All posts by davidmckinley

About davidmckinley

I am the Senior Pastor of Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA. The Schwenkfelder Church is a community of faith birthed from those persecuted in Silesia (Poland) during the 16-18th centuries, whose adherents traveled to Pennsylvania circa 1734. For more on the Schwenkfelders as a historical movement, see www.schwenkfelder.com. Central Schwenkfelder is a Christ-centered, Bible-believing congregation. For more info, see www.centralschwenkfelder.com. My ordained standing is with the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference. See www.ccccusa.org or www.easternpa4c.org.

The Triumphal Entry

The world has seen many kings. But arguably none crueler or more demented than Nero. The Roman Emperor, responsible for the executions of Peter and Paul, reigned from 54-68. One source states: Nero’s rule is often associated with tyranny and extravagance. He shed the blood of many, including that of his mother, and the probable murder by poison of his stepbrother Britannicus. He is infamously known as the Emperor who “fiddled while Rome burned” and as an early persecutor of Christians. He was known for having captured Christians to burn them in his garden at night for a source of light Nero, who sought to serve himself and sacrifice many others in the process, was Rome’s best offer as a king.

What kind of a king would you be? Certainly, there are many perks. For instance, you would live in a large home known as a palace. You would have staff delivering every kind of food you desired. There would be no shortage of resources. You would have power, prestige, and influence. Every whim and wish granted by a host of servants. You wouldn’t even have to use words- just hand gestures.

Palm Sunday is about the recognition of a king; but not just any king; a special king who was willing to serve, not be served. Palm Sunday is a coronation, of sorts.

The account of the Triumphal entry is one of the few events recorded in all four gospels. A great crowd of pilgrims always came to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. On one Passover, Josephus records that 2.7 million gathered in Jerusalem for the event. We take up in verse 12:

“The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’”

Many in the crowd that day would have been Galileans familiar with his ministry. Others would have heard about the raising of Lazarus and would have been eager to see Jesus, the one who could raise the dead!

For this reason, people laid their cloaks and palm branches in the roadway, so Jesus could ride across them. Palm branches were a national symbol. Donald Carson notes that these, “…may have signaled nationalist hope that messianic liberator was arriving on the scene.” Riding into the city on a donkey’s colt would have been a fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9:

“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. …He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus was truly a king! But the real question is this. Is He your king? Every person has one of two kings. Jesus referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world,” but that is masked by the fact that many people live as if they were their own ruler, that self is king. But Palm Sunday reminds us that Jesus is the One King, “Faithful and True.”

After this incident, Phillip is approached by some Gentiles that wanted to see Jesus. Verse 20 states: “Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”

Everything in Jesus’ life had an intentional design to it- a fulfillment of Scripture. This was symbolic, and indicated to Jesus that His time had come to go to the cross. His ministry to Jewish people of His day was complete and now He has now appeared to the nations, a book end to the visit of the wise men in Matthew 2, the conclusion of what we know as Epiphany. These Gentiles trigger what we know as Jesus’ Passion. Up to this point, Jesus often said: “My time has not yet come.” But now He says: “The hour has come.” There is a shift in the story. Jesus will now be faced with his imminent death. It will end with His resurrection, but there would be much pain and suffering to experience beforehand. It is His time; the time for which He came to this earth.

In verse 24, Jesus describes the purpose of this time, and His calling as king. Unlike other kings of the earth that demand so much from their subjects, Jesus is willing to give His life so that we might find ours. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

But unlike other worldly kings that shed the blood of others freely, King Jesus would lay down His life for us, that we might become children of God. Jesus would give His life. He would sacrifice Himself. What king does that? Only One. It is as one poet wrote:

Full many a king a golden crown has worn,
But only one a diadem of thorn:
Full many a king has sat on jeweled throne;
But only One hung on a Cross alone:
Through garlanded gay streets, cheered by the crowd
Great kings have ridden—One, with His head bowed
Beneath the burden of His Cross, passed on
To die on Calvary, one King, but one:
All other kingdoms pass; are passing now—
Save His Who wore the bramble on His brow.

Jesus’ choice to giving His life for us secures atonement for our sin, but it also functions as a model of service. Jesus would go on to say in verse 25: “He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal.” Jesus is using hyperbole to prove a point; an exaggerated statement to drive home a lesson. One commentator notes of the two kinds of people in this world: “Those who are absorbed by the interests of life on earth encounter ruin while those detached from worldly interests will through Christ’s work attain to eternal life.” It is a matter of value and priority. This, friends, is the key to spiritual fruit: prayer, Bible study, the obedience that comes from faith, and a willingness to sacrifice self for the blessing of others.

For the true follower of Christ, this world does not compare to the blessing with following God. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” And so His subjects do not place the value of their lives in this world either.

The benefits are tremendous: forgiveness of sin, abundant, eternal life, becoming a child of God. But the cost is great! It involves a shift in priorities: one in which Jesus must increase, and I must decrease. Paul would write in Galatians 2:20:

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Friends, when you become a Christian, your life belongs to another. You are not your own.

In contrast, those who love this life, devote themselves to wealth, prestige, advancement and recognition; things that become idols that replace God. To live for this world means that you live for those things mentioned in 1 John 2:16: “For everything in the world– the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does– comes not from the Father but from the world.”

But the mark of a disciple is to give one’s life unreservedly to God and to the advancement of the gospel. Peter Waldo, the probable leader of the pious Waldensians who lived in the 1200’s, was a rich merchant from France. He was converted through the death of a friend. At one point in his life gave up all his wealth to follow the Lord. Everywhere he went he preached the claims of Christ, using the words, `Look to Jesus! Listen to Jesus! Learn of Jesus!’ These are the prerequisites of discipleship. This is our calling: “Look to Jesus! Listen to Jesus! Learn of Jesus!”

Which is your life? Who is your king? Is it Jesus? Or self?
Don’t answer so fast, that you don’t know what is required. Henry Drummond was a Scottish evangelist who lived in the latter half of the nineteenth century. He was once asked to address a meeting of a select West-End Club in London. On his arrival he found his audience assembled and everything arranged for him to give his message. He commenced his address with these words: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the entrance fee into the Kingdom of Heaven is nothing: the annual subscription is everything.’

I would tell you the same thing. `It doesn’t take much of a man to be a Christian, but it takes all there is of him,’ said Thomas Huxley. My prayer is that Jesus Christ would be the king of your life.

Reflections on Billy Graham

“Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Matthew 13:43

I was taken aback when I heard of the passing of Rev. Dr. Billy Graham. Dr. Graham was an icon on the American religious landscape, since his ministry started in 1947. He was arguably the most influential Christian in the last 100 years.

Billy Graham preached his crusades throughout the world from the 1950’s through the early 2000’s. His last American crusade was in New York City in 2005. All in all, he preached in 185 countries and to over 215 million people. Dr. Graham authored over 30 books (www.msn.com). He cofounded the seminary from which Dr. Drake and Andrea Williams and I graduated, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

What made Dr. Graham so effective was his loyalty to Scripture and his willingness to reach people from a variety of backgrounds. Most of all, Dr. Graham loved Jesus Christ and His gospel. A touching tribute from his daughter Anne is found at http://www.annegrahamlotz.org/2018/02/21/daddy-is-at-home/.

Two things stand out to me from his long and effective ministry. For one, he was a man of integrity. He refused to compromise his values and lived an upright life. Secondly, he is quoted as saying: “If I knew that Jesus was coming back in three years, I would study for two of them.”

Both of those things inspire me as a minister. I must live uprightly and continue to diligently study God’s word, in order to serve in His kingdom effectively.

Reaching and Retaining the Next Generation

Experience can be a cruel teacher. It must be balanced with loving instruction. A young man decided to take private boxing lessons. He found a boxing coach at a nearby gym who agreed to give him twenty-six weekly sessions. As part of his instruction, the young man was required to spar with other aspiring boxers at the gym.

After the first session, he was sore and swollen. He didn’t realize that it would be this difficult. The battered youth had some questions for his coach.
“You say there are twenty-six lessons in this course?”
“That’s right,” answered the teacher.
“And the rest of them are going to be like today?”
“That’s right,” the coach replied.

Scratching his head, the student asked, “Well, sir, I was wondering if I could take the other twenty-five lessons by correspondence?”

Now it would have been good if there was more instruction and less experience. I wonder if the church expects the next generation to learn the art of Christian living by experience only? Do we not have an obligation to pass along what we have learned over the years? How might we do that?

The goal of today’s message is to help you understand the value of the next generation. Not only do the presence and participation of young people in our congregation’s life insure our future in the community, but it blesses our present ministry and reflects the kingdom of God. So today, I would like to give you two reasons why we as a church should invest ourselves in the lives of young people. For one…

JESUS REGARDED YOUNG PEOPLE AS PRECIOUS, EVEN AN EXAMPLE TO US ALL.
Our Lord referred to children, youth and young people several times in the gospels and most, if not all of them, were positive. For instance, regarding the gospel message, Jesus said in Matthew 11:25:

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

And then He gave that gracious invitation: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest….” He invited all ages to come, follow and learn. But the revelation is given to those who are young- babes, those humble and hungry.

God’s work of revealing Himself to humans is not discriminatory regarding age. Neither does sin. How many of us have thought of our youthful ignorance and the things we’d like to do over? Anyone can come to faith at any age. In fact, studies have shown that if a person does not receive Christ by the time they are 18, then it is likely that they will not. In fact, the gospel is a safeguard to the awful teacher that sin is.

Young people need faith, hope and love today. “Nearly 80 percent of deaths of Americans age 30 and younger result from injury or violence… .” “Teen suicide is a growing health concern. It is the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24, surpassed only by accidents, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.”

While some young people see their lives as invincible and expendable, Jesus saw them as delicate, impressionable and precious in value. Matthew 18:5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Jesus had a profound interest in children. He often took them in His arms and blessed them. Matthew 19:13 tells us:

“Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’”

Jesus employed the young as faith examples. He said in Matthew 18:2:

“And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’”

And so we must take notice and see the ministry ahead of us among young people. Because in blessing them, we bless ourselves. Why? Because…

YOUR CHURCH’S HEALTH DEPENDS, IN PART, ON HOW YOU SERVE THE NEXT GENERATION.

Towards the end of his ministry, the apostle Paul writes a letter of encouragement to his friend Timothy. He tells him to be dedicated to his calling, which was preaching, teaching and ethical excellence. He instructs him regarding his ministry in 1 Timothy 4:12:

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Notice the list of imperatives given here: devote yourself, do not neglect, practice, immerse, keep close watch, persist. And his obedience in such things would equate to an overall blessing found in verse 16: “Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

According to Alan Nute, Timothy, “…needs to be encouraged to teach with authority. His comparative youth, (probably he was in his late thirties) may lead some to treat him with a measure of suspicion, if not disdain. He must not allow himself to be intimidated.” In contrast, Timothy must be a faith example.

Such advice is priceless. And I wonder if God is not calling Central to use the wisdom given to this church to make a positive and Christ-honoring impact on the next generation, with some effort from us.

We must reject the notion that children, youth and young adults don’t have much to contribute to the life of our church until they get to be 40 or so. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only do the presence and participation of young people in our congregation’s life insure our future in the community, but it blesses our present ministry and reflects the kingdom of God.

At Central, the younger demographic is our fewest represented. We understand that our church, to be at its peak, must grow in this area. My comments must not be misunderstood into thinking that the upcoming changes and new ways of ministry is attempting to change Central into a “young persons only” church. That is far from the truth. There are other churches that are doing that. Nevertheless, it would be a sad thing for Central to have no young adults or young families in the years ahead. My friend, that is not God’s will. We must strive for balance. The younger generation is equated with more young people serving and being active in the life of our church.

Our church survey revealed that 73% of you said that either adding new families or reaching younger people was our top priority over the next three years. Generations are meant to exist side-by-side. As I’ve said before, some of my strongest friendships in ministry have been with people old enough to be my parents and/or grandparents. And, as a pastor, I try to cultivate influential relationships with those much younger than me. The latter, are relationships of investment, where I try, as I’m led and allowed, to pour myself into someone, as well as listen to them.

There is a wealth of ministry in which you can participate! The Old Testament equates advanced age with wisdom. Proverbs 16:31 tells us that: “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” And, Proverbs 20:29: “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.” But let us also be willing and open to hearing different ideas and offer different programs to serve a wide range of age groups, even if it stretches us a bit.

But it would be a shame if we neglected the ministry ahead by living for ourselves and not investing in the next generation. So, in three years we hope that the demographic of 18-44 year olds will be the fastest growing segment of Central. We want our children’s ministry to increase and a large number of you to be involved with mentoring and investing in the next generation.

To accomplish this priority, three things need to develop at Central Schwenkfelder Church:

For one, we want to develop a Young adult ministry that specifically targets young adults ages 18-30. This ministry will be focused on building community and relationships, encouraging spiritual growth, and reaching out to Christian and non-Christian young adults who are not currently connected with a local church. The foundations of the ministry will include small group Bible studies, fellowship gatherings, and community outreach and service events.

Secondly, while maintaining the excellence of the traditional service, we also want to further develop the informal worship service. I understand that for a number of you, that service is not your “cup of tea.” Nevertheless, we need you to support the service and not begrudge it. Young people, not exclusively, but by-in-large, like a contemporary worship service. The traditional service, up until seven years ago, was the only worship style we had. But we made the decision nearly a decade ago that we would have a contemporary worship service. And it has done well. But we think it can do better.

One of the things that came from our study with the Center, is that no growing church has a service that goes past 11:45 a.m. So, in the coming year, we want to change the time of that service, and possibly change the structure of Sunday morning, and also make some changes to Fellowship Hall, to give the Contemporary worship service the best opportunity to succeed, while maintaining a Biblical message.

Lastly, we want to develop a young family Support Center. This means providing resources for young families to be connected, cared for, and supported. Offering programs to aid young families like MOPS, Marriage and Parenting, including one-day seminars, and various events. A media content manager will coordinate an online resources centered to support these ministries.

The goal with each of these is to reach more people for Christ. Inter-generational ministry is an incredible strength, not to be minimized. We have the tools to do it. We must create space and time for this to happen. Mentoring and Christians sharing life-on-life must be not only something we wish we could do, but it needs to be reality. And for it to be reality, we must be intentional about it. Pastor Brian will be speaking more on such things next weekend.

Someone once said: “The most significant contribution we make in life, is the passing of our faith to the next generation.” One church in Columbus, Ohio saw this as critical to their existence. In the Winter 2017 edition of “On Campus,” magazine, Mike Richardson, Lead Pastor of the Indianola Church of Christ, said:

“When I came to Indianola five and a half years ago, the leaders of the church were facing many important decisions. After decades of declining attendance, we had to decide whether or not we had a reason for continuing on as a church family in the community where we were located.”

Faced with some difficult challenges and located just down the street from the 53,000 students of Ohio State University, the church, “transformed their building, their worship services, and their financial priorities in order to make their space inviting to college students.” They did things like making their fellowship hall into a coffee shop outreach; providing dinners during finals week, intentionally welcoming college students, and even taking many of them out to lunch after church.

The end product? “There is now a growing understanding and appreciation between the generations. As our senior adults continue to serve our young adults, our young adults are finding ways of serving our senior adults in return. The most exciting thing is to see God move in and through our congregation- seeing new young people come to our (programs). Their youthfulness and enthusiasm are infectious!”

A Common Element Among an Effective Church

Spring is coming, I’m convinced! And with it will be mild temperatures, green grass, beautiful flowers and the reminder that it is good to be alive. Growth will set in. The growth season in our area begins after the last frost, sometime usually after April 1 and ends at the last frost of the year, usually before October 31st. In between those times, trees will bud, shrubs will sprout, flowers will appear and things will appear new.

We serve a God who brings about growth. John Newton said:

“I am not what I might be, I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am not what I hope to be. But I thank God I am not what I once was, and I can say with the great apostle, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’”

I believe that God has us positioned for a season of growth for our church. But it will depend on the question: “Is our church a contagious church?”
Charles Swindoll states:

“…we need to define what it is that makes a church contagious. How should a church grow biblically? What environment causes a community to take notice? It isn’t just the building, or the sound system, or the music. It’s not even the preaching. I repeat, it’s the context that makes a church contagious. It’s the people.”

Today’s text speaks of gardening as an illustration of spiritual vitality. This concept was important for the disciples to understand. In the context, Jesus was preparing to leave them. In chapter fourteen, Jesus presents the necessity of His death, resurrection and departure to be with the Father. He also spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Throughout the gospels, Jesus forecasted His arrest, torture, death and resurrection. But this troubled His disciples; They thought of death as abrasively final. But His disciples had the capacity to focus only on His death. They couldn’t understand why Jesus had to die, so they did not hear of His resurrection and ascension. They could only think on the fact that they would be alone, without their leader. How would they survive in a hostile world that hated God? How would they carry on in a culture that misunderstood Him?

With that a bridge is provided to the connective-growth language of chapter 15 and the subject of spiritual health and love. If we were to divide this chapter, we might see the following: Verses 1-8 have to do with our relationship with God, touching specifically on the means of spiritual fruit. Verses 9-17 have to do with our relationship with one another as followers of Christ, a product of spiritual fruit. Such a relationship is laid with a foundation of love because Christ has loved us. Today, I’d like to continue with considering our priorities as a church over the next three years in a message entitled as “One Church, One Family: The Common Element.” First,

THERE IS NO GREATER LOVE THAN THE FATHER PROVIDING FOR OUR SPIRITUAL GROWTH THROUGH HIS SON, JESUS CHRIST.

In other words, there is no greater love shown than God’s preemptive care over our spiritual vitality. John 15:5 tells us:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

Here, Jesus talks about vines, branches, vinedressers and bearing fruit. Jesus speaks about “bearing fruit” several times, but he is not speaking of gladiolas or tomatoes. In this section, “bearing fruit” is a metaphor for a life-bearing spiritual qualities which indicate a relationship with God. This is why Jesus uses the “vine” illustration, which was not foreign to these Jewish disciples. Thomas and Gundry state: “The vine as a symbol for Israel was well known from the Old Testament, (and their connection with God) …Only by abiding in Him who is the true vine does one belong it.” From this we understand that our entire being, our existence, our day-to-day survival is dependent upon Jesus Christ working in us.

Just as a branch cannot survive without being anchored to the main vine, so we cannot survive without anchoring ourselves in Christ. This is primarily through prayer, Bible study, public worship and putting one’s faith into practice. “Abiding” is a life word. The Greek verb means “to remain, stay, abide; to live, dwell; endure, and continue.” This verb is used roughly 33 times in the Gospel of John, with a concentration in chapters 14 and 15. Just by position, Jesus is speaking of the disciples remaining in the Father’s love because in a little while, Jesus would no longer “remain” with them. D.A. Carson notes: “…there are no true Christians without some measure of fruit. Fruitfulness is an infallible mark of true Christianity….”

And churches must also be fruitful in order to be healthy. Charles Swindoll shares that the acrostic W-I-F-E stands for the four most common elements of churches that are contagious.

• W stands for worship;
• I stands for instruction;
• F stands for Fellowship;
• E stands for evangelism.

The determiner of whether the branch can survive is only if it is attached to the vine. Abiding in Christ was the key to bearing spiritual fruit. The alternative was death and decay: “for apart from Me you can do nothing.” From this we know that bearing spiritual fruit is not a result of human effort but comes from the life we receive from Christ as the Holy Spirit works among us as a body of Christians. Secondly, …

THE GREATEST LOVE, DISPLAYED AT THE CROSS, ENABLES US TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

Spiritual fruit and Jesus working within us are things that enable us to love one another. John 15:10:
“If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.”

Abiding in Jesus’ love includes obedience and obedience is the key to joy. When we don’t obey the Lord, our conscience bears witness; we feel heavy on the inside. Conviction can consume us. And if it does, we must ask “why?” What have we done to bring it on? Our Lord would give us the supreme example of love when He referred to His approaching death on the cross. Jesus said that the best example of love is when one gives up his life for his friends. Jesus was referring to what He was about to do on the cross. Earlier, in John 10, Jesus called Himself the good shepherd. John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Love was something that naturally came from the Son of God, but it is not something that comes naturally for us. Rather, it is something that transforms us as we come to know the Lord, as a result of the Holy Spirit working in us. And after you come to know the Lord, you must intentionally practice-love. We must “put it on,” like a garment and wear it, that it might cover everything we do, as the Apostle Paul teaches us to do in Colossians 3:12:

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

Someone once spelled LOVE like this:
L- Listening when another is speaking,
O- Overlooking petty faults and forgiving all failures;
V- Valuing other people for who they are;
E- Expressing love in a practical way.

• Certainly we love our friends. Healthy relationships are known by a reciprocal love, a give and take, without anyone taking advantage or taking for granted.
• But Jesus gave us what may be the most difficult of His commands when He taught us to love those that are complicated to love. He said in the Sermon on the Mount of Matthew 5:44: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you….”
• And we are to love the lost. We do this because Jesus does (John 3:16). We are not a “holy huddle,” designed only to maintain ourselves. The love that God has shown us should spur us on to be outward and outreaching as a church.

MAY GOD GIVE US GRACE TO BE A CHURCH BODY, WHERE LOVE IS INTENTIONALLY PRACTICED.

In order to intentionally practice Christ like love, we want to intentionally create time, space and opportunity for us to enhance the fellowship that God has blessed us with. Whether it is through the presence of small groups, both on Sunday mornings and at other times and venues; or casual connections in the weekly life of our church body, we want to value relationships. Did you know the number one reason why people leave the church? They did not feel connected. And of those looking for a church, 83% responded that feeling welcomed was one of the top five answers. If we want our church to grow, we must understand that relationships play a big part.

One great example is a ministry started by Mrs. Amie Kipp and Tara Scavetti. These ladies felt the call of God a couple of years ago to start a MOPS chapter at Central. MOPS stands for “Mothers of Preschoolers.” One of its major components is to build community over a shared experience. Today, there are over 20 ladies gathering on weekly basis to study topics from God’s word and build relationships.

The survival of the Christian church depends, in part, on an inner, mutual preference. To take advantage of opportunities to pray with each other, hear each other’s burdens, encourage one another. Paul said in Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” What was the law of Christ? All of what He taught, but especially to love our neighbor as ourselves and to love one another!

In our upcoming annual congregational meeting, to be held on February 25, we are going to be telling you about some exciting things coming to this church, producing a new vision. Hopefully you will have something in your hands to tell you more. Please come on the 25th for our 10:30 a.m. blended service, have lunch and stay for the presentation.

Our heritage is well over 300 years old. It could not have lasted that long without changes along the way. Change can be very healthy. We cannot stay the same. Nor can we go back to what the church was 20, 30 or 50 years ago. God loves us as we are, but loves us too much to leave us there.

There is no greater love than what God has shown us through providing for our spiritual productivity in Christ. And there is no greater love than what was shown to us by Jesus on the cross. Yet, we are constantly confronted with a friction between Jesus’ love, and the tendency towards a lack of love in our own hearts. Let this short poem by Amy Carmichael speak to you, as it has to me. It is called: “If.”

“If I belittle those whom I am called to serve, talk of their weak points in contrast perhaps with what I think of as my strong points; if I adopt a superior attitude, forgetting “Who made you to differ? And what have you that you have not received?” then I know nothing of Calvary’s love.

If I take offense easily; if I am content to continue in a cool unfriendliness, though friendship be possible, then I know nothing of Calvary’s love.

If I feel bitterly towards those who condemn me, as it seems to me, unjustly, forgetting that if they knew me as I know myself they would condemn me much more, then I know nothing of Calvary’s love.”

May God give us the grace to do so that we can be fruitful and productive in Christ.

One Church, One Family

Text: Romans 12:1-13

“An effective team is only as good as its members. No one holds the market on value. Sometimes we fail to see the value in each other. For instance, a sea captain and his chief engineer were arguing over who was most important to the ship. To prove their point to each other, they decided to swap places. The chief engineer ascended to the bridge, and the captain went to the engineer room. Several hours later, the captain suddenly appeared on deck covered with oil and dirt. “Chief!” he yelled, waving aloft a monkey wrench. “You have to get down there: I can’t make her go!”

“Of course you can’t,” replied the chief. “She’s aground!”

Both were responsible for the ship’s problems. It started when the two men lost sight of its other’s value. On any team one does not seek to better the other; one depends on the other.

That is a good picture of the church. If the church is going to go anywhere, each member has to realize his/her part and do it. We must understand the value of each other.

Why am I addressing this? Certainly God wants Central Schwenkfelder to be an effective church that makes a difference in our community and world. But it cannot happen without each member functioning in the ways in which God has called them. So it begs the question, how can we make the church go places? Are there ways in which Jesus, the head of the church, wants you and me to live out our faith? How must we live out our faith in relationship to the body of Christ? Let me give a couple of answers, as we love God by functioning as “One Church, One Family.” The first…

I. OUR FAITH MUST BE LIVED OUT SACRIFICALLY.

Romans 12:1:

“I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The theme of Paul’s letter to the Romans is the power of God in the gospel. In 1:16-17, Paul speaks of justification- accepted in the eyes of a holy God. This is done through, or by means of faith in Jesus Christ. Throughout this letter, the apostle develops the need for justification (our sin), how we are justified (Jesus’ sacrificial death) and the application of justification (faith). In Romans 12, Paul says that faith is not just something mental, but it is active.

Faith must be lived sacrificially …through the mercies of God. The Greek preposition gives off the meaning that through or by means of the grace of God, we are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. The verb means “to present, to show; to offer, to yield, even to dedicate.” In the Old Testament, animals were killed then placed upon the alter to be offered up to God. It was an act of devotion and a means of atonement for sin. Since Jesus was our ultimate sacrifice, Paul says that we’re to offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices. The Greek means sacrifice or offering. It was something that completely belonged to God. Here, our bodies are to be living sacrifices. Body here would denote our whole persons: our minds, our bodies, our interests, our talents, our service, our compassions. Since Jesus is the final blood sacrifice, both Jew and Gentile can now serve God while living.

Quite a difference with how we sometimes view our faith. Coming to faith in Christ is often understood as that which you do in order to get more comfort, more peace, and more benefits, such as fire insurance. Although there is tremendous personal benefit to being a Christian, we must not look at Jesus only as a means of self-help. Our view of membership ought to be one of service and sacrifice, not that of consumerism. Consumerism has negatively affected the church. Consumerism says: “I’m joining this church because they have a product I like. I’ll be here as long as I’m satisfied with the product. When I’m not, I’ll complain until I can’t take it anymore.” Under such pretense, many get upset and leave, only to go to some other congregation with the same false expectations. This leads to more frustration and eventual drop-out.

II. FAITH MUST BE LIVED OUT GENEROUSLY.
Verse four states:

For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

This passage also teaches that we must: “… recognize that there is a diversity of gifts represented in each congregation, Paul stresses that those who have gifts should use them for the good of the body and in humility.” (Waters, 191). When our spiritual gifts are in operation, love, service to one another, building each other up, is common place.

As we offer our bodies as living sacrifices, dedicating ourselves to God, we employ the gifts He has given us for ministry. When the Bible speaks of membership in the body of Christ, it has to do with service to God as an act of gratitude for all that He’s done for me. John F. Kennedy, our late president of nearly 50 years ago, is known for a statement during his 1961 inaugural address. Facing a tremendous task ahead of him, Kennedy stated that the work at hand would not be finished in the first 100 days of his administration, nor the first 1,000 days, or “perhaps in our lifetime on this planet.” Nevertheless, he announced, “Let us begin. … And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” I’d like to encourage us to think about that statement in reference to the church and how we understand membership. Ask not what your church can do for you, ask what you can do for your church.

Living out our faith sacrificially implies faithfulness. We need to get back to faithfulness. God calls each of us to faithfulness. One person states:
“It is in the church, week after week, where we learn faithfulness. It is in the church where discipleship is carried out. It is in the church where accountability is modeled. It is in the church of Jesus Christ where we find the doctrinal roots that establish our faith.”

Your goal is to be faithful. To contribute. Are you faithful? Why are you on this earth, to live for yourself? Or to live for Him? Are you willing to sacrifice yourself to live more for Him? Dr. Guy Waters says that “… obedience is the response of the Christian to God’s goodness in Christ.” The list of imperatives in Romans 12 as necessary task of Thanksgiving toward God for his goodness. Lastly, …

III. FAITH MUST BE LIVED OUT OPENLY.

In the next three years, we’re trusting God to build our church body by your significant participation in a small group or a discipleship pathway that regularly graduates leaders and church members.

To develop a pathway that guides an attender to become a disciple of Christ, and then a member, and finally a leader. We want to create opportunities for casual connections.

“Casual connections become portals to the kind of authentic community God designed and for which people are longing. We see ourselves as one church family, offering help and hope to all. By attending and participating at Central, you will certainly know that you are welcome, loved, accepted, and needed. By participating in one of our small groups, finding your place to serve, and growing and spiritual maturity, you will be sharing real life with real people who are on the same transformative journey.”

Because it is in a small group the real community and fellowship can take place. Where individuals pray for each other. Where individuals see a need and react/respond. Where there is shared learning rather than just One Direction learning.

This will undoubtedly require some flexibility. It means some classes intentionally dividing to make two classes. It means some of you opening up your home is to hold a small group there for folks that want to be a part of our church, but cannot make it for Sunday school hour. It also requires some flexibility I’m on our youth. This will require restructuring current classes and creating new growth opportunities and classes.

Because the goal of such efforts is to encourage a one church, one family experience. Scottish theologian and Pastor James Torrance says that God‘s primary purpose for humanity is for filial…we have been created by God to find our true being-in-communion, and sonship, in the mutual personal relationships of love.” (Torrance, 38).

And this requires us to provide more opportunities to learn together, worship together, serve together, and be together! Verse three states: “For through the grace. This church, its operations, its assets, its programs, belongs to and exists for the glory of God in Jesus Christ. The Living Insights Bible puts it like this: “A vital sign of a healthy church is the exaltation of Christ as Head and supreme authority. Let us never forget that the body has one Head, and only one. The Head, remember is Christ. He-alone-is-Lord.”

In order to have a vibrant faith, we must remain connected to Jesus and with others, just as He said in John 15:5: “I am the vine and you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in Him bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.” Lastly, faith was not given to you to make your life easier, or more enjoyable. Faith was given so that you might be more like Christ.

What work has God called you to do? Or is it to be employed in His operations. How can I help His cause? There are many needs at Central. We need Sunday school teachers, leaders, those committed to prayer, those to help with various tasks. Stewardship is defined as everything you do after you say you believe. Our Church Council has made it one of our goals to foster spiritual gift awareness in our church. Spiritual gifts are special abilities God has given you to aid others in the body of Christ. You are employed by God to use them. In the future, it is hoped that you will take a spiritual gifts inventory to find out the type of ministry God has called you to do in His church. I hope you’ll take every advantage of it.

There are two ways in which our faith must be lived out in three ways: sacrificially, generously and openly. A young schoolboy was trying out for a part in the school play. His mother knew that he had set his heart on it, though she was afraid he would not be chosen. On the day the parts were awarded, she drove to school to pick him up. The young lad rushed up to her, eyes shining with pride and excitement. Then he said some words to her that should remain a lesson to us all: “Mom, I have been chosen to clap and cheer!” In the same way, God has lovingly chosen each of us for different and special tasks, no matter the significance we might place on them, great or small.

The Greatest Gift of All

Christmas causes us to ask the question, “Who is this?” If you were to ask the people of Nazareth, they may say: “he was Mary and Joseph’s son, who grew up a carpenter.” Jesus was not warmly received by everyone. In Mark 6, He went to his hometown of Nazareth and was coldly received by his peers and others with whom He was raised.

If you were to ask the disciples, they would say: “He is the Lord of glory, who even the wind and waves obeyed Him!” (See Mark 4:35-41)

If you were to ask the angels of heaven, they would say: “He is good news for all people- the Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2 is a familiar Christmas passage, one about the Greatest Gift of All. It contains an announcement, news made public. Announcements are as useful to today as they were 2,000 years ago. Throughout history, they have come in varied mediums. In the Ancient Near East, they were given audibly. Today, we see them come across the ticker on our television set. We hear them over an intercom, or read them on the front page of the newspaper. An announcement is meant to inform, to prepare us. With this in mind, we must ask, what was the greatest announcement of all time? Its bearers: the angels of heaven. Its hearers: the shepherds of Palestine. It’s content: God. It was and remains today the most important announcement of human history.

But today, we see how the angels appeared to the shepherds and answered the question: “Who is this?”

THIS GIFT WAS GOOD NEWS FOR EVERYONE.
Let me explain. Luke 2:10 reads, But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. The angel brought to the shepherds of long ago, …good news of great joy that will be for all the people. When was the last time you heard some really good news? If we pick up our local newspapers or flick on the news at ten, we are given plenty of bad news. But the angels said this would be good news for all people. In other words, all people without distinction. We see this in the message’s first recipients. It would not be for just the rich or ruling. It was not exclusive to the merchant class. Shepherds were not your upper middle class of ancient Palestine. They were poor and smelled bad. Rather, this announcement would be good news for all people: black and white, men and women, poor and rich, ruling and ruled.

Do you need good news? The application to you this: Jesus came for you regardless of your race, your gender or your assets. He came in spite of who you are or what you have done. He came to provide for your greatest need. Christ came for you. Do you know that if you were the only one on this earth, Jesus still would have come to die on the cross for you? And this is good news. But why, you might ask? Next, we find that…

THE GIFT WAS A PERSON, BUT NO ORDINARY PERSON.
Once again, …the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. The reason that Christmas is good news to you and me is because Jesus is the world’s only Savior. In order to appreciate the good news, you must first understand the bad news. You see each one of us has disobeyed God from birth. Since the fall of humankind, not a one of you was taught how to lie, how to be selfish, how to steal. You do that naturally. The late R.C. Sproul said, “We are not sinful because we sin; we sin because we are sinful.” Because the God of the universe is perfect in character, all sin greatly offends Him, and requires His judgment.

But God, in His love, sent Jesus to be the answer to our horrible predicament.
Jesus was God’s promised gift. At the time of the fall, we see from Genesis chapter three that God promised to put enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. Genesis 3 15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Jesus is the One who crushes Satan’s head. And for that, we must be thankful.

The birth of Christ answers our hearts greatest longing. He is the fulfillment of God’s promise Christmas is a reminder of hope, that God saw our greatest need and provided it for us. Someone once wrote:

If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator.
If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist.
If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist.
If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer.
But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.

Think about it. God, looking upon your plight, sent His only Son to deliver you from such a dilemma. This is why Jesus is called Savior. The Greek word means one who rescues, one who delivers, one who preserves. It is the same word used in Matthew 1:21 in which the angel said to Joseph concerning his fiancée Mary: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” That has been good news for me. Whereas I have offended God through my actions, a relationship with God can be reestablished through faith in the who came and gave His life for me.

Kevin DeYoung states:
“The point of the gospel is not that Jesus saves us from low self-esteem, or from singleness, or from our crummy job. Sin is our deepest, most fundamental, most pervasive problem. Other teachers and heroes may be able to save us from life’s stresses and disappointments, but with this problem of sin, there is only One who can save, and His name is Jesus.”

Jesus was also called Christ. This was His title. Christ was the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew term Messiah, God’s chosen One who was promised to come to redeem Israel.

And He was also known as Lord. Jesus is Lord. That means He is Master. He is God in the flesh, the Second Person of the Trinity, and the One who the angels worship.

Not to be overlooked was the fact that this message was delivered by angels, God’s messengers. Luke 2:13: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’”

These angels bore the message to the shepherds. God’s most important messages were always delivered by angels. They would sometimes bring messages of judgement. Other times they would announce warning or doom. Still other times they would deliver messages of encouragement. Here, they chose to appear to shepherds, which tells us that God cares for the common person.

CONCLUSION
This gift is exactly what we needed. Dare I say Jesus is the reason we give gifts at Christmas time. American author E. B. White said: “To perceive Christmas through its wrappings becomes more difficult with every year.”

I could never erase the guilt of my disobedience, Christ did it for me when He died on the cross. By virtue of His death, he saves those who come to Him by faith. Hebrews 7:25 tells us, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him… Christmas is good news because of what Christ did for us.
Let us never miss the meaning of Christmas. In December 1903, after many attempts, the Wright brothers were successful in getting their “flying machine” off the ground. Thrilled, they telegraphed this message to their sister Katherine: “We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.” Katherine hurried to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. He glanced at it and said, “How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas.” The editor had completely missed the point! Don’t miss the point of Christmas. Jesus came for you.

A Tribute to Eric M. Landoll

On April 7, 2017, we lost a dear man and good friend, Eric Landoll. The day of his memorial service contained some irony. On the one hand, it is not common, and certainly not fun, to reflect on a life that ended too soon. 48 years old is young by most standards. I’m sure you agree. On the other hand, nearly 300 guests gathered at his service to remember a young man who was loved and who loved many. It was a blessing to have known this quiet soul who would be the first to say hello; the first to ask how you were doing; and the first to greet you with a smile.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 states, “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven– A time to give birth, and a time to die… .” These words might give you the impression that death is something natural, just because it is expected. After all, the Scripture attributes a time for “…everything under heaven.” There is a certain inevitability associated with death. But it is never to be thought of natural in the purest sense.

Death entered our world for a reason. That reason is due to the presence of sin. Humankind was the crown of God’s creation; made in God’s image with a mind, will and emotions. And yet, he fell. Our first parents disobeyed God and offended Him. Their rebellion against God brought a sentence of death for everyone (Romans 5:12). All people die because all sin. We are told in Hebrews 9:27 that it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…. Every human being has an appointment to appear before the sovereign God of the universe and give an account for his/her life. Although created by God and for God, you and I have offended God through our thoughts and our actions.

But as alarming as this situation may sound, it was for this reason that Jesus Christ came to this earth as God incarnate so many years ago. Christ died and rose again to abolish death for those who trust in Him. Note Christ’s words in John 11:25, I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Jesus makes the invitation to anyone: “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” The rest that Jesus provides is soul rest, that comes from knowing Him, trusting Him and following Him.

The Christian possesses the sweet knowledge and anticipation of life after death, because Jesus arose from the dead. The Christian lives in this world knowing that his real home is not of this world. Rather God has prepared a place for him. Death is a transition from one state of life to another. Jesus said in John 14:1:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

And, Paul wrote that when we are absent from the body, we are …at home with the Lord. This is good news for the Christian, especially when he finds himself in a world where there is so much death. So there is urgency for all to repent of their sins and place their trust in Jesus Christ, in order to possess heaven as their home.”

So how can you become a Christian and access this life that Jesus spoke so regularly of? There are two things necessary: repentance and faith. At the outset of His ministry, Jesus preached: “The time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.

Repentance means to change. It is implied in the act of confession, where a person comes before the Lord in prayer, and asks for forgiveness and turns from their wrongful deeds.

The other act is faith- which goes beyond believing that there is a God. But means embracing God, following Jesus Christ. Jesus said in Matthew 16:24: “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.” Such is the clear path to an eternity with God.

Regarding our good friend, Eric, I wish I could have had one more conversation with him. Wish I could have hugged his neck one more time; and told him how much he meant to me. But that did not happen to our choosing. We must resign ourselves to God’s will in these matters. As it says in the book of Job: “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed by the name of the Lord.”

What can we say about Eric? Lots of things like sharp, scholarly, classy, funny, handsome, winsome, kind, helpful and good. Other words are loving, caring, witty, ornery and humble.

High School
My earliest recollection of him was his part time job on the square. Eric was hired by Lyle Catron to represent Shanks and Sterrett Clothing Store. That was Nevada’s classy store. Eric was the perfect person for the job because he was classy. His temperament and dress made him a great choice for the job.

A member of the speech and debate squad in Nevada’s glory years of that sport, Eric thrived at Extemporaneous Speaking. Under the direction of Tim Gore, Eric fined tuned his speaking skills, which gave him a head start compared to some of his fellow law school students. Eric was an excellent public speaker. He spoke on foreign and domestic subjects. He kept files of current events. Anything from the US Supreme Court to what was going on in Sri Lanka. Eric was good at what he did. He was a critical thinker. I remember going round and round with him about creation vs. evolution.

With Landoll there was always a lot of joking and kidding around. If you were privileged to know him, he may razz you about your personality defects. Beneath it, there was a definite sense of kindness.

E loved the outdoors. He liked to fish and hunt and he loved to camp. On one of those camping trips where high school boys are up to absolutely no good, Eric, Chuck Thomas, Suresh Dalai, John Garton and some others were gathered near everyone’s vacation spot, the Marmaton River. After a few hours of actually lying on the tents as they lay flat against the earth, it was decided that camp must be set up. The problem was that it was getting dark. And it was discovered that the wrong pegs were brought, or maybe no pegs at all. Eric then asked: “Have you guys ever been camping before!?”

Post High School
You could describe Eric as smart, a sharp young man. He was well liked by many older, peers and younger. My friendship with him ramped-up in 1988. I had known Eric and we had experienced some good times together. Coming home from Christmas break and needing to make a change in schools, I enrolled at Missouri Southern. I attended a basketball game that evening at the High School. Eric was there and welcomed me to my new school, assuring me of a good experience and a good time.

That spring, Eric, Tom Weakley, Pat Wood, Brian Schneider and I spent a lot of time together. Those were happy times. As roommates, we would cook, lift weights at the YMCA; listen to “Guns and Roses” blaring in his navy blue 66 Mustang with cherry interior went down the road.

Eric was very smart. He was determined to get a good education and do well. After graduating from Missouri Southern with his business degree, he attended Mizzou law school. Eric saw himself as a helper to others. In this way he was incredibly selfless.

Dylan Murray was attending Mizzou at the time and was thinking of applying to law school. This is what he posted: “He was always a friend to me in Nevada, and also at MU, where I recall him giving me some great advice about the LSAT Law School entrance test and about what to expect in Law School. I will always recall him very fondly.”

Eric became good friends with Mike McCaffree. On another adventure in the great outdoors, Mike and Eric went on a float trip to the Elk River near Noel, Missouri. McCaffree had a broken arm, thus making E do all of the paddling on a river that barely has any current. Clearly, this was a well thought out plan, by McCaffree! Eric reminded him often.

Eric was caring and fun, but he also knew tragedy. Eric had lost his beloved older brother Russ to a tragic car accident. Others had experienced loss; one of our friends lost his dad tragically. At a party, I stepped outside and found Eric and our friend shedding some tears, encouraging each other over who they had lost. Eric was someone you could talk to. Eric lost his mother to cancer and his Gerald, to whom he was especially close, in 2007.

Latter years
Eric practiced law in Nevada for 20 years. He was an exceptional lawyer and enjoyed having to think quickly and communicate clearly with a line of reasoning. He developed an excitement for the preparation and the opportunity to be judged for his efforts.

He was not “cut-throat,” but cared about the individual. He fielded his fair share of divorce cases. The first two or three, he got the couples to reconcile. This did not help his bank account, but gave him satisfaction. The toughest part about the job was seeing homes divided and kids displaced. Eric was sensitive and surprisingly patient. He had a deep sense of the good. He was anchored morally and had a sense of what was right.

In 1996, Eric married the love of his life, Angie. Eric was a catch and so was Angie. They were a handsome couple. Angie had moved to our area from Iowa. She was a student at Iowa State. Eric and Angie’s love was so strong that it endured a long distance relationship, before the inventions of texting, email and unlimited long distance. They waited until 11 p.m. to talk on the phone, so as to have cheaper phone bills. Angie and Eric were married for 21 years. From this union were born three beautiful children: Abbey, Clay and Carter.

This is what Eric said in a text conversation I had with him just a month ago. We were bragging about our kids, or complaining about the challenges of life. Here’s what he said:

“Dave. I promise you, I’m fine. I know you married me to the best woman in the world, and for that I thank you. I’m happy to break bread with you but please don’t fret over my welfare.

I’m absolutely fine. Clay missed state by two points this year. David Dade was the ref. He does a great job refereeing.

Abbie got a big scholarship when she graduated. She’s doing good things with it at MU. Has a 3.8+ gpa in the honors journalism program.

I don’t go around bragging to anyone else, but Clay has 3.9+ gpa, action-class, Varsity cross country, varsity wrestling, stucco, junior class vp., drum major. Angie and I are very fortunate. …. went to Missouri Scholars Academy at Mizzou last summer for three weeks, is going to Boys State this year, but I still want to pinch his head off for being such a jerk to his brother.

And he was quite fond of Carter. Even just recently, he bought Carter a cantaloupe because Carter liked cantaloupe. “Here you go buddy. Here’s your cantaloupe.” Carter participated in the 5th grade spelling bee and won third place. But even more important than his finish was the fact that he would “high-five,” his classmates, upon their successful attempts at difficult words. This blessed Eric and made him proud.

This is what Andy Remington posted:

On Friday this world lost another good man. I met Eric Landoll in high school, where we both participated in speech and debate. “E” was a top dog in the class and I used to love to watch him in action. After graduation and college, we both ended back in Nevada, where he began to practice law. Again, I was always in “awe” of his talents. Periodically we’d work together and I remember going to his office and telling him when Donetta was pregnant with Taylor Remington, and we talked about how some day our kids would know each other. We had always kept in touch and over the past few years had been in a group chat room where we spoke several times a day about everything from, politics, cooking, health issues, bragging about our kids, and many “unmentionable” topics as many of you can imagine! Those conversations helped me keep my sanity a lot of days. One thing I’m positive about “E” is that he loved his wife and kids more than anything. Those kids are the most polite, well mannered, and smartest children you’d ever meet. I know a lot of people are going to miss “E”, especially myself and “The Knights of the Golden Hog.” Take care buddy and hope to see you again some day.

I believe that Eric would have liked to be remembered as a hardworking, kind, and helpful soul who loved his family and loved his friends. We were better for having known him. And we can thank God that we had the privilege.

It is easy to let such an event pass with the pain, but with little to no spiritual effect. What would God tell you today? And as we grieve in the days, months and years ahead, may you be reminded that God has given you life and so life must be lived with Jesus at its center. May God bless you and hold you in the palm of His hand. Amen.

The following is a letter that Eric’s seventeen-year-old son, Clay, wrote to his dad on June 22, 2016:

Dear Dad,
In PSD (Personal and Social Dynamics), we were told to think of who we admire/look up to most in our lives. It was a hard question, because I love you and Mom equally, but when it comes to who has taught me more about how to be a man someday, you took the cake. Now that I have an image of you eating pineapple upside-down cake, I can thank you for the unmeasurable amount of effort you have put into being such a gigantic part of my life.

I can’t even remember a time when I questioned your love for me or my love for you. Of course there were times when we couldn’t stand each other, but I feel each time made us a little bit closer. I also appreciate how you’ve always encouraged me to follow my dreams and to work hard so that I am the best me I can be. You taught me to be caring, passionate, trustworthy, and to be a gentleman. You’ve given me a set of tools with which I can carve a life of my own someday. A gift in which I will be forever grateful and appreciative of. I simply would not be anywhere near who I am today without your guidance and involvement in my life.

I know I don’t say it enough, Dad, but I love you. And I thank you. You are an amazing dad, and you’ve shown me how to be a good partner by how you treat Mom. You’ve raised an ever grateful family. So again, thank you.

Love,
Clay

Why Go to Church?

This is a very good question, especially when more and more people are choosing not to attend church. The statistics regarding church attendance are unfortunate. According to a Gallup poll, 32% of Pennsylvanians attend church services weekly. 20% attend monthly. 47% seldom or never. Could it be that we are transitioning from a time when most people attended a weekly worship service, to now that most people do not? Our culture is growing more post Christian.

But such trends should not affect you or me. In fact, such statistics are indicating that the church must become more intentional in its ministry. People attend worship services because they want to, versus that it is the acceptable thing to do.

For Christians, we see the invaluable worth of setting aside time to worship the King of the universe. Worship is our corporate time to commune with God. In return, it is the church gathering for worship, that we receive the most benefit in our spiritual walk with the Lord. The Reformer John Calvin said:

“The whole world is a theatre for the display of the divine goodness, wisdom, justice, and power, but the Church is the orchestra, as it were—the most conspicuous part of it; and the nearer the approaches are that God makes to us, …the more attentively are we called to consider them.”

When you think about it, the worship service is the opportunity where each of us has something to give. Yes, hopefully we get something out of it, but the worship service is something to which you contribute. The choirs give their ability to make music. The Preacher gives his sermon. Your prayers and your offerings are given to God. And hopefully to this, you give your undivided attention. And when we do, God blesses us. Hopefully, you walk out of here encouraged, inspired, helped, blessed, taught, challenged, corrected and loved.

To see the value in attending the worship service, we turn to a well-known passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews.

The letter to the Hebrews was written to Christians that were dispersed abroad and suffering persecution for their faith. The theme of the letter to the Hebrews is the supremacy of the sacrifice of Christ.

In many ways, Hebrews stands alone from other portions of Scripture. Hebrews tells us that compared to the Old Testament administration, Jesus functions both as our superior priest and sacrifice. Better than all of the sacrifices established in the days of Moses that provided only temporary atonement for sin, Jesus Christ was the eternal sacrifice. He was the only sinless person that walked the earth. He was a sacrifice without blemish. In our passage, we are told that the only way we can approach God’s throne with confidence is through the blood of Jesus Christ.

No one could enter the holy place except the high priest once per year. When he did so, it was a dangerous thing to do. Because of Christ’s service and sacrifice, we can draw near to God with full assurance. We can relate to God in a new and fresh way. We can have the assurance that our sins have been forgiven and we’ve been released from our debt. Based on what Jesus has done for us, there is a series of imperatives, indicated by the phrase, “Let us….” “Let us draw near, hold fast and stir one another up.” We are first told to…

• draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith….” Jesus is the one who washes us and makes us clean. He provides a clean conscience, although we have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. This separates Christianity from the rest of the world’s faiths. Because of the work of another, I can become a new man. My transgressions can be wiped clean and I can become a child of God, whereas before I was His enemy.

• Next, we are told to “…hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” These Christians were about to lose their faith under the pressure of persecution and the inconveniences of the day. The ultimate question they were wrestling with was: “Wouldn’t it be much easier if we were just to revert to our old Jewish way of life, rather than trusting in and living for Jesus Christ? The answer of course, was a resounding no!

• Finally, we are to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We need each other. Part of obeying the last instruction is avoiding the keeping of ourselves from meeting with other Christians.

Gerald Hawthorne points out: “These things are of the essence of Christianity. Since their maintenance is dependent upon the mutual interaction of the Christian society, it is absolutely essential that one assemble himself with other Christians if he is to be assured of continued spiritual development. Any type of go-it-alone Christianity is unthinkable… .”

Among the gathering of the saints, there is acceptance. There was support. There was also transparency. And, there was responsibility. Rick Warren, in his well-known book, The Purpose Driven Life, stated: “Being a Christian is more than just believing- it’s belonging. Without a church, you don’t have a spiritual home.” And this really addresses one of the basic needs we have as Christians.

The Church of Jesus Christ should function much like a family. Today, we see our family’s growth as we welcome four new members into Central Schwenkfelder Church. This is a great event and one for which we should thank God.

Receiving new members is a sign of life for the local church. The book of Acts tells us that among the early church, “…the Lord was adding to their number daily, those who were being saved.” We praise God for what He is doing in our midst. But there are other signs of life in the local church in addition to numerical growth.

If our mission is to love God, serve others and grow disciples, then it would make since that this is done, to a large part on Sunday morning when we meet together as a church body.

This is not the only venue or time where this is done, nor can it be the only venue or time where this is done. But it is done, on a Sunday morning.

As our choir sang:
Here are symbols to remind us of our lifelong need of grace;
Here are table, font and pulpit; here the cross has central place.
Here in honesty of preaching, here in silence as in speech,
Here in newness and renewal, God the Spirit comes to each.

Lord of all, of church and kingdom in an age of change and doubt,
Keep us faithful to the gospel, help us work Your purpose out.
Here in this day’s dedication, all we have to give, receive;
We, who cannot live without You, we adore You, we believe.

By attending the worship service, you can respond to and receive from God; you learn about Him and your life is changed because of it. You can encourage others regarding God and His love. It is a time that you can redirect your thoughts from a world not friendly to your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a time that you can pray for others and benefit from prayer.

By not attending the worship service, you miss out on the teaching; miss out on the fellowship; miss out on the opportunity to serve, bless and encourage, Evidently, the believers had experienced a fair amount of suffering and persecution as a result of their faith. It would be easy to keep oneself from the Christian gathering. Verse 32 states:

“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.”

Today, lots of other things get in the way of our church attendance. Consider the following:

• Sometimes, we get our priorities off. Thom Rainer, the head of Lifeway Christian Resources, says that the number one reason for the decline in church attendance today is that folks do not attend as frequently as they once did. Instead of attending four weeks per month, they attend 2-3. When a quarter of your attendance does not show up one week, that makes a 100 attendee church feel like a 75 attendee church.

• Work. Some people are employed on a Sunday morning or work the graveyard shift on Saturday night into Sunday morning. For some, this cannot be helped. For others, it might simply be an opportunity to communicate to your employer that Sunday morning is important to you and that you ask to have it off.

• Sporting events. Some have made the response that they can worship God in the deer stand, the duck blind, or the golf course. But people do not. Today, more and more kids’ sports leagues are holding their games and/or practices on a Sunday morning. These are competing for the soul of your young person. Would you be different? Would you value the time in worship more than a sports league?

• Family get-togethers; When we changed the worship times a few years ago, I had a couple approach me and say that they did not attend anymore because that was the time that they went out for breakfast with their family. Instead of picking a different time for breakfast, they gave up the church. How sad.

• Our need for rest/sleep; “Sunday is the only day I have to sleep in.” Maybe try going to bed earlier. Or attending the 11:15 Informal worship service.

• Our insecurities, “No one likes me there. I don’t know anyone.” Maybe try getting to know others. If you avail yourself, others will respond. Try introducing yourself. Stick around after the benediction.

• Our dress: As long as most of your body is covered, it really doesn’t matter the type of clothes you wear to worship. As long as it is tasteful, that’s really all that matters.

• Our preferences: There will always be something that doesn’t suit you or the person next to you. Not everyone can be pleased with all aspects of the worship service.

• Our impressions: The church is too conservative; the church is unfriendly; that church is not mission-minded enough. Etc. The church is not designed to suit your preferences. Maybe God is doing something? I would definitely say, “stick around.”

The bottom line is that all of these can stand in the way of your spiritual growth. Satan loves to use these to keep you away. You become vulnerable to your tendency to be uncommitted, Satan’s lies, televangelists who teach heresy (many do) and the lie that says you don’t need the church.

Author Mark DeVries states: “Real community means real responsibility for each other. It means a commitment to be there for each other even when the schedule is tight and when motivation is low.” We do this because Jesus is coming again. And we must be ready. And this is the place to become ready.

A Church goer wrote a letter to the editor of a newspaper and complained that it made no sense to go to church every Sunday. The letter reads as follows:

“I’ve gone to church for 30 years now. In that time, I have heard something like 3,000 sermons. But for the life of me, I can’t remember a single one of them. So, I think I’m wasting my time, and the pastors are wasting their time.”

This started a real controversy in the Letters to the Editor column – much to the delight of the editor. It went on for weeks until someone wrote the following clincher:

“I’ve been married for 30 years now. In that time, my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But, for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this: They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, if I had not gone to church for nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!”

How to Show Love on a Sunday Morning

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart… .”
(1 Peter 1:22 ESV)

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.”
(1 Peter 2:1 ESV)

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
(1 Peter 2:9 ESV)

How do you show love on Sunday morning among God’s people? As a Christian, what are some ways to demonstrate that you are interested in the lives of others? Consider the following action points the next time you attend a worship service.

One way is to be outwardly focused. As a church, we can overlook love and become insulated and ingrown. It is common to come to church thinking only about what you will receive rather than what you are able to give. One of the greatest dangers to the health of any church is to become inwardly-focused. If you want your church to grow, you must value people. As Dr. Dave Coryell, Director of Christian Endeavor (www.cemidatlantic.org) recently said to a group of leaders: “Meaningful conversations and meaningful connections encourage people to stay.” This really applies to everyone. Not just the greeters or the Board of Deacons. Everyone.

Offer a courtesy. Try to think like your neighbor. What are their questions? What are their needs? What may they be curious about when they visit your church? Think like someone who is not a part of the church. Invite the stranger to your Sunday School class. Take the time to answer their questions. As a church bulletin once stated: “We have one pastor, but all of us are ministers!” See yourself as a minister, equipped to serve their needs.

Be available for others. The “greeting time” should not function as planned kindness. We must do this more naturally. If you see someone that you do not know, take the time to approach them. Introduce yourself. Tell them that you’re glad they are here. Take them to the welcome center. And if there is no one there, then be the welcome center! If it is your day to oversee the welcome center, show up early and stay late.

Don’t rush off. After the service, don’t be in a hurry to go to the next thing. Don’t do anything for yourself for at least five, if not ten minutes. Take the time to reach out to others and make them feel welcome. Someone once said: “The church is the only organization that does not exist for itself.”

David Fitch, who pastors in Westmont, Illinois, He encourages his church to take on a godly presence in their homes, neighborhoods, work places and church. He says: “Pray for that space and become sensitive to what God is doing.” (Rob Toal, “Outreach and Evangelism: What Works Today,” CT Pastors, 43). Pastor Fitch encourages his flock to use the dinner table as a means for proactive love and mercy, as well as evangelism.

As Christians, we are called by Christ to be available, provide a godly presence and tell others about the great God we serve.

Fear Not…

“…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7 ESV)

I recently read an article written by an older teenager named Jacki as she cited her three biggest fears (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/my-3-biggest-fears-as-a-teenager). They were the following:
• Fear of the future;
• fear of failure;
• fear of intimacy and loneliness.

In citing her fear of the future, Jacki said: “As teenagers, we start to realize the idealistic plans we made as kids aren’t sure things. We don’t have control.” Overwhelming can be the feeling of being, “in-between.” “…in-between schools, jobs, plans, and security. Stress lingers. My future was a blank slate, everything was up in the air, and I felt swallowed by the unknown. Fear of the future pressed in.”

The next is a fear of failure. Jacki states: “Failing in school, work, relationships, driving—basically, failing at life. We’re afraid of disappointing those we love and messing up in some extravagant, irreparable way. The fear of failure is paralyzing because it inhibits us from taking risks and moving forward—which is, of course, what growing up is all about.”

The last of the three is a fear of intimacy and loneliness. Jacki says: “This is the season of my life where I’ve never been more aware of how sinful and broken and flawed I am. Yet it’s the season where I’ve never been more aware of trying to cover up my flaws. I’m afraid of people seeing the real me.”

If we were honest, we can identify with Jacki’s state of mind. You and I have encountered those fears or maybe we still do. The feeling of vulnerability is akin to the human experience.

But how we handle our fears is another matter. The Lord Jesus wants us to turn our anxious thoughts into prayers (Philippians 4:6), asking God to be mighty in our lives and slay our fears through faith.

Would you bring your fears before Him today and ask for strength to face them? Would you pray for the young people in your life that may be facing anxiety every day? Ask that God would work in their lives and draw them unto Himself. Remember that Jesus said: “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)