn’t know at that time if we would win our lawsuits, so it was possible that our efforts at paying down our debt would actually benefit those who were persecuting us if we ended up losing our property. But followed God in obedience…we trusted His nature and His sovereignty, even when many people thought we were out of our minds.
Listen: Christians are called to live in counter-intuitive ways. Following Jesus means that sometimes we’re going to spend some time in jail…we’re going to feel the sting of persecution…we’re going to be laughed and ridiculed…we will have to endure the shackles on our feet for a season. That was true for our church in the difficult days of our imprisonment by debt and denominational issues. But you know: Experiencing pain, persecution, and confinement is not unique to Jesus-followers…what is unique is the joy and hope that remains even in those darkest hours. In our text this morning we see Paul and Silas exhibit that joy and determination to worship God in the dark cell of an ancient prison, and in vs. 26 we learn why. It turns out—they’re not alone.
Picking up with vs. 26 we read, “…and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.”
Our God sets people free, amen! Jesus is the liberator of captive souls. Our God is powerful to save, and here in Acts 16 He moves with strength to throw open the doors of the prison, the chains fall away and there is freedom!
Freedom is a huge theme throughout the scriptures. The essential, formative experience of the Israelites was being set free from slavery in Egypt by a God who desires for His people to live in freedom. Recently in our study of Acts we’ve seen how God sends his angels on several occasions to liberate the Jesus-followers who are arrested and cast into prison.
Jesus talks about freedom in John 8 and says clearly, “If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed.”
As a church called Colonial, we, too, are celebrating our FREEDOM from the bondage of our former denomination, the lawsuits, and the debt that plagued us for 15 years! From the dark days of 2010, we now find ourselves in a denomination we love, we own our property free and clear, and our debt has been paid! Thanks be to God, amen! We are a people who now have a corporate story of deliverance—we have been emancipated—we have been delivered by a God who loves us, and we can bear witness that our Savior was always with us, even in the darkest hours. Of course our story of liberation as a church points to the Gospel, because true and ultimate freedom is first and foremost a spiritual condition made possible only through the atoning blood of Christ on a Roman cross. Paul writes in Romans 8:2, “Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Paul writes in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” Paul writes in 2 Cor. 5:21: God made Him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become His righteousness.” In other words, Christ endured the penalty of our life sentence so that we might inherit His perfect freedom! And if the Son has set us free, we are free indeed.
So the biblical witness is consistent and clear: God desires for His children to live in freedom, to love in freedom, and to obey all that He has commanded as free people. Jesus states in John 8, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
But be clear about what freedom, in a biblical sense, does NOT mean. Biblical freedom does not mean a life without restraint. Biblical freedom does not mean a life without obedience, sacrifice, service, and generosity towards others. Biblical freedom does NOT mean going through life as an autonomous, self-serving, self-aggrandizing, self-centered person who lives without moral accountability. Here’s what biblical freedom means: it means living life as a son, not as a slave.
Who can forget the amazing picture of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15? Here is a young man who deserves condemnation, who anticipates rejection, who desires only to enter into His father’s house as a slave—and yet the Father, because of His mercy, sets the son free of all condemnation and restores him to full Sonship! How is that possible? Because Jesus Christ paid our debt so that we would no longer be slaves to sin, no longer slaves under condemnation, no longer slaves to any man, no longer slaves to any job, no longer slaves to any addiction…we have been set free to live as Sons and Daughters of our Father, as those who receive the full inheritance, as those who are deeply loved and cherished by our Creator.
And yet, as those who live in freedom, Paul warns us in Galatians 5:13: “Do not then use your freedom to indulge in the sinful nature.” We have been set free to serve; we have been set free to live a life of obedience, generosity and self-sacrifice…you know why? Because that’s how faithful children live in relationship to faithful and loving parents. We play our role in the household, we take care of our brothers and sisters, and we do our part to raise the children and the grandchildren, the nieces and the nephews. We bring honor to our Heavenly Father, and sometimes, that means that even though we are free, even though the prison doors have swung open and the chains have been broken…we don’t leave…we stay.
In our story today we read in vs. 27ff: “When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice, ‘Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.’ And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to those in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.”
What an amazing picture! Paul and Silas are set free by the mighty power of God, and yet they stay. They double down in their commitment to reach not just their fellow prisoners, but also their persecutor. They use their freedom to serve; they use their freedom to proclaim the gospel at any cost. As Paul will write later in 1 Corinthians 9:19, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.”
This morning we celebrate our Freedom as a congregation, and we give God all the glory for His great power and might that liberated this congregation from persecution and the bondage of debt. But guess what: like Paul and Silas, we’re staying right here! We’re going to double down on our efforts to reach those in Johnson County and Jackson County who do not yet know just how much God loves them. We’re going to double down to equip, encourage, and empower global leaders to advance the Gospel into unreached people groups and to champion the plight of the orphan. We will NOT use our new freedom to indulge in the sinful nature; we will live as free sons and daughters who serve. And this morning, one of the ways we will express our freedom is to commit resources, prayer, and faith to provide adequate space for our next generation of disciples here at Overland Park and to prepare for company at our South KC location. These capital projects are not an end unto themselves; they serve as a means to an end. Our ultimate mission remains to help people become passionate, selfless followers of Jesus. Our facilities will serve that end, both for those who call Colonial their church home, as well as thousands in the metro community who use our facilities on a weekly basis.
So…let me tell you a bit about our Freedom Campaign.
The goal for this two year campaign is 5.4M dollars, which includes 25 projects and a tithe towards local and global missions. Now hold on…don’t pass out or start burning things! I know it’s a lot of money, but we’re talking about a lot of projects that need to get done, we’re talking about an unprecedented gift towards missions, and we’re talking about our kids…so take a deep breath, and listen to a few more things I need to tell you.
First of all, 30% of the 5.4M has already been pledged by the leadership of our church. Your leaders had an early look at this campaign, and already they have committed 1.6M in pledges and they’ve deposited over a million dollars in our campaign account. Let me be clear: just over 40 families have stepped up and committed to cover 30% of this campaign, which means there are just over 1100 families left to cover the remaining 70%. That’s sounds pretty reasonable, right?
Now let me address the one question everybody is asking: Is there any chance that we will end up taking on debt as a result of these projects and this capital campaign? To restate the question in the clearest way: are we going back into debt? The answer is an emphatic…Wait for it…NO, we will not go back into debt…period. Can we say that together? We will not go back into debt…period! Here’s why: We will only take on as many projects as we can afford. We won’t even start a single project until we have 110% of the pledges and 50% of the funds in hand PER PROJECT. So if the project costs 20K, we would not initiate the project until we had 22K in pledges and 10K in the bank for that specific project. Does that make sense? All the projects you will hear about in a few minutes have been prioritized and we’ll knock them out one at a time based on the flow of pledges and the money that comes in. If we run out of money, we’ll stop doing projects…it’s that simple.
Now, you should have received your Campaign packet in the mail at home last week, though some of you may get your packet early this week. In that packet you will find your campaign pledge card, and we’re asking you to pray and respond with your pledge by March 31. We’re also asking you to fulfill your pledge over the next 24 months if at all possible. That’s the ask.
So, in just a minute you’re going to hear from Kevin Tews (or Nunally) about the projects we hope to accomplish through this campaign, but before Kevin comes up, check out this video that speaks to one of the deepest held values in our church.