Category Archives: Church Health

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.

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.

How to Prosper, Spirtually

I was recently confronted with the question: “How does one prosper spiritually?”  Another way of putting it would be to ask: “What is the key to spiritual growth?”

I believe the first Psalm has some insight into this question.  The book of Psalms has often been referred to as Israel’s hymnbook.  It contains songs- or poems, teaching on what it means to praise God and know God.  The emotions brought forth cover the spectrum of the human experience. When I was going through a dark time in my life, a pastor told me: “Go home and read the psalms.  You’ll know that David and others identified with you.”

The ESV Study Bible states: “The first psalm serves as the gateway into the entire book of Psalms, stressing that those who would worship God genuinely must embrace his Law (covenant instructions).  But its sustained contrast the psalm reminds readers that in the end there are really only two ways to live.”

Notice the agrarian illustration.  “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”  – Psalm 1:1-3

First off, to prosper spiritually, means to be blessed by God.  “Blessed is the man… (whose) delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.”  The Hebrew denotes happiness, prosperity. It reminds us of the beatitudes in Matthew 5, Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount.”  You remember those.  “Blessed are the peacemakers… .”  “Blessed are the poor in spirit… .”  “Blessed are the pure in heart… . ”  One commentator states: “What is given to us in this first Psalm is contrasting sources of values.  “The truly happy person guides his life by God’s instruction rather than by the advice of those who reject that instruction.”[1]  The blessed man or woman is favored by God because of the priority in their life to honor God with their ethical and spiritual decisions.

What does it mean to delight in the law of the Lord?  Might we substitute all of God’s word, the Bible for “the law of the Lord”?  Thus, we must participate in the following:

  • To read it; to actually know what it says. To study it.  Jesus said: “Thy word is truth.” (John 17:17); we need to know the truth, before it can set us free.  It is an oxymoron to be a Christian and not interested in what the Bible says and teaches.
  • To mull it over in your mind; to memorize it.  Psalm 119 is an elaboration of Psalm 1.  “I have hidden Your word in my heart that I might not sin against You.”  This is the acquisition of the ability to call it to mind when you need it.  I know a woman who writes a central verse or thought from her devotions down and she glances at it throughout the day.  Other believers post verses in their car on the dash or on the refrigerator, to be continually reminded of God’s promises and precepts, that the word might become part of us.
  • To obey it, apply it; put it into practice.  Scripture must rule your mind, if you are to prosper spiritually.  You must be willing to submit yourself to God’s way of living, instead of living your own way!  Where are you getting your theology?  From the Internet, Facebook, Dr. Phil or Oprah?  Or do you sit with the Bible open and pray: “Lord, teach me.  Show me.  Whatever you say, I will do.”

Secondly, spiritual death is revealed in how one believes and lives.   Verse one says: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers….” Who are the wicked, sinners, or scoffers?  By the context, it is certainly those that give no mind to God, his presence, his instruction, his love or His wrath.  With these there is no fear of God.  Our country has suffered for a long time from no fear of God.

Today, our young people are falling prey to the idea that truth is relative.  In 2005, Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton wrote Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. Conducting the most comprehensive study of religion and teenagers to date, the sociologists discovered a newly dominant creed that they dubbed Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). Rather than transformative revelation from God, religion has become a utility for enhancing a teenager’s life. Smith and Denton lay out the five points of MTD:

  • A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  • God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  • The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  • God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  • Good people go to heaven when they die.Surely American teenagers did not invent this new religion. A quick scan of bestseller lists, television guides, or public school curricula will reveal MTD’s appeal. Indeed, the God of MTD sounds like the “cool parent” teenagers adore.

“God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process,” Smith and Denton write.  That’s one of the things missing today is a healthy fear of God.  Many live as if there is no God.  Lawlessness abounds.

In contrast, the blessed person recovers a healthy fear of God.  The awesomeness of the Lord affects how I think and how I live; my understanding of sin and my remorse over it.

One’s spiritual health must include a healthy reverence for the God of Scripture.  In contrast to our society, the Israelites participating in the exodus in 1500 B.C. were faced with an awesome scene on Mount Sinai: “Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”  Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” (Exodus 20:18-20)

But without healthy reverence for God, there is spiritual death.  There is no middle ground; there is no state of limbo.  You can tell a lot about a tree or bush by the health of its leaves; whether it is getting enough rain; enough sun or is subject to bugs or disease.  The tree described in Psalm 1 is one that has taken root by a source of water.  Its leaves are robust.  Its fruit is plentiful.  Oh that we would have more of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

How do we prosper spiritually?  Caspar Schwenckfeld likened the spiritual life to the “School of Christ.”  Schwenckfeld explained Christian growth in these terms:

“The Christian also goes to school, drawn by the Spirit of God into the school of Christ, the Teacher of divine mysteries. Although God instructs His pupils, the Christians, inwardly in the Spirit, He has also appointed preachers and teachers to interpret Scripture and to instruct the outer man, to direct him to God and to the crucified Christ; to teach him the malice of sin through the outward worship-service, teaching, preaching, reading, studying, admonition and ceremony.”[2]

This “school” of the Christian faith also has a goal in mind: that we as Jesus’ followers would be more Christlike in love, belief and ethics, bringing glory to God.  That’s why Peter ends with the phrase: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever (2 Peter 3:18)!”  The danger is stopping our progress.  Someone once said: “Christian growth is like riding a bicycle.  Once you stop, you fall off!”

The late Dr. Jack Rothenberger taught:

“The focus of Schwenckfeld’s life and thought was on the personal experience of the living Christ.  For him, God alone is the teacher; He touches the inner life of the seeker by granting experiential knowledge of Christ (what Schwenckfeld called, ‘Erkenntnis Christi.’)   Which defines the maturing awareness on the part of a believer that he or she is empowered daily by Christ to live for God and others.”[3]

Some of you may be familiar with the Navigators’ “Wheel of Christian Growth.”  Christ is at the center of the wheel and thus, at the center of our lives.  The spokes consist of Witnessing, Prayer, Study of the Word and Fellowship.  Each Christian is to be active in the following:

Prayer: This is simply conversing with God.  Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to Me and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty

things that you do not know.”  We need time alone with God.  Instead of looking at it as a duty, you must recover the sense that your spiritual life depends on it. If Jesus deemed it necessary to pray alone and often, we must place a high priority on it as well.  So our spiritual health depends on us meeting with the Lord. If Jesus needed it, how much more do we!?  His habit was to get up while it was still dark and pray with God. He would often retreat to a lonely place and pray. He would give his disciples well needed rest after serving the crowds whether it be feeding or healing.  Before He was arrested, what was He doing?  Praying!

Pastor Kevin DeYoung states:

“This is why prayer is so essential for the Christian.  The simple act of getting on our knees (or faces or feet or whatever) for five or fifty minutes every day is the surest sign of our humility and dependence on God.  There may be many reasons for our prayerlessness- time management, busyness, lack of concentration- but most fundamentally, we ask not because we think we need not. Deep down we feel secure when we have money in the bank, a healthy report from the doctor, and powerful people on our side.  We do not trust in God alone.  Prayerlessness is an expression of our meager confidence in God’s ability to provide and of our strong confidence in our ability to take care of ourselves without God’s help.”[4]   Wow!  So that’s why prayerlessness is sin!

Studying Scripture:  Psalm 119:104: “From Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Paul told us in Romans 12: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Our minds must engage the study of Scripture so that our spirit can be transformed from grace to grace.

Witnessing:  Christians have the best news in the world! 1 Peter 3:15: “… sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence… .”  Sometimes we underestimate the power of our testimony, which is really a testimony of God working in our lives.  The Lord has given you a world to reach.  We must not be timid about sharing Jesus, the Name which is above every name.  It is not witnessing if you don’t mention Jesus’ name.

Fellowship:  “No man is an island.”  We need each other.  Hebrews 10:24: “…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  Fellowship is obtained through attending worship, Sunday School, small groups & activities.  Open your life to give and receive love.

We must seek the fellowship of other Christians; you must be in His word and prayer on a regular basis; we must actively witness to and serve others;  If we are to prosper spiritually!  And most of all, the Holy Spirit must take up residence in our lives, which happens to every person when they trust in Christ.

God has wired us so that we get something out of something what we put into it.  Very little happens without effort and initiative.  Other things require us to be active in order to stay alive. I can sit here and say: “I’m going to boycott air,” and then try to hold my breath.  But after about a minute, I’ll be gasping for it.  I can try to boycott oxygen for a minute and a half, but sooner or later I’m a take a deep breath and give up my protest.

There is only so much of us to go around. Until we need to stop and take care of ourselves. Do you remember the illustration of the oxygen mask on the airplane? Before you take off the stewardess informs you that you must first put yours on before you put your child’s on. So it is with our own usefulness and blessing to others. We need to fuel up with God before we can be a blessing to others.

[1] ESV Study Bible.

[2] Selina G. Schultz, Caspar Schwenckfeld von Ossig: A Course of Study, “A Christian,” (Pennsburg, PA: Board of Publication, 1964), 67.

[3] See Dr. Jack Rothenberger’s article at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/1989/issue21/2124.html.

[4] Kevin DeYoung, The Good News We Almost Forgot, (Chicago: Moody, 2010), 232.

Why Mission is Critical to a Local Church

The fourth century church father Augustine of Hippo said: “Whoever…thinks that he understands the divine Scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build the double love of God and of our neighbor does not understand it at all.”[1]

There are two types of love. One is the love that appeals to our spiritual needs which is satisfied in God alone. This is called our need-love. It is the type of love that responds to Jesus’ invitation: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Then there is benevolent love, that affection that we show others because God is good and we are blessed. We do the latter, not expecting anything in return. We do it because God has so wonderfully enhanced our lives; so we want to bless others.

It is with that benevolent love in mind that we give of our time and abilities in this special Global Aid Missions Sunday. This benevolent love is spoken of in Jesus’ words found in Matthew 25. The topic that Jesus is addressing is the Day of Judgment. At this event, all from human history will be gathered to appear before the throne of God to give an account of our lives.

Jesus speaks of the reward given to those who practiced benevolent love in the name of Christ. Verse 37 states: “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Who are the least of these? They are Christ’s disciples or those that God will make His disciples. One commentator states that: “Christ identifies with His people. Their suffering is His suffering. Compassion shown to them is compassion shown to Him.”[2]

It is with this passage in mind that we address the importance of missions and the local church.  Missions is a critical part of the church’s operation for several reasons.

ONE REASON CHRISTIANS PARTICIPATE IN MISSIONS AND OUTREACH IS IN ANTICIPATION OF THE SECOND COMING OF CHRIST.

All of Matthew 24 and 25 is Jesus answer to the disciples’ question found in Matthew 24:3 and following: “As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’” Jesus’ answer was an overview of certain events and circumstances that lead up to the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are wise to take notice of them. They are…

  • The presence of deceivers and false prophets; the rise of cults and the proliferation of false teaching, many of which is assumed to be legitimate Christian doctrine.
  • Wars and rumors of wars; (There have been nearly 20 that have started since 2011).
  • Famines, pestilence and earthquakes (natural disasters); These kinds of events seem to be happening all the time. Most recently, Cyclone Pam which hit the South Pacific island of Vanuatu with 168 mph winds, devastating that part of the world. Nearly 5,000 people in Tanna do not have drinking water.
  • The widespread persecution of Christians; Places like Syria and Iraq, where the Islamic state is crucifying and beheading Christians. Christians living in the Middle East are routinely jailed, beaten, have their property confiscated, have family’s homes firebombed and are unwelcomed in most instances. Religious minorities are continually persecuted.
  • And the wide scale preaching of the gospel where people are converted all over the world; People like Daniel Kamaraj who recently wrote Dr. Drake: “A total of 500 Bibles have been distributed to pastors for new believers in the field. There are 150 baptisms ready and I shall be widely travelling in our area to baptize and conduct one day foundational teaching in all our branch churches. Please pray and thank you for helping in this regard.  We are need of more Bibles in 5 more languages.”

We see many of these signs happening all around us. All of this will culminate in the Second coming of Christ. These signs serve as a reality check upon of our faith. Participation in missions is a matter of faithfulness. Christ is looking for faithful servants. Jesus used two illustrations. One is the parable of the Talents in 25:14-30. It was the slave who caused his gift to multiply that received the commendation: “Well done, good and faithful slave; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master.”

In the next passage, Jesus talks about the final judgment where He will separate the sheep from the goats, those faithful slaves from the unfaithful. Sheep, here, are symbolic of Christians, people who have followed the Lord; those who lived to serve others. Goats, are the unbelieving; the sinners; those who have lived for themselves.

Some have tried to diminish the role of faith in the Lord Jesus, saying that this passage teaches nothing of faith and repentance in Christ, but stresses the role of good deeds. Good deeds, if they truly are good, are done out of the obedience that comes from faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 1:5, 16:26)! Motive is everything!

But what makes a sheep? Who is a sheep? According to this passage…

  • Those who gave food to the hungry; in the name of Christ!
  • Those who gave drink to the thirsty; in the name of Christ!
  • Those who took in the stranger; in the name of Christ!
  • Those who clothed the naked; in the name of Christ!
  • Those who visited the ill and the imprisoned; in the name of Christ!

These will inherit eternal life. These will hear the words: “…you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”

In contrast, there are those who are labeled goats. They avoided the actions listed in the previous verses. Why? There are probably many reasons:

  • Indifference,
  • lacking sympathy (care for others) and empathy (experiencing the pain of others);
  • being stingy with resources;
  • those preoccupied with living for themselves;

These will be cursed, judged, sent away into everlasting judgment with the devil and his angels. This is the place we know as hell. It is where the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched. It is the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is real. Jesus spoke of it often. We participate in missions and outreach in anticipation of Jesus’ return. We participate in missions and outreach is in anticipation of Jesus’ return. Another reason why we are doing this today is…

BECAUSE IT IS THE CHURCH’S RESPONSIBILITY TO OBEY THE SECOND GREATEST COMMANDMENT, TO LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.

Benevolent love is found repeatedly throughout the pages of Scripture. The second greatest commandment, as many of you know, is what Jesus stated in Mark 12:31: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

In a long list of ethical mandates, how God’s people were to be truthful, trustworthy, looking out for others, giving to the poor and underprivileged, Leviticus 19: 18 states: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.” Notice that the Lord is the basis we act with a certain ethical standard.

By practicing benevolent love, the church is a light in a dark place. Jesus said in Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. …let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

It was the 19th century New England Baptist preacher A.J. Gordon who said: “The church who does not participate in missions will soon become a mission field.” Consider the many material blessings that you and I enjoy whether it is food, clothing, drinking water, etc. There are many parts of the world that do not have these basic necessities.

I was speaking with Rev. Ebenezer Browne, who is a church planter in Monrovia, Liberia. God has used Ebenezer to plant 22 churches in that city. I asked him what the biggest needs in his community were. He said without hesitation: Clean drinking water, food, medical personnel and supplies to deal with the Ebola crisis. It occurred to me that we are so fortunate to live in a part of the world in which we have plenty of those things. We are a privileged nation and an advantaged people. Doesn’t it make sense that you operate as your brother’s keeper and help those who do not have what you have?

There is widespread poverty and violence in our world today, causing thousands of children to travel into the U.S. from Central America. San Pedro Sula, Honduras is the world’s murder capital. A Pew Research article stated that some do it because they have nothing; others do it because their home is no longer safe from the violence of the drug cartels. The report stated:

According to the (Homeland Security) agency, the number of children caught at the border has nearly doubled in less than a year, a situation that President Obama has called “an urgent humanitarian situation.”[3]

Church, God has called us to do something. The GAIN project (Global Aid Network) is our way of helping people in these areas. The meals that we will package today will go to local churches and Christian groups who will then distribute them to those suffering from violence, extreme poverty, refugee camps and religious persecution.

I leave you with a quote from English cricketer and missionary C.T. Studd, who served the Lord in China, India and Africa. Before his death in 1931, he said: “Some wish to live within the sound of a chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of Hell.”

Joe and Tanna Collins were a couple that felt called to be missionaries to China. So they packed up their belongings and moved there, along with their five children. They had served there at least five years when, on a flight, their plane crashed in Tibet in 1994. The entire family perished. The following note comes from a page in Mrs. Collins’ Bible that was found at the scene of the crash. She wrote:

“Lord, here in your precious Word I give myself, my husband, my children, and all that I have or ever shall possess, all to you. I will follow your will, even to China. Lord, open doors, and I will go and tell the Chinese of your great love. In time of need, supply for us; in time of sorrow, give us peace; in times of joy, send someone to share. Help me to never murmur nor complain. I love you Lord Jesus.”

[1] Augustine, On Christian Doctrine.

[2] New Geneva Study Bible. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1548.

[3] See article at http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/07/01/dhs-violence-poverty-is-driving-children-to-flee-central-america-to-u-s/.

Crucial for a Healthy Church

The following message is taken from Philippians 4:1-7 and addresses compromise and unity.

In his book, The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer gives this interesting illustration:

“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers [meeting] together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”[1]

Healthy relationships is a practical topic for all of us.  In our times together, we’ve looked at several personal associations in the Bible.  By God’s grace, we have learned the danger of jealousy, as we’ve studied Cain and Abel.  We’ve also learned the blessing of close friendships, like that of Jonathan and David.  We’ve understood that there will be disagreement among the most noble of people; for instance, Paul and Barnabas.

Today, I will conclude our series by looking at one of the more obscure relationships in Scripture that illustrate unity and sacrifice.  Our story today is about two women dedicated to their church, Euodia and Syntyche.  They both served in positions of leadership and service.  They were Christians among the faithful in the city of Philippi.

Paul visited the city of Philippi on his second missionary journey, told of in Acts 16:12.  This was Paul’s first visit to European soil.  He returned there twice to strengthen the believers.  The congregation that God birthed there became very dear to Paul, so much that he referred to them as his “joy and crown.”

THE CHURCH IS KNOWN FOR HUMILITY, HARMONY, AND THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.

Paul writes this letter from jail, possibly from his Roman imprisonment mentioned in Acts 28, around 61 A.D.  The city was named after Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great.  The church there was largely Gentile.  It is a note written to emphasize the themes of Humility, Harmony and the Holy Spirit’s work.

For instance, Jesus is the picture of humility in the letter to the Philippians.  Just as Christ became a servant, so also the Christian becomes a servant of Christ’s.  Philippians 1:1 says: “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons….”

The one who causes us to willfully become God’s servants is the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit’s work is emphasized in places like Philippians 1:6: “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

And harmony goes with the work of God’s Spirit, as Philippians 2:12 says: “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. 14 Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe 16 as you hold out the word of life– in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.”

Humility, Harmony and the Holy Spirit.  Paul’s exhortation is for the church to be at unity for the cause of the gospel.  It could be that this was a congregation that struggled with disagreement, in part because of the growing concerns that surrounded them.  The Philippians were faced with false teachers and opposition from the outside.

And so it was critical for the church to be united.  It takes a proactive attitude; a conscious effort.  This is why Paul identifies three individuals in our brief passage as leaders, who must make a conscience effort to lay down their own preferences and be united in the Lord.  Paul writes: “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, so stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. 2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. 3 Indeed, true comrade, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

These women were being asked to lay aside their own opinions and be united in the Lord.  A key to living in harmony is the place of the Lord Jesus.  He holds a preeminent place in the life of the church.  He is the name above every name.

And one of the most challenging prices of being a member of Christ’s church is to remember that it is Christ’s church.  This takes a conscious laying aside our own preferences for His preferences.  It means that He calls the shots.  What I want is secondary to what His will is.

This attitude is tested with diversity.  The Roman Empire was a diverse, melting pot of races, religious backgrounds and economics.  The church is meant to be diverse for all who are willing to follow Christ.  God wants people in his church that are like you and differ than you!  The church of Jesus Christ has always been made of people from different backgrounds, languages, socio-economic classes. Everyone’s needs are different.  On the other hand, Biblical and theological truth should never be sacrificed for the sake of diversity.

The humble attitude of the Son of God was the prescribed attitude of Euodia and Syntyche and Clement. The church at Philippi existed for the glory of God and for the sake of the good news. This is what brought the church together. Regardless of what divided them, these individuals were on the same team as Paul. They fought for the same things. They were employed by the same God. They lived for the same cause.

The most profound illustration of humility is found in our Lord Jesus Christ.  Philippians 2:5: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!”

There’s a certain way that we ought to think about Christian fellowship. Thinking influences living. Sinclair Ferguson states: “…the details are, tactfully, not discussed by Paul. But the situation was obviously serious enough for him to address these women by name, and the division sufficiently long-standing for news of it to have reached Paul’s ears.”[2] The division between these two women affected the entire church. And that’s what divisions do, if not dealt with. They start out small, but then they grow larger and affect more people when sides are drawn up. Paul was sure of their salvation, but they still had a disagreement. It is possible for two people to be genuinely saved and to know Jesus Christ and yet be in disagreement with each other. We must check our egos at the door. Each of us has a choice to make- to be an agent of division or an agent of unity. Maybe God is calling you to heal a division. People will disagree, but the real issue is not to be disagreeable. And the call to be united is always upon us.

What does unite us?  One thing is our mission statement, which is simple: to love God, serve others and grow disciples.  That’s a message that is meant for us, so that we are reminded what our key business should be about!

It is important for the church to be united today.  All Christians will one day live in the same place for eternity.  So doesn’t it make sense that we learn how to get along this side of heaven?  The “book of life,” is that document in which all the names of God’s elect, the faithful are written; those who were willing to lose their lives for the sake of Christ, and to find it in Him as a result.  Remember that Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it (Matthew 16:24).”

But what is it that encourages unity in the church?  What is one thing that we might do to foster more unity among us?  How does unity relate to prayer and God’s peace?

PRAYER PLAYS A CRUCIAL ROLE IN DISCOVERING HIS WILL FOR OUR CHURCH.

Let us consider the role of prayer.  Verse 4 of our passage: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Maybe those verses could be summed up with the following: “why worry, when you can pray?”  The antithesis of anxiety is prayer.  When we commit ourselves to prayer, we no longer have the need to stalemate, to dig in our heels or be possessive of the church.  We pray and live as Jesus did when He prayed: “Father, not my will, but Yours be done (Luke 22:42).”

But we become self dependent when we say: “This is my church!” in the context of trying to get what we want.  “This is my church” does not mean that you will always get your way or that preferences will always be accommodated. Your personal history or heritage, years spent in service or amount of your offering does not determine your importance or strength of your voice. For your information, I have no knowledge of what individuals in our church give.

Being a congregational church does not mean that everything is a popularity contest.  Remember it is Christ’s church.  When we come together with a unified vision that seeks to glorify God, lay our preferences aside and seek His face, His plan and His purpose, then God will bring unity.  We realize the total dependency we have on the Lord Jesus, as He said in John 15:5: “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.”  Psalm 133 tells us that God commands his blessing where there is unity.

After our study of Thom Rainer’s I Am a Church Member early last year, we discovered that ministry is not about our personal preferences or desires, but about expanding and building up the kingdom of God.

Let us rally around this church’s vision statement, which is to… Become fully mature disciples of Christ by… 

  • Glorifying God individually and together as a church
  • Growing spiritually through Bible study and prayer
  • Supporting one another within our church family
  • Serving others as an expression of our faith
  • Witnessing in our neighborhoods and throughout the world

Would you be an instrument of God’s peace? St. Francis of Assisi, who ministered in the early 13th century, is thought to have prayed:

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”

[1] http://www.biblestudytools.com/pastor-resources/illustrations/11550051.html.

[2] Sinclair Ferguson, Let’s Study Philippians (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1997), 98.

Friends Are Like…

The following message is based on 1 Samuel 19:1-7 and addresses the value of friendship.

To have a few close friends, even just one or two is a tremendous blessing in life.  They help us through life’s challenges.  They encourage us.  Life comes easier with friends.  Ecclesiastes 4:9 tells us: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

To what can we compare friends?  Consider these descriptions…

Maybe you could think of a few more.  The point is that good friends are hard to come by and worth their weight in gold.  I’m impressed to hear of several of you who enjoy friendships within the church.  You vacation together, dine together, and spend time together with each others’ families.  What a blessing!

I asked a teenager recently to describe someone who is a good friend.  They responded: “participation in sports, a good sense of humor, someone who is popular, etc.”  Outward qualities attract, but they go away over time. No, rather we should look for qualities that we want to emulate.  Things like honesty, loyalty, trustworthiness. Proverbs 17:17 says: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

Church is often described as a family. How would God have us regard each other?

The qualities of 1 Corinthians 13, would certainly make a good friend.  We are reminded there that a friend is: “…is patient, kind. A good friend does not envy, he does not boast, she is not proud.   A good friend is not rude, he is not self-seeking or easily angered.  She keeps no record of wrongs. A good friend does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  A best friend always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.”

Our Scripture today speaks of two men who had a special friendship.  They eventually became family, but the kindred spirit they shared long preceded their legal connection.

David was Jonathan’s best friend and his brother-in-law (David married his sister, Michal).  David was also Saul’s son-in-law.  David was the heir to the throne.  When he was just a boy, Samuel anointed David as Israel’s future king, after the Spirit of God left Saul.  Most sons of a king would have felt insecurity or even hatred towards someone like David.  Not Jonathan.  His soul was knit to David’s.  He loved him like a brother.  What drew the two young men to each other?

For starters, Jonathan and David were close brothers because they served the same God.  They both submitted to God’s will.

In contrast to his father, Jonathan did not feel threatened by David.  Rather, his heart was knit to David’s.  1 Samuel 18:1 says: “Now it came about when (David) had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself.  Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.  And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt.”

One commentator states: “As crown prince, Jonathan would have expected to succeed his father as king.  Here Jonathan’s gifts of his robe and weapons to David not only signifies his loyalty but implies his recognition of David as God’s choice for the next king.”[1]

Part of that relationship with God involved the humility of the two men.  Neither was boisterous or arrogant.  David and Jonathan hit it off.  Such was their friendship that Jonathan was willing, and in fact did step aside as heir apparent to welcome David as Israel’s future anointed king.  Hence the disrobing and bequeathing his sword and other items to David.  What made their relationship so unique?

A second quality that made David and Jonathan such good friends was that they had sacrificial loyalty for one another.  Saul was plagued by an unclean spirit.  He was also obsessed with jealousy towards David.  The king sought to kill David on many occasions.  1 Samuel 20:30 tells us: “Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you?”

Mark Boda comments regarding Saul’s jealousy of David: “Saul’s jealousy of David is undiminished throughout the latter half of 1 Samuel.  On several occasions he seeks to kill David, trying to convince his family and soldiers to eradicate his foe.”[2]  Jonathan would risk his life for his friend.  Saul continually tried to kill David.  But every time Jonathan would defend and protect David, even at the risk of his own life.

I want to be a friend like Jonathan was to David.  But I must not look at the qualities that they had and say: “I will only be friends with someone who has this or that.”  Rather, I must ask God to change my heart that I might be more humble.  You must seek the Spirit’s help to make you a better friend!

Maybe this means becoming a friend to someone younger than you, in years or in the faith.  Is God calling you to become a mentor?  Or maybe you could use the friendship of an older, more seasoned person.  Would you allow yourself to be mentored?

Spouses, seek to be friends with your mate.  Parents, seek to be friends with your children.  Grandparents, who knows how much longer you have with your grandchildren?  Time is short. It was once said that my kids will not so much remember what I said when they are older, but how I made them feel.

The following is a message I received from a young mother in Kansas who just lost her dad last week to cancer.  She said: “It is extremely hard all the way around for us. He is in a better place with no pain, we know that, but we want him here with us. He was such a great father, grandfather, husband and friend. He set a pretty high standard for us to follow. I can only pray to teach my children all that he taught us.”

Brothers and sisters, treat your siblings with respect and love, regardless of their age. Seek to build up and encourage each other with your words. Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

We are not given any details of daily conversations between Jonathan and David, but I would venture to say that they lived out these.  People are not friends over night.  Time and actions make individuals friends.

David reacted when hearing of Saul’s and Jonathan’s deaths, by executing the person responsible (2 Samuel 1:15).  This is the song David taught the Israelites to sing for generations afterwards, recorded in 2 Samuel 1:23: “Saul and Jonathan, beloved and pleasant in their life, And in their death they were not parted; They were swifter than eagles, They were stronger than lions.  How have the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan is slain on your high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; You have been very pleasant to me. Your love to me was more wonderful Than the love of women. How have the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!”

Much has been said over the years about Ronald Reagan’s friendship with Margaret Thatcher.  A USA Today article noted that “Thatcher first met Reagan one-on-one in April 1975 at the House of Commons in London. Reagan, then the governor of California, wrote a thank-you note to Thatcher, then the Conservative Party’s opposition leader in Parliament.”Please know,” Reagan wrote, “you have an enthusiastic supporter out here in the ‘colonies.'”  Nancy Reagan was quoted as saying: “Ronnie and Margaret were political soulmates, committed to freedom and resolved to end communism.”[3]

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of touring the Reagan library and museum in Simi Valley, California.  As I was enjoying the different displays, I noticed against the wall the signature book from President Reagan’s funeral.  Under glass, it was opened to a page that read: “Ronnie, Well Done, Thou Good and Faithful Servant.  Margaret Thatcher.”

[1] The New Geneva Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 404.

[2][2] Mark Boda, After God’s Own Heart (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2007), 61.

[3] See http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/04/08/thatcher-reagan-political-soulmates/2063671/.

Are You a Gracious Church Member?

We all have tendencies to see the negative in our circumstances. Usually it involves inconveniences; never when life is at risk. When Robinson Crusoe was wrecked on his lonely isle he drew up in two columns what he called the evil and the good.

He was cast on a desolate island, but still alive—not drowned, as all his ship’s company were. He was divided from mankind and banished from human society, but he was not starving. He had no clothes, but he was in a hot climate where he didn’t need them. He was without means of defense, but he saw no wild beasts, such as he had seen on the coast of Africa.

He had no one to speak to, but God had sent the ship so near to the shore that he could get out of it all things necessary for his wants. So he concluded that there was not any condition in the world so miserable but there was something negative or something positive to be thankful for in it. Even when things look bleak, there is reason to give thanks.

How should we understand church membership? And what kind of attitude should we have as church members? This morning, in our concluding message based on Thom Rainer’s I Am a Church Member, I want us to challenge in our way of thinking about church membership. And, if needed, let us change our way of thinking about our church and involvement in its ministry.

There are two different types of church members. There are those who expect perks, privileges and service. They know what they want and when they want it. They will stop at nothing to get it: complaining, writing letters (often without signing them), gossiping. When asked to do something, they begrudgingly accept with a bad attitude. Others get mad when asked. They are chronically discontent. They make life miserable for everyone around them. Ministry to them is a prison sentence. They expect the pastor or other leaders to do it all. Aren’t we glad that Jesus did not take that approach? Such members don’t last long.

Then there’s the second type of parishioner. They see church membership as a gift; something to be treasured. They see their testimony as depicted in Ephesians 2:1-10. That they were once dead in sin, living in disobedience, both outwardly and inwardly. Gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and objects of God’s wrath, as the rest of the world.

But God, who is rich in mercy, brought life to our souls. Poured out his grace in us, raised us up, expressed His kindness in us and drew us to Himself. This describes what theologians call regeneration. As a result, we repented and trusted in Jesus. When that happened we realized the full meaning of Ephesians 2:8: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

We also understand that with becoming a Christian, many blessings are bestowed. Things like…

• Eternal life; life that is not just waiting for you after you die, but also true life that equips you to deal with what comes your way during your stay on earth; one that gives you joy and peace despite your circumstances.

• Adoption by the Heavenly Father; Regardless of your family background or level of dysfunction, when you come to faith in Christ, God the Father adopts you. You are His. Tied to this is the…

• Forgiveness of sin; that all of my mistakes and atrocities; those things public and private that would make me deserving of God’s wrath, Christ has taken away from me. Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, when the Father looks at you, He does not see your sins and mistakes, He sees His Son, Jesus Christ. He loves you with an everlasting love. I love what Psalm 103:11 tells us: “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. 13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;

• The Holy Spirit as Comforter, Guide and Friend; Jesus said in John 14:15: “If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. The Holy Spirit has been given to you as a personal assistant who will never leave you. He is ever present to teach, guide, convict and help you.

• Becoming a part of the body of Christ, which is a family. When someone joins the church, we sing: “Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love….” When you become a member, you become a part of a family to help you grow and mature as a Christian.

As a response to God’s goodness, we live for Christ and serve in the church and in the world, not from a sense of obligation, but as a way of worship and thanksgiving. Now, they look at the opportunity to serve as a way of giving. They take the Biblical “one anothers” seriously: to love one another, to encourage one another, to admonish one another, to build one another up.

The first sees the church as a club, an organization, and that they are a member, a share holder, that makes demands and says do this for me, or else! The latter sees the church as a family that welcomes a diversity of contributions. When we are thankful for something, we have less time and energy to be negative. What strikes me as odd is that one can exist quite awhile incognito. Sooner or later, it comes out. These rob themselves of a blessing. God has called you to a specific work. He’s given you gifts for service. For the building up of the body of Christ.

How does one become a member of a local church? What does it take to be a church member? But it goes beyond just what one believes or how one behaves. It takes, of course…

• A confession of sin and your need for Christ; You may know that our bylaws state: “The belief in God as the Heavenly Father, in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and in the Holy Spirit as Sustainer is a prerequisite for membership in the Central Schwenkfelder Church.” Repentance from sin and faith in Christ is part of this.

• A class in which to learn what it means to be a disciple; The classic expression of belief in the Trinity has been the Apostles’ Creed. So it is that when you join the church, you are taught what these things mean, along with the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. In fact, this is what members of Christ Church have been taught since the very beginning, a sort of curriculum for discipleship.

• A commitment to serve Christ and others; We must serve out of joy. As Rainer puts it: “Healthy church membership means you find your joy in being last, instead of being first.” As someone once asked: “How do you spell J-O-Y? Jesus first; others second; yourself last. It is not cheap; it will cost you. Commitment? Yes. Convenience? Yes. But it also births joy, blessing and satisfaction.

So the church should have an important place in your life, but the most important place in your life. It is a God-ordained family to provide, education, spiritual growth, moral and emotional support, and opportunities for service, as you learn how to be a disciple of and ambassador for Jesus Christ.

Back to that story about Crusoe’s list. We can always concentrate on the negative. But is that right? What will happen as a result?

Some ask the question: “Can I be a Christian without joining the church?”

Answer: Yes, it is as possible as being:

A student who will not go to school.
A soldier who will not join an army.
A citizen who does not pay taxes or vote.
A salesman with no customers.
An explorer with no base camp.
A seaman on a ship without a crew.
A business man on a deserted island.
An author without readers.
A tuba player without an orchestra.
A parent without a family.
A football player without a team.
A politician who is a hermit.
A scientist who does not share his findings.
A bee without a hive.

God loves His church. So as you reflect on your membership, or if you aspire to join a church, know that it takes a commitment to Jesus Christ and committing oneself to the people He died for.