Category Archives: Church Health

Are You a Praying Church Member?

Consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:16: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves.” This was a statement to equip the disciples for the work that they had ahead of them. It was to prepare them for what was ahead as they ministered in a world and culture that was not friendly to Christ. And our culture and world are returning to the same environment that characterized the first century. What is it like to lead the church of Jesus Christ in such an era?

Many ministers are failing, becoming discouraged. Listen to the following blog post: “I woke up this morning thinking that I might not have many more days left as pastor of my church. I am burned out and my wife is burned out. We are so weary of the critics. We have tried to be loving and kind to them, but it just gets worse. You can only take so much. My four kids have really been hurt through the years too. Even the “good guys” in my church expect more of me than I can handle. Our church has less than 175 in attendance, but I am expected to be in so many places at so many times every week. I am really tired. I feel both guilty and relieved writing these comments this morning. I feel guilty because I know I will be abandoning my call. I feel relieved because I finally have someone to talk to even though I am anonymous.”

What is the best thing you can do for your church leader? There are many things listed in Paul’s words found in 1 Thessalonians 5:12: “Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.” Notice the commands given concerning church leaders. We are to respect them, hold them in high regard and live in peace with one another. The qualifiers addressed to church leaders do not speak toward value or importance, but rather to responsibilities. As a pastor, I feel responsible for the faith and spirituality of my church’s members. I rejoice when they are thriving and concerned when they are not. I’m blessed when I see Christ in their lives and I’m burdened when it appears they have gotten off track. Why? Because pastors take their jobs seriously.

And because it is tough to lead God’s church. The devil knows our blind spots. He knows our temptations. He knows what our needs are and will do anything to deceive us to going after counterfeits and not relying on God.

I had a pianist at my former church in East Central Kansas. Her name is Annette Reed. My kids call her Grammy ‘Nette. She was Linda’s mentor for Women’s Bible studies. She and Tom were leaders at the First Christian Church of Pleasanton, KS. Annette prayed for me often. I was on her weekly prayer list. Because of her prayers, my preaching ministry prospered in Pleasanton. People grew in their love for God’s word. And we had a productive ministry there.

Today, I have a team of prayer warriors. They pray for me each week. I let them know how I want to be prayed for. They pray for many things concerning my family, my ministry, my parenting, my kids, my spiritual health, my sermons, etc.

What does prayer do? This is kind of a philosophy of prayer for our church and its leaders. Consider the following verses:

Prayer moves the hand of God: James 5:16: “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” Prayer is used by God to show us His power and love.

Do you wonder what happens when God’s people pray? Listen to the words of Daniel 9, the story of the angel Gabriel’s visit to the prophet Daniel. Verse 20: “While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the LORD my God for his holy hill– 21 while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. 22 He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. 23 As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed.” Did you get that? While Daniel was praying, the Lord commissioned Gabriel to go and speak to Daniel! I wonder what happens in the heavenlies when we pray!?

That’s not to say that God waits on us, nor can we manipulate Him in any way. But when His children by faith, ask in faith, He lovingly moves and acts on their behalf. And He willingly does so! Notice Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:9 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him. Consider the following as a short philosophy of prayer, as you pray for your church leaders:

Prayer holds back Satan and fights against our spiritual enemies: Job 1:10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.” Satan could not touch Job, without the consent of our sovereign God! The devil lays many traps. Our struggles are not with other human beings, but with the “Accuser of the Brethren.” All of this because, as Ephesians 6:12 tells us: “…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

Prayer advances God’s kingdom: 2 Thessalonians 3:1: “Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you….” In the same way, pray that my sermons may be everything that they are supposed to be. Pray that hearts and minds would be open to the gospel. Ask God to open doors for us as we minister to others. It is an incredible task that I love to do, but I also struggle with it from time to time. In Colossians 4:3, Paul asks that these Christians would pray, “…that God may open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned.” Paul was imprisoned for preaching the gospel, so he asks them to pray that God would open a door and give him more boldness.

Prayer encourages those for whom it is given. Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 5: 25: “Brethren, pray for us.” And Hebrews 13:18 Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably.

There are around 400,000 pastors in America today. Take notice of the following statistics available from a number of various and reliable sources, compiled by the Schaeffer Institute:

• Fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or
contention in their churches.

• Fifty percent of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.

• Eighty percent of pastors feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastor.

• Fifty percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no
other way of making a living.

• Eighty percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry
within the first five years.

• Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.

• Almost forty percent polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.

• Seventy percent said the only time they spend studying the Word is when they are preparing their sermons.

Ministry is tough work. Rainer’s fourth pledge would be the best way you could bless me, Pastor Bill, Pastor Julian, Vern and Don. I repeat it here: “I will pray for my church leader every day. I understand that the church leader’s work is never ending. Their days are filled with numerous demands that bring emotional highs and lows. They must deal with critics. They must be good parents and spouses. Because my church leaders cannot do all things in their own power, I will pray for their strength and wisdom daily.”

How could you pray for us? Our spiritual lives; our holiness; our joy, our families; our wisdom and discernment.

And yet there are many times I’m greatly encouraged in the work of the gospel. Take for instance, the following email sent from one of our mothers: “I just wanted to tell you how thankful I am for you and Linda. I heard the Holy Spirit whisper to me and your sermon on Doing Good for Others further encouraged me to take the steps necessary to [help this family]. Thank you so much for all your sermons! [We] both enjoy them and find deep meaning and encouragement from them. I loved your sermon last week about children. What perspective on the importance of children and teaching them God’s Holy Word.” This made my day! May God bless those who support their leaders in ministry.

Am I a Serving Church Member?

Being a servant is not glamorous. It’s not our first choice. It is not for the faint of heart. I remember as a young man, I left my hometown for the University of Missouri. It was the Fall of 1988 and I was encouraged to pledge a fraternity. I had friends and family members that made that choice and I assumed that it was the thing to do to meet friends and adapt to college life. Boy was I wrong! Fraternity life was an entirely different culture than what I was used to. Not just for the bad reasons that you can imagine. But it did nothing for my sense of responsibility and the need to study.

But something I did learn in those few months was the value of service. You see, on weekends when there was a home football game, my pledge brothers and I had to clean the house from top to bottom. Polishing furniture, vacuuming carpets, mopping floors and cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms were just a few of the things we were asked to do. I didn’t realize it then, but that semester, I learned that serving others was important.
It wasn’t until later that I stumbled across Jesus’ words in Mark 9:33. There, Jesus puts the value on being a servant. In Mark 9, Jesus has forecasted His suffering and death, in verses 9, 12 and 31. This occurs after the Transfiguration and describes the ultimate act of service, His death on the cross. Then the disciples discuss among themselves who is the greatest. Verse 34 states: “But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest.”

That brings up a good question: What makes a great person? The world argues money, personal accomplishments, possessions, etc. But Jesus defines it entirely different. He states: “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all.”’

The Apostle Paul learned this lesson. He had undergone this transformation from being served to serving. He was a Pharisee, a religious leader. He probably had a good and steady income. He was well known in the community. But then on the Road to Damascus, he meets the Lord Jesus Christ. And that turns his sense of worth and accomplishment completely on its ear! He would spend the rest of His life being a servant of Christ. The Lord told Ananias in Acts 9:15: “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

In Philippians 2, Paul is writing from prison. What would make him happy? Their unity. And the key to that unity was the removal of self. This idea is summarized in Philippians 2: 4: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” So the key to unity is humility, selflessness, etc. In verse five, we’re instructed to be like Jesus. 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!”

Here, we are told several things about Christ. In verse six, we learn that Jesus did not walk around proudly, boasting of His divinity. It was realized subtly through His miracles. Jesus described Himself as gentle and lowly in heart in Matthew 11:28. Other translations use the word: “meek.” He did not seek to carry Himself as a king, but He was the King of Kings! No, Jesus came to this earth as a servant. He became one of us. Jesus said in Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Not only did Jesus carry Himself as a servant, but notice the way in which He died. Paul said that Jesus: “…humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!” Did you get that? Jesus humbled Himself and died as a criminal. Who died on Roman crosses in the first century? Only criminals. Yet Jesus did that to show His love for us, the true criminals, who’ve sinned against a holy God.

“How does this relate to church membership?” you might ask. Becoming a church member is about giving up your preferences. You go from operating alone, spiritually to becoming a part of a spiritual family. You are given a new identity and purpose, connected to others. Rainer states: “The strange thing about church membership is that you actually give up your preferences when you join. Don’t get me wrong; there may be much about your church that you like a lot. But you are there to meet the needs of others. You are there to serve others. You are there to give. You are there to sacrifice.” The word “servant,” or “serve,” is used again and again in Scripture, over 100 times combined and often describes the Christian.

Are we a servant Christian? Are we a servant church? Rainer points out ten dominant behavior patters of churches that are more self serving. I want to name just a few.

• Worship Wars: disagreements arise over the music and its style;
• Prolonged minutia meetings: business gatherings about things that don’t matter;
• Facility focus: taking care of the building at the cost of outreach;
• Program driven: maintaining certain activities without proper evaluating their effectiveness;
• Inwardly focused budget: spending more money on ourselves, than reaching out to the community;
• Attitudes of entitlement: wanting things done my way, at the risk of the best way;
• Greater concern about change than the gospel: The last seven words of the church: “We’ve never done it
that way before.”
• Anger and hostility: disregard for the feelings of others;
• Evangelistic apathy: not caring if others die without Christ and spend an eternity separated from God.

What is a common theme among all of these? Is it not self preservation, rather than serving God in the community? We can look at ourselves individually and know to be selfless rather than selfish. But do we look at ourselves as a church and ask: are we geared toward others, rather than geared towards ourselves? We can come away thinking that all we’re doing is good.

But as a church, we must be careful to be aware that we are here for more reasons than ourselves. We are not a club, nor are we a company. Our bottom line is not the most important thing, rather the changing of hearts and minds. We are called to spend and be spent for the spiritual welfare of others. When we lose sight of those things, we are track to death. Rainer states: “We will never find joy in church membership when we are constantly seeking things our way. But paradoxically, we will find the greatest joy when we choose to be last. That’s what Jesus meant when He said the last will be first. True joy means giving up our rights and preferences and serving everyone else.”

Our programs and activities cannot be that which drives us; rather the gospel, the good news of Jesus. That is what drives us. That is why God placed us in this community. That is the reason for our existence. The ministry, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.

One person that saw his life as a response to Jesus’ great act of service was the early 20th century missionary to China, Eric Liddle. What made him such a good runner? What caused him to refuse to run on Sundays? What drove him to leave his comfortable surroundings to go to the Far Easter and minister in Christ’s name? Listen to the following story, as told by Dr. Peter Teague of Lancaster Bible College.

“When Eric entered the University of Edinburgh, he broke one record after another in sporting events. His sister wrote their parents in China saying: “Every week he brings home prizes. We’ve nowhere to put them all.” By the time he arrived at the 1924 Paris Summer Olympics, Eric, dubbed “They Flying Scotsman,” was known worldwide as a powerful athlete and as an outspoken Christian who, despite refusing to race on Sundays, could win the gold.

But fame didn’t stop him from following his parents to China. He arrived there as a missionary in 1925. When the Japanese invaded in 1937, he remained; and in 1943 he found himself interned in a camp outside of Beijing. Conditions were horrible. Eric ministered day-by-day, praying with the sick, coaching the children, witnessing to the lost. At times, though, his head throbbed. He began visibly weakening, and on February 21, 1945, he died. An autopsy revealed a massive brain tumor.

A camp survivor was asked the reason for Liddell’s influence at the camp. She replied that every morning at 6:00 he would rise and light the peanut-oil lantern o the little dormitory table just enough to illumine his Bible and notebook. There he would silently meet God at the start of each new day. It was the Flying Scotsman’s lifelong habit, she said, and the secret of his power.

Today, China is a land of 1.4 billion people. When the missionaries were expelled in 1948, it was estimated there were 850,000 Christians. An official survey in China has reported that the total number of Protestant Christians in the country now stands at 23 million.

Seventy-three percent of Christians have joined the church since 1993. This does not, however, include the vast number of Christians in unregistered house churches. The church in China has multiplied 24 times since 1949 and now the unofficial number is at least 103 million believers. It is estimated there are 9.1 million new Christians each year or 25,000 each day. Thirty-four million Chinese Christians still don not have their own copy of the Bible.”

When we read of Eric Liddle’s legacy and the amazing things that God is doing in China, we cannot help but to ask: “Lord, make my life count! Please use me to do great things for your gospel.” Amen.

Am I a Functioning Church Member?

Responsibility. It is something that we are taught from an early age. Responsibility usually was cultivated through the carrying out of chores. These were things you and I did around the house that were opportunities to care for the home. What were yours? Whether it was making your bed, cleaning your room, feeding the dog or taking out the trash. These tasks, however menial, were valuable because they showed us that we had a part in the upkeep of the home. I know one mother who refused to do the laundry of her teenage sons, so that they would know how to do it when they left for college. The point is that chores advocated for personal responsibility.

Does being a church member carry with it certain responsibilities? How must we operate in the world? What are our errands and tasks? For that, we turn to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12. There is more burden on the church now than ever before to get back to its original design and purpose. No doubt, Christianity has had the most influence in our country since our founding. Nevertheless, we can no longer assume that most people attend church or that most people are Christian in this country. I’m not so sure that this was ever the case.

You know, the United States is now a more diverse country than ever before. Not only are people coming to our country from all over the world, but people are all over the map, spiritually. Some have been trained in the fine arts of Bible Study and prayer. Others don’t know how to pray and don’t own a Bible. And there are many people, in many places, in between. Many sociologists characterize our country as following Europe’s example in becoming “Post Christian,” which means that Christianity is no longer the dominant religion or influence. As our country becomes more diverse, we can no longer assume that everyone is coming from the same spiritual base. Take for instance, the following statistics from David Olson’s The American Church in Crises.

• In New England, less than ten percent of the population is in church on any given Sunday. Only two percent of the population of Massachusetts is in church any given Sunday.

• Except for the state of Hawaii, Christianity has not seen a net expansion in any state in the union in over 25 years.

• Over 4,000 local congregations permanently close their doors every year in the U.S. alone.

• Over 3,000 new church plants must be launched each year just to keep up with the changing demographics and population growth in the United States.

It is our role as church members to see ourselves as ambassadors for Jesus Christ. And with being an ambassador comes a desire to understand how we might serve others. Our sensitivities to the spiritual needs of each person will go a long way towards knowing how to minster to them. I like the saying that I found at a church a few years ago. “We have a few pastors, but everyone is a minister.” In reality, every Christian is called by God to a ministry.

If you read Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 or Ephesians 4, you’ll quickly find that each member has a function and that Christianity is a participant religion. There’s no such thing as an inactive member. And that that God equips those who He calls, in a variety of ways. Not all have the same function. When God calls you to follow Jesus, He does not call you to sit in a pew and receive the benefits of Christianity for rest of your life. Rather, He calls you to serve, like a pitcher: to be filled and to be poured out. Many people have that wrong. So many, that the church in America is struggling.

Recently, we’ve been studying different aspects of church membership. They are divided into the following categories: Functioning, Unifying, Serving, Praying, Leading, and Thanking. We’re going to learn more of what it means to treat our fellow Christians as we study Thom Rainer’s I Am a Church Member. I hope you will join us on today in the Fellowship Hall for seven weeks of spiritual growth; a great way to start off the New Year! In any organization, we can come to it seeking to have our needs met, our desires fed and miss the real meaning. What would God teach you in this New Year? Get the book: I Am a Church Member. We’ve placed one in your mailbox; There are a few at the Welcome Center, or you may call our church office. Even if you do not have one, come to the Fellowship Hall directly after this service and experience what this is about. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Our work is cut out for us.

It is an oxymoron to be an “inactive” church member. But we have many. How many? Check out these statistics:

• The criterion for being an inactive member is any member who attends fewer than 6 worship services per year.

• On Central’s membership role we have 697 inactive members. You might say, “Well Pastor David, what about those that are on our membership role, but live in Alaska or California? You cannot expect them to attend, do you? Yes, we have those.

• But reality is that we have many church members that live fairly close and never come. Approximately 360 members are within 20 minutes. Can you imagine if just 300 showed up on a regular basis? That would double the size of our church! That would also double the size of our resources for ministry!

What can we do to correct this? How can we reverse it? How can we change this culture? Rainer lists four action points necessary for churches to survive in the future:

Confession: 1 John 1:9 tells us: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” What sins do we as a church need to confess? Have we been inwardly focused? Do we have a heart for our community? Rainer states: “Most churches move toward death because they refuse to acknowledge their condition. Use Pete’s prayer?

Prayer: James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” How must we seek God’s direction for our future as a church? We must pray for God to give us wisdom to be the church that He wants us to be. Notice emphasis on Him, not us. Prayer is preparing our hearts to hear from God.

Willingness to Change: Acts 3:19: “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord….” How do we need to change as individuals and as a church? Rainer states: “The church has to change decades of cumulative problem behaviors in a very short time.” What are the things that we need to do differently? It is easy to say that “we’re great!” “We’re alright!” “Look at what we’ve done!” But the real question is: “Are we the church that God wants us to be?” More specifically, are you the disciple that God wants you to be!?

Action and Outward Focus: Someone once said that the church is the only organization in the world that does not exist for itself. What are we doing to fulfill the prophecy concerning Jesus in Micah 5:4: “…then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be their peace.” Rainer tells us: “When a church begins to act positively with this radical change, it has essentially become a new church. It is not the church of old that refused to change and move forward.”

We are trying to change a culture in our church, of which our survival depends. Last week was a snapshot. Carol and Daryl Van Dyken came last Sunday to talk about the ministry of Trans World Radio. Daryl was an engineer by trade. At some point, they got tired of seeing themselves of just receiving, and wanted to give. They both felt the call of God to minister full time to the people of the world. They have taken it upon themselves to have a role in spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.

Since 1988, their calling has taken them to Bonaire, to Sri Lanka, to South Africa and now in the Americas. It’s all about function. They sought to be used by God. Many in the church today are as Rainer puts it: “…membership is about receiving instead of giving, being served instead of serving, rights instead of responsibilities, and entitlements instead of sacrifices.” But as you read 1 Corinthians 12, membership is about functioning. “… Everyone has a role or function. That is why some are hands, feet ears or eyes.”

John Ortberg tells the story in his book The Me I Want To Be. “A freshly minted lieutenant wanted to impress the first private to enter his new office, and he pretended to be on the phone with a general so that the private would know he was somebody. ‘Yes, sir, General, you can count on me,’ he said as he banged the receiver down. Then he asked the private what he wanted. ‘I’m just here to connect your phone, sir.’ May we focus more on our functionality and less on our appearance. Amen?

Empowerment for Purpose

The following message is based on Acts 1:1-11 and addresses the source of the Christian’s power as witnesses for Christ in the world, which is the Holy Spirit. It was shared on November 17, 2013

Recently, I read of a most strange religious movement sweeping the country, or so the article led you to believe. The Associated Press article read: “It looked like a typical Sunday morning at any mega-church. Hundreds packed in for more than an hour of rousing music, an inspirational sermon, a reading and some quiet reflection. The only thing missing was God.

Dozens of gatherings dubbed “atheist mega-churches” by supporters and detractors are springing up around the U.S. after finding success in Great Britain earlier this year. The movement fueled by social media and spearheaded by two prominent British comedians is no joke. On Sunday, the inaugural Sunday Assembly in Los Angeles attracted more than 400 attendees, all bound by their belief in non-belief. Similar gatherings in San Diego, Nashville, New York and other U.S. cities have drawn hundreds of atheists seeking the camaraderie of a congregation without religion or ritual.

Jones got the first inkling for the idea while leaving a Christmas carol concert six years ago. “There was so much about it that I loved, but it’s a shame because at the heart of it, it’s something I don’t believe in,” Jones said. “If you think about church, there’s very little that’s bad. It’s singing awesome songs, hearing interesting talks, thinking about improving yourself and helping other people — and doing that in a community with wonderful relationships. What part of that is not to like?”

Success is not measured by popularity, but by God’s approval. Now there are several things critically wrong with this picture. What are those critical things that are missing? One of those things is the gospel, the good news of Jesus. If there is not message of Christ, there is no Christianity and God is not in it. Without the gospel, a group of people is just a club; an organization. It is not a church. The second critical thing missing is the Holy Spirit. Without God’s Spirit, there is no life. There may be activity, but there is no life. Today, I would like to talk about the place of the Holy Spirit in witness and mission. Jesus said before His ascension in Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.”

The Holy Spirit is the most mysterious person of the Trinity. We often forget about him. But without Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). It was to our benefit that Jesus ascended into heaven, to reside at the Father’s right hand to pray for us (Romans 8:34). Jesus also spoke of sending “The Helper” in John 16:7: “It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you.” The Holy Spirit is the presence of Christ on earth today. His presence and work is essential for the church to for mission and service. So how should this play out? What does the Holy Spirit do in equipping us for ministry?

First, the Holy Spirit shines the light of the gospel in a spiritually darkened world.

As the world grows darker in sin, the light of the gospel shines brighter. As we await Jesus’ return, the gospel is being preached. In Matthew 24:14, Jesus said: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come.” So now is a time that the gospel is going out and many believe; it is not time for the bookend of history to come about, when God says concerning time for the present earth; “That’s enough.” So the Holy Spirit goes before the spread of the good newes and prepares hearts and minds to receive it. Jesus’ words also remind us that…

The “preaching” of the gospel is not just for preachers.

I would include every Christian. Your words, your lifestyle, your relationships, are all meant to be tools, helps, and displays of the Holy Spirit in sharing the gospel with others. As opposed to the thinking that witnessing is just another task we have to do on an already huge list of things, and probably, arguably the least favorite, we need to change our mindset as a church and as individuals.

Starting on January 12, we are going to be looking at a culture change within our church. Many of you will receive a copy of Thom Rainer’s, “I Am a Church Member.” In the weeks to come, you’re going to be hearing more about this church wide revolution. I want to encourage you to get involved. For many, it will challenge you in your thinking about how we do church. For others, it could be life changing for you.

The following are some helpful items of direction for understanding Christian witness. One thing we have to recognize is that none of us convinces anyone else. Now this is not to excuse the value of a good argument or advancing the truth. Rather, we must realize that it is the Holy Spirit that brings about belief. The Spirit of Christ is He who draws us into fellowship with Jesus. He convicts; ushers, illuminates our hearts to trust and follow Jesus. Jesus said in John 6:37 that no many can come to the Father, unless he is drawn.

If there is any change in our lives, it is because the Spirit is working.

At the point of becoming a Christian, the Holy Spirit brings renewal and life to our dead and darkened souls. Titus 3:5 tells us: “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit….” Conversion, from a divine, spiritual perspective is much like a reflex. Jonathan Edwards, the Father of the American Church described regeneration and conversions as the Holy Spirit tapping the knee. We, then react out of reflex. The Holy Spirit affects the mind, will and emotions.

And it is the Holy Spirit that empowers us for witness and service.

Jesus said: “But you will receive power, when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” What are we here for? We are here to point others to Christ. It gave me great joy to hear that on Monday night, the Adult Life Bible study prepared and shared the meal with our family staying at Central during November. Many of you have stayed overnight, provided transportation and laundry to help a family turn the corner in their lives. Why? Because the Holy Spirit is using us for God’s glory.

But it is not just the doing, but the speaking is necessary, too.

We need to be looking for opportunities in conversation where Jesus is the topic. We need to share from God’s word and our experiences. Have you ever put your testimony into words? Maybe that would be a healthy exercise, to write down your journey of coming to faith in Christ. How have you found forgiveness? How have you been transformed? Changed? Everyone who is a Christian is a disciple. Look for ways in which you can interact with others in order to introduce them to Jesus. I say this because…

The Holy Spirit is also active when we speak to others about Christ.

Christianity is not just information designed to convince others to join up. Or change by their own will. Rather, the Holy Spirit changes us and transforms our lives for His glory. We also need to trust God with the outcome. You are not responsible for convincing them, as much as you are responsible for being faithful. But there is a message that you must know. It can be confined to these short statements/words:

• God loves: John 3:16
• Sin separates: Romans 3:10
• Jesus died and arose again: 1 John 4:10
• Will you trust and turn? Romans 10:9-10

You might say, “what about the questions?” Mark Dever states: “Actually, having a few questions of your own shouldn’t prevent you from sharing the gospel with others. You can explain to them that while you still have a few unresolved questions yourself, you don’t have enough faith to not believe. There is simply so much reason to believe the good news of Jesus Christ in history, in Scripture, as well as in our own experience that it would take a leap of faith not to believe in the gospel. And an honest conversation like that can be very helpful to a non-Christian.”

Stop and take a moment to do something very important. I want you to take a blank piece of paper and write down the names of 5-7 people that don’t know the Lord, but do know you. Then, over the next month or so, start praying daily for opportunities to share the gospel with them. Start thinking about how you can make legitimate opportunities to share Christ with them. As you pray and witness, remember Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” I leave you with the words of Bill Bright, the late founder of CRU, formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ. Speaking of Christ, Bright said: “Here on earth, He has no lips but ours, no feet but ours, and no hands but ours. God has chosen to use men, not angels, to reach the world for Christ and, if we are obedient, He will use us. We can count on it.”

I was recently faced with the opportunity to share with someone. I was cautious at first, but presented the message as best as I knew how. The meeting ended abruptly and I’m not sure what God did, if anything. But I must trust Him with the outcome. He is the one who causes the growth (1 Cor. 3:6). I’m only there to plant a seed or water it.

The Difference Between Famine and Feast

The following message is taken from 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, and addresses the Lord’s Supper, otherwise known as communion. The Lord’s Supper is a meal, reminding us of Jesus’ sacrifice and spurring our devotion to Him. It was preached on October 6, 2013, World Communion Sunday.

A few years ago, our family and some guests traveled to the Valley Forge National Historic Park. On the memorial arch that stands approximately three stories in the air, there is the verse from Revelation 7:16 which stands as a testimony to the grave condition of the soldiers who weathered the winter of 1777-1778. It says, “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more…” Battling illness, hypothermia, and a loss of morale, they stuck together, although it cost many their lives, one in ten to be exact. The arch is there as a memorial, a testimony of something we should not forget.

Today, we turn to another type of memorial, with far greater significance. According to the Protestant Reformers, there were three distinguishing marks of the church: the preaching of God’s word, the Bible; the discipline of its members and finally, the practice of its sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. On this Sunday, known as World Communion Sunday, we turn to our attention to the Lord’s Supper.

We turn to a passage within Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. Corinth was a well-known, worldly city in Greece. The church there was challenged with how to live as Christians in a cosmopolitan setting. There were all sorts of problems within the congregation. For one, they were allowing public sin to carry on without Christian discipline. There were various conflicts over leadership, spiritual gifts numerous problems and misunderstandings. Part of the conflict was theological, others were emotional and relational. It is a reminder that there is no such thing as a perfect church. And so Paul writes this letter to correct many of the problems, misunderstandings and strife within this church, because it would no doubt affect their witness in the city.

One of those problems was how they conducted their worship. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul is in the process of teaching on how public worship must be conducted. In verses 17 and following, we have a larger section concerning the Lord’s Supper. We see from this passage that there were divisions in verses 18-19. Different than only the bread and cup being served, the early church practiced communion as a meal. In this instance, some were receiving their fill of food and drink, while others went without. Herein lies the difference between spiritual famine and spiritual feast. You can come to the observance of this solemn meal, with food on your mind, or you can come with the Lord Jesus and all that He has done for you. Paul is essentially asking: “What type of food are you looking for?” Paul corrects their understanding the Lord’s Supper and how the Christian is to observe it. Let us ask certain questions from our passage this morning: First…

WHAT IS THE LORD’S SUPPER?

Simply put, the Lord’s Supper is one of the two sacraments or ordinances which the church practices, the other being baptism. It is practices in a continuum of the Old Testament Passover, with the fulfillment found in the death of Jesus Christ. In that account, the Jews applied the lamb’s blood upon the doorposts so they would be spared from God’s wrath, poured out on the Egyptians. In a parallel manner, the blood of Christ spares the believer from God‘s wrath that will be poured out upon the world a the end of history.

Our Lord Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples in the upper room shortly before he was taken into custody and eventually crucified. In short, the Lord’s Supper, or communion, is spoken of by the Apostle Paul in verses 23-26. Paul wrote what we call, our Words of Institution: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

So when we gather together on Communion Sundays, we reaffirm our faith and observe this meal that honors Him. We demonstrate our appreciation for the Lord’s sacrifice; we make several statements.
One, that there is a statement of hope. The Lord’s Supper is a visual, experiential reminder that there is forgiveness; there is hope; there is restoration! It is mandated and expected that every church perform this act of worship in honor of Jesus who died for us and atoned for our sins.

It is also a statement of unity. We are united to the Lord Jesus and united to every believer who calls on Him with sincerity and truth. Today, Christians all over the world are observing the Lord’s Supper. What did Schwenckfeld say about the Lord’s Supper? Schwenk-felders are known for the Stillstand. We stopped observing the Lord’s Supper for a time because of the divisions in Europe over faith matters. But that should not mislead us into thinking that Schwenckfeld did not appreciate the Lord’s Supper. This is what he said: “I hold to the Holy Sacrament of the altar, or in other words the Supper. I adhere to it as fixed by the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe and confess that the belief of Christians is that the true life and true blood of Jesus Christ is in the Lord’s Supper. However, truly and essentially in the mystery of the sacrament, is eternal life eaten and drunk.” It is not that if you eat the piece of bread and drink the grape juice that something magical happens. No, rather it is a reminder and a vehicle for the Holy Spirit to point you to the sacrifice of Jesus and that you are lost without Him. Which ought to, in turn, well up thanksgiving and praise within you and me towards our Savior.

It is also a statement of anticipation. As Christians, we look forward to something happening in the future. It also is an anticipation of the future, when Jesus will share the cup with us in heaven, with all those who will inherit eternal life.

And so, communion is a meaningful thing. The Lord’s Supper is a demonstration of commitment and discipleship. It is a reminder to all those who take part that your relationship with Christ is one of dependence. Just as you depend on bread and drink for sustenance, you eat of those items representing the body of Christ and are reminded that you cannot survive without Him. This thought echoes Jesus’ words found in John 15:5, when he illustrated that His followers’ lives depends upon Him in which the same way as a branch depends on life from the vine. He said: “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.” So if communion is this act of dependence, What are some things we should have in mind as we prepare ourselves?

IN WHAT FRAME OF MIND AND HEART SHOULD WE PARTAKE OF COMMUNION?

When we partake of these emblems, you and I proclaim His death, we renew our vows to honor and obey Him. And the Holy Spirit reminds you of His great sacrifice on your behalf. It is a reverent occasion. We find the gift of this admonition in our focal verse today, Verse 27, which states: “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” In order to gain a grasp on the way in which one should observe this meal, let us look at a couple of terms the apostle uses.

First, he speaks of those who partake of the Lord Supper “…in an unworthy manner.” What could this mean? The word implies carelessness or being improper. He associates it with same which he says “They shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.” In other words, we ought to play attention to the condition of our hearts and minds when receiving the bread and the cup, Justin Martyr (100-165): Christian philosopher and apologist , wrote: “And this food is called among us the Eucharist of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.”

And this should be something that we who have done it many times can fall prey to doing, even unintentionally. One point of carelessness is unrepentant sin. Maybe there is something you have done that you’ve not asked God to forgive you? Maybe there is something that you are doing right now- that you love more than you love the Lord Jesus. I remember as an adolescent that I prayed, “Lord, I love you, but let me do this one more time.” And it was wrong! I loved my sin more than Jesus.

Maybe we need to forgive someone. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:14:15).” We often fail to consider the gradual, cumulative effect of sin in our lives. In St. Louis in 1984, an unemployed cleaning woman noticed a few bees buzzing around the attic of her home. Since there were only a few, she made no effort to deal with them. Over the summer the bees continued to fly in and out the attic vent while the woman remained unconcerned, unaware of the growing city of bees. The whole attic became a hive, and the ceiling of the second-floor bedroom finally caved in under the weight of hundreds of pounds of honey and thousands of angry bees. While the woman escaped serious injury, she was unable to repair the damage of her accumulated neglect.

We must recover a proper theology of sin, that it is first against the Lord; other people, even ourselves are collateral damage. But when we sin we offend God. People do a lot of things because others are doing it; people do a lot of things because it feels good or because it is convenient, or because no one is looking, or because no one seems to care. But God cares. And He is calling us to a higher standard! After David sinned with Bathsheba and had her husband killed, he prayed in confession in Psalm 51: “Against Thee and Thee only, have I sinned and done what is wrong in your sight.”

If you have done something to another individual, maybe you have hurt them or treated them unfairly, that needs to be taken care of. God is calling you to do so! Or maybe you need to forsake something.

This passage is really about body life and how we treat one another. In Corinth, selfishness had reached an all time high. There were people taking their matters into their own hands. They would show up for the Love Feast and eat and drink till they were merry. Then others, showing up later, did not receive anything. So Paul addresses the situation by simply stating: “Remember what and who this is about!”

The Lord’s Supper brings to mind what Someone did for us. It was the supreme display of love, where Jesus exchanged our sin for His grace. He put our sin on Himself, and gave us us righteousness. Booker T. Washington was born a slave. Later freed, he headed the Tuskegee Institute and became a leader in education. In his autobiography, he writes: “The most trying ordeal that I was forced to endure as a slave boy…was the wearing of a flax shirt. In that portion of Virginia where I lived, it was common to use flax as part of the clothing for the slaves. That part of the flax from which our clothing was made was largely the refuse, which of course was the cheapest and roughest part.

I can scarcely imagine any torture, except, perhaps, the pulling of a tooth, that is equal to that caused by putting on a new flax shirt for the first time. It is almost equal to the feeling that one would experience if he had a dozen or more chestnut burrs, or a hundred small pin-points, in contact with his flesh… But I had no choice; I had to wear the flax shirt or none. My brother John, who is several years older than I am, performed one of the most generous acts that I have ever heard of one slave relative doing for another. On several occasions when I was being forced to wear a new flax shirt, he generously agreed to put it on in my stead and wear it for several days, till it was “broken in.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 tells us: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

How are You Spending the Summer?

The following message deals with that which Christians must remember, the basics of our faith found in the Apostles’ Creed, The Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer.  It was preached on Memorial Day, May 26, 2013

This weekend marks a highly anticipated time in the life of Americans, the Memorial Day weekend.  Memorial Day is a time to remember, ever since its inception in 1868, it has been placed aside as a day to remember those who’ve passed and those who’ve served.  Where I come from, Memorial Day is a time to go to the resting places of your loved ones and decorate their graves.  It is also a day to gather with family and friends for a barbeque.  The weekend functions as the unofficial kickoff of the summer.

That brings up the question: what are you doing over the summer?  I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with several of you.  Some are going on vacation- to South Carolina or on a cruise.  Others are spending their summer at the shore; still others are planning family reunions.  Me?  I’m going to be writing a dissertation; my final project for the Doctor of Ministry.

The theme that I am addressing is the need for Christians to remember and return to the basics of our faith, which involves learning and growing in our understanding of Christian belief, as exemplified in the Apostles’ Creed; Christian ethics as understood in the Ten Commandments; and Christian devotion, as found in the Lord’s Prayer.  For the first five hundred years of the church, these objects were the mainstays of Christian education.  Those wishing to be baptized had to recite the Apostles’ Creed.  It became a necessity in teaching the faith for centuries to come.

Catechesis is the practice of learning the basics of our faith in question and answer form.  Although the Middle Ages experienced a wane in catechesis, the Protestant Reformation made a reprise of it.  Catechesis has been utilized to disciple new Christians since the Reformation in the West.

And there was a time when those wanting to join the Schwenkfelder Church were asked to recite the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed, as it appears in our Book of Worship for Church and Home.[1]  But this is no more.

As history repeats itself, a sense of desperation for classical Christian education has returned.  In many congregations today, the youth and new members’ introduction lasts a few weeks at best and contains a broad array of material written to welcome newcomers at the sacrifice of equipping them spiritually.  As a result, very few newcomers and church members can recall the essentials of our faith and apply them to their lives.  With the dawn of Postmodernism, catechesis is seen as a thing of the past.  And with its passing, believers are found to be wanting in their knowledge and application of the Christian basics.

Today, we like story, we like visual, and we like easy.  An absence of such a foundational teaching contributes to the social ills of today.   Christians struggle to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) in their settings.[2]  The theological needs in the culture of the United States and Great Britain are shocking.[3]  Rabbi Jonathan Sacks states: “In virtually every Western society in the 1960’s there was a moral revolution, an abandonment of its entire traditional ethic of self-restraint.  The Judeo-Christian moral code was jettisoned.  In its place came: whatever works for you.  …something has gone badly wrong since.”[4]

In addition, the youth are no longer receiving moral and spiritual instruction as they once did.  The National Study of Youth and Religion revealed that although many U.S. Protestant youth participate in worship services, few engage in Bible reading, which is the starting point of Biblical understanding.  The study said:

“The majority of U.S. Protestant teenagers say that they read the Bible either less frequently or not at all. Furthermore, of all U.S. teenagers, only about one in four reads the sacred scripture of their religious tradition weekly or more often (26 %). Large numbers of U.S. teenagers do claim religious affiliations and report attending religious services.”[5]

Also disappointing is that new data suggests that church attendance and membership is slipping.[6]  Consider the following:

  • In New England, less than ten percent of the population is in church on any given Sunday.  Only two percent of the population of Massachusetts is in church any given Sunday.
  • Except for the state of Hawaii, Christianity has not seen a net expansion in any state in the union in over 25 years.
  • Over 4,000 local congregations permanently close their doors every year in the U.S. alone.
  • Over 3,000 new church plants must be launched each year just to keep up with the changing demographics and population growth in the United States.[7]

Furthermore, Christian education in the home and within the corporate gathering of the body of Christ must change.  Families and churches must work in tandem to recover a discipled congregation of young and old, ready to live out the faith.  So on this Memorial Day weekend, when we are recalling those who were close to us and those who gave their lives for our freedom, let us also remember some critical things about our faith…

CHURCH, LET US REMEMBER WHAT TO BELIEVE.

The Church has been forced over the centuries to define what she believes in. Creeds were written to answer heresies, which have always been around. The Apostles’ Creed affirmed the belief in the Trinity, denied by Arianism.  The Nicene Creed affirmed the deity of Jesus Christ, of which Arianism also denied.  The Chalcedonian Creed affirmed the separate, yet coexisting divine and human natures of Christ, denied by Eutychianism.  Caspar Schwenkfeld denied all these ancient heresies and stated so.[8]  Churches, both Catholic and Protestant have endorsed the ancient creeds in an effort to separate themselves from these heresies which exist in other forms today.

The earliest portions, found in the Old Roman form, date back to the mid second century, around 140 AD.  Today, it is the most basic statement of the contents of the Christian faith.  It is the greatest commonality among Christians: Roman Catholics; Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists and the Schwenkfelders.

It was thought to have been a baptismal formula; something that was recited when individuals converted to Christianity.  At Central, we recite the Creed on the days we practice communion.  The creed is a response to God; A statement of communal identity and reminds us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into Hades. The third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Christian church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.”

It presents the significance of the three persons of the Trinity.  The Father is our Creator, the Son is our Redeemer and the Spirit is our Sanctifier/Sustainer.  Last week, we celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We also quoted both the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed in our traditional worship service.

It is important that we recognize that the Christian faith is not what we make it, but what is handed down to us.  We are not given options on what to believe.  Rather, our faith is that which is once and for all delivered to us, as Jude 1:3 indicates: “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”

We cannot believe some parts and reject others, nor can we understand the faith without knowing its parts.  How can a plumber do his work without knowing connections and joints?  How can a Mathematician operate without knowing Algebra?  So, it is necessary for believers in Jesus to know the basics of the faith, more than just quoting the creed, but believing it also.  Let us not only remember what to believe, but

CHURCH, LET US REMEMBER HOW TO BEHAVE.

The Ten Commandments have functioned as our basis for ethics in this country since its inception.  Could you name the Ten Commandments by heart?  If you can’t, it could be that their power has slipped from your radar.  The first four, specifically define our love for God.  Jesus said that the greatest commandment is that we would love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength.  We do this by having no gods before Him; by abstaining from idols, whether they be the television, the golf course or the internet; that we revere God’s name and hold it in the highest respect; that one day per week we abstain from work to rest and worship Him and meet with God’s people.

The last six commandments teach us how we must love our neighbor as ourselves.  That we first honor authority, given to us in mom and dad; that we preserve the lives of others with both deed and word, that we keep ourselves sexually pure before marriage and sexually committed inside marriage; that we seek to protect the property of others; that we tell the truth and are content, being happy for others when they are blessed.

The Ten Commandments are designed to be moral guide for our decision making and to remind us that we need a Savior, that Jesus who perfectly fulfilled God’s demands.  There are moral absolutes, though the culture would disagree.

If you wonder about the relevancy of God’s moral law, just consider the events of this past week, when 25 year old Lee Rigby was brutally massacred outside of London in broad daylight, a result of Muslim extremists. He leaves behind a two-year-old son.

Or Jodi Arias, the young lady from Southern California who murdered her boyfriend, Travis Alexander by shooting him, stabbing and slashing him nearly 30 times.[9]  Or Kermit Gosnell, who murdered innocent children in his doctor’s office in West Philadelphia.  You say, “Well Pastor David, that’s the world.  That has nothing to do with me.”  Actually, that is the world that you and I live in.  We are called to know and love God’s law, when the world disregards human life and promotes filth and promiscuity every day.  We must recover the sense that sin is first an offense to God, then an offense towards others.  Lastly…

CHURCH, LET US REMEMBER HOW TO PRAY.

Prayer is a popular subject.  It is a spiritual exercise that is quite popular.  And it was quite popular in Jesus’ day.  Notice Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:5: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

I have to say that I was blessed to be a part of the Claire Schweiker funeral yesterday.  It was said of Claire that she would pray 2-3 hours per day.  Her son Rich, a lawyer, was experiencing a particularly challenging trial.  She wrote him a note of encouragement to say that she and Mr. Schweiker were praying for him morning and evening and several times in between.  Claire made it her practice to encourage others with Scripture verses.  Prayer should be a regular part of our daily duties, as easy as exhaling.

I have a friend that does not attend church, but claims that he prays.  Books are written by scads of people that advocate a form of spirituality, with or without the guidance offered by Scripture.  So the Christian notion of prayer is in the backdrop of a world that practices prayer.  But not all prayer is heard by God or is legitimate.

What follows Matthew 6:9 is the Lord’s Prayer, a logically guided dialogue with God consisting of six requests: that His plan and desires would be accomplished with our full cooperation and participation; that He would grant us our needs as we depend upon Him; that He would not only cancel our moral debts as we violate His law, but that we would also forgive others when we are wronged; that we might be kept from temptation, or when it is necessary, we would be delivered from it.

Just a word on forgiveness.  Notice that it is believed on in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”  And practiced in the Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  In case you don’t think it is practical, remind yourself of the need to forgive others the next time you’re offended or wronged in some way.  I knew a woman who was married for nearly 60 years.  You might assume that such a couple was happily married, but such was not the case.  They struggled and fought to get along and be happy for most of their married life.  At a critical time, the husband did something foolish and incurred the wrath of his wife for most of the rest of their lives.  Unfortunately, she went to her grave, possibly not forgiving him.  Not only did this bring added misery in their marriage, but also damaged her walk with Christ.

As Christians, we must conform to God’s wishes, God’s character, even when we don’t feel like it.  Our lives are not our own.  We don’t dictate what we are to do.  We belong to the Lord and we are accountable to Him.  It is the best thing for us.

On this Memorial Day, let us remember.  “To remember,” means “to bring to mind or think of again.”  We must remember and in some cases, relearn what belief, behavior and devotion mean within a Christian context.  It is easy to live life without a sense of accountability to God.  Oh, we have the civil authorities to remind us that there are consequences to bad behavior.  But if we are not careful, we can fall prey to the idea that life is just an endless search for the next form of entertainment.  Something that traditionally might be wrong, is now acceptable, as long as we keep out of trouble and don’t hurt others.  But what about the condition of our souls?

Pastor John Piper writes: “The real pursuit of pleasure must connect the most profound appetites of our being to the One by whom, in whom, and for whom we exist. God is our joy. God. Every other search is a dead-end road, no matter how fast we can drive it.”


[1][1] Book of Worship for Church and Home, “A Service for the Reception of Members into the Church,” (Pennsburg, PA: Board of Publication, 1928), 38-41.

[2] For instance, the divorce rate among Christians is similar to that of the unchurched.  See. http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-03-14-divorce-christians_N.htm.

[3] A recent survey confirmed that most youth in Great Britain do not believe that Jesus Christ was an historical figure.

[4] Jonathan Sacks, “Reversing the Decay of London Undone,” The Wall Street Journal, August 20-21, 2011.

[5] “Few U.S. Protestant Teens Regularly Read the Bible,” found at http://www.youthandreligion.org/news/2004-0623.html.

[6] Amy Frykholm “Loose Connections,” Christian Century, 31 May 2011, 20-23.

[7] Statistics shared at the Area Representative retreat for the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, February 7-9, 2012 in Orlando, Florida.  Much information taken from David Olson, The American Church in Crisis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 37-39.

[8] Caspar Schwenckfeld, Eight Writings on Christian Belief. Kitchener, Ontario: Pandora Press, 2005.

Reshaping Our Lives

The following message is based on Galatians 6:1-10 and deals with the subject of church health.  It was preached on the occasion of receiving new members on February 24, 2013

For the last several weeks, we have been considering relationships within the church and how those connections contribute to the overall health of our church.  We are a family of families.  To begin, I’d like to share with you the input contributed by Jeff Ost last week. I read it again with his permission:

“Central is and has been much more than a church to me and my family.  It is a COMMUNITY.  I live in a nearby development of close to 300 homes and while I know some of my neighbors, it is still just a development.  Central is my community, a place where I have made friends, developed social relationships, exchanged ideas and worshipped with people who share my beliefs.  I raised my family here and I always felt comfortable when I saw my children talking with other adults and parents, knowing they would get solid advice, even if it wasn’t from me.  Our church family, like any family has shared moments of joy and moments of sorrow, even moments of disagreement but in the end, our church family ties have held strong.  I thank God for each of you who live in my community and welcome any newcomers to join THIS COMMUNITY.”

These words pleased me so.  It reminds me that the church is to be an alternative culture to that of the world.  We provide a sense of belonging and family that people cannot get elsewhere, all in the name of Jesus.

Today, I want us to refocus our lives on what we have learned over the last six weeks.  In our time together we’ve seen how the body of Christ is one family made of diverse parts.  Just as the early church was made of Jew and Gentile, so the church of today spans backgrounds, races, genders and socio-economic classes.  The good news of Jesus is for everyone.  In the household text, we saw that wives were to respect their husbands and that husbands were to love their wives.  Children were to honor their parents and parents were not to provoke their children.  We were to operate our homes as small groups that glorified God, just as the larger body is called to the same.

We also learned that the church is a family of families and that there are roles within the church to be fulfilled by everyone.  Older men and women are to teach the younger generation.  Younger men and women are to live in self-control.  We are to look out for each other; hold a sense of responsibility for one another.  On another Sunday we studied the qualities of a sound church, that is to have mentors and that discipleship is a lifelong process.  Then last week, we talked about priorities such as care of lifestyle and care of community; commitment.

Now having this understanding as our base: mutual responsibility, community, foundation of the truth of Jesus Christ, we turn to the subject of reshaping our lives.  What do we do with this information?  For that, I have selected our passage of Galatians 6.

The Christians in the Roman province of Galatia were infected by the Judaizers, those that believed that trusting Christ is one thing, but faith must be coupled with adherence to the Old Testament law, in particular the mandate of circumcision as a mark of the people of God.  Written in 49 A.D., it functions as a precursor to the Council of Jerusalem, which you can read of in Acts 15:6 and following.  Paul goes to great lengths to prove that Christ + anything= nothing.  Christ + nothing = everything.  This is essentially the doctrine of justification by faith alone, the hallmark of the Protestant Reformation and probably why Luther referred to this book as “my epistle.”  It has a lot to teach us about God’s calling of a new life by God’s grace.  That, in turn, should cause us to pursue some nonnegotiables.  I believe two things.  One of which is that…

AS GOD’S PEOPLE, WE MUST PURSUE TRUTH WITH LOVE AND HUMILITY.

One of the means by which people were boasting, was who was truly godly.  People were boasting in their Jewish identity or their pursuit of it.  For a Gentile, this meant to be circumcised or be left thinking you were not quite good enough; that you were not quite the spiritual make up that was necessary to be a real Christian.  It reminds us that those who are seen as spiritual leaders can exert an unhealthy power and influence over others who are impressionable and vulnerable.  Paul addresses the pride of the congregations in verse three: “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, 5 for each one should carry his own load.”

It is safe to say that there was a fair amount of legalism and pride operating in the churches of Galatia.  This bred jealousy and contempt.  They had moved away from the basic and elementary teaching to love their neighbors as themselves.  Instead, they were being self-centered and disregarding other church members. Notice what Paul warns earlier in Galatians 5:13: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”  Human sin brings us to this place of animosity, revenge, spite and a lack of love.

Today, we show the opposite, as we welcome Gail, B.J. and Heather.  What a blessing it is to have them become a part of our fold and identify Central as their spiritual home.  We asked them to give themselves unreservedly to Christ’s service, and accept the teachings of and practices of our church as found in Holy Scripture.  We asked them to be mindful of our welfare and to walk with us in faithfulness to Christ.  This faithfulness begins with attending services and Sunday School, sharing in the work of the church, and supporting our missions.  By exercising your spiritual gifts you contribute towards making Central a fruitful body of Christians.

In turn, hopefully we can provide them a place of growth and encouragement.  We promised them that we would gladly welcome them to be a part with us in the hopes, the labors, and the joys of our church and  to walk with them in Christian love and sympathy, and to promote, as far as in us lies, their growth in the Christian faith and life.  In doing so, we fulfill what Paul tells us in Galatians 6:2: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  What would God have us do?  First of all, AS GOD’S PEOPLE, WE MUST PURSUE TRUTH WITH LOVE AND HUMILITY.  Secondly…

AS GOD’S PEOPLE, WE MUST ALSO PURSUE GENEROSITY AND SERVICE IN THE NAME OF CHRIST.

If our eyes are open, God will give us opportunities to share our faith with others both within and outside the church family.  Notice verse nine: “And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. 10 So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”  You might ask: “What are some ways to do good to the household of faith?”  Consider the following things that are not outside of what you already know.  First of all, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone.  There are times when hearing the voice of another family member is just what is needed.
It might be a word of encouragement or a question of how help might be delivered.  While I’m on that subject, don’t be afraid to drop a card in the mail.  I have saved mail over the years that has particularly encouraged me.  Some of you have received similar things.  I even have a folder on my computer labeled: “Cheer up,” which is filled with things sent to me to encourage my spirit.

Another thing we can do for each other is pray.  I recently had a person say that she was impressed that our church had a midweek prayer meeting.  She was a part of another local congregation and their prayers were limited to the internet.  Nothing face-to-face.  We need not be timid to pray for and with each other.  Marci Shenkle voiced recently that it could be that we are afraid to pray with others for a number of reasons: Fear of sounding stupid; fear that we can’t pray as well as others; fear that we will pray theologically incorrect; and fear that we will be laughed at or judged.  But praying aloud for others says to that person, “I do not have the power to heal you.  I do not have the answers to solve your problems but I believe in a God who does.”  Two men recently prayed with me.  I was greatly blessed by it.

Don’t be afraid to share with those in need.  God has given you time and resources that are not meant to only be spent on your.  You are here to minister to others.  You can do this anonymously.  Maybe it means picking up a bill for someone in need.  Maybe it means buying some groceries.  Maybe it is offering to give someone a ride to the doctor.

Don’t be shy in meeting (with) others.  It is an opportunity to disciple and be discipled.  Giving others a chance to tell their story, to unload their burden.  Or maybe it means to take notice of the new faces in our midst.  Are we aware of those new to our family?  Do we have the wherewithal to make them feel at home?  I recently had a retired pastor visit my office.  He was commenting how he and his family visited a few local churches that were on the larger scale. He said that at two places, no one came up and introduced themselves.  No one asked who they were.  No one welcomed them.  But when they went to a church down the street, everyone came up to them.  The point I am making is this: We cannot be shy when making others feel welcome, or that they matter.  We have to step outside our comfort zone to do so.

In conclusion, we have learned two distinguishing characteristics of God’s people.  Since we have been given so much in Christ, we are motivated to pursue a couple of things.  One, AS GOD’S PEOPLE, WE MUST PURSUE TRUTH WITH LOVE AND HUMILITY; and two: WE MUST ALSO PURSUE GENEROSITY AND SERVICE IN THE NAME OF CHRIST.  It is a sense of belonging that we have the opportunity to show our love to God and to others. As a result, we reshape our lives to those things that matter most.

When Wilhemina was crowned Queen of Holland, at the tender age of ten, the happy little girl, too young to realize the gravity of the occasion, with thousands of people cheering her, was unable to take it all in and said, “Mamma, do all these people belong to me?” And the mother smiled and said, “No, my dear child, you belong to all these people.”[1]


[1]Gospel Herald, Encyclopedia of 15,000 Illustrations: Signs of the Times.

 

Setting Life Priorities

The following message is based on Ephesians 5:15-21.  It was preached on February 17, 2013

INTRODUCTION

One of the keys to being a successful person, in life, at work, with family, etc. is setting priorities.  It is the focus upon what really matters, amidst manifold distractions.  As it was put to me quite some time ago, it is the challenge “to keep the main thing, the main thing.”  Others have labeled it “keeping first things first.”  It is never easy.  Former Florida State University head football coach Bobby Bowden was known for his inspirational talks.  His players called them parables.  One of his players recounted the following favorite story:

Bowden was playing college baseball, and he had never hit a home run. Finally he hit one down the right-field line, into the corner. He rounds first and looks to the third-base coach. He turned at second, was halfway to third and the coach was still waving him on. He got to home; he hit the plate. He had his first home run. He was so excited and everybody was slapping him five. Then the pitcher took the ball, threw to the first baseman, and the umpire called him out.  [Coach Bowden] said, “If you don’t take care of first base, it doesn’t matter what you do. If you don’t honor the Lord first, it doesn’t matter what else you do.”[1]

We are coming to the end of our study on Church health and relationships.  The Apostle Paul here lays the ground work for how God’s administration in the church ought to work.

A big part of taking advantage of opportunities is setting priorities on what is really important.  That’s what I’ve entitled our message this morning, “Setting Life Priorities.”  What are good priorities?

GOOD PRIORITIES INVOLVE CARE OF LIFE STYLE.

Ephesians 5:15 states: “Be very careful, then, how you live– not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”  Other translations use the allusion of walking.  Take notice of the New American Standard when it says: “…be careful how you walk….”  What does it mean to walk as wise men?  For one thing, it involves care and awareness.  The NKJ says: “See then that you walk circumspectly….”   The idea is living with a cautious, vigilant, attitude.  Being spiritually aware.  How is this done?  Paul goes on to elaborate in a number of ways.

One way that we walk as wise men and women is by making the most of our time.  Taking advantage of the spiritual opportunities around us.  It means managing our spiritual resources in a way that honors God.  Being keenly aware of your life and that you have been graced with opportunities to live for and point others to the Lord Jesus Christ.  We are allotted a portion of time to serve the Lord.  Some a very little time; others 80-90 years.  No set time is guaranteed.  Every day is a gift.  We must make the most of it.  Making the most of life means prioritizing God and the things associated with Him!  Jeff Reed states: “The key to the passage is to walk wisely, making the most of our time.  This implies setting the priorities of our lives around Christ and His plan.  The heart of His plan is the church.  This means that His purpose must become our purpose.  His mission must become our mission.  His priorities much become our priorities.  Since we are to walk wisely and make the most of our time, we must plan our days, making sure that we do not just spend them as the world does.”[2]

This also means understanding the Lord’s will.  Someone recently pointed out that there is a huge difference between knowledge and wisdom.  Knowledge might be knowing information; wisdom is seeing how to apply principle.  Wisdom has a starting point according to the book of Proverbs.  Proverbs 9:10: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” The means by which we can understand the Lord’s will is by being filled with the Holy Spirit.

Being filled with the Spirit begins by coming to faith in Jesus Christ.  As it says in John 7:37: “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”  This was the occasion of the Feast of Booths, commemorating the wilderness wanderings in the book of Numbers.  On one occasion where the Israelites were very thirsty, Moses was told to strike the rock.

Being wise is the opposite of being foolish; getting drunk.  Verse 17 tells us: “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Interesting that getting drunk with wine is equated with dissipation.  What is dissipation?  It is equated with indulgence.  Following your senses.  Being led by desires.  Not thinking with a spiritual cap on.  Some of us cannot have a drink of alcohol because it opens the doors to other things.  Others of us must learn to be temperate.  It is not that being a Christian is equated with abstinence from alcoholic beverages, but Christians learn how to practice self control.  Alcohol indulgence is just one of many examples of unbridled living.  We could put food here, sex, or any other source of temporary gratification.  So we will either participate in unbridled living or living with God’s purposes.  It means I’m not living for myself and my own pleasure.  My happiness is not the main goal, rather the giving of myself so that Jesus Christ might be glorified. Not only do good priorities involve care of lifestyle, but…

GOOD PRIORITIES INVOLVE CARE OF COMMUNITY.

This includes speaking and singing.  The picture is of worship and community life.  Verse 19 tells us: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  This reminds us that the local church must be the center of our lives.  Being filled with the Spirit includes many activities that are listed here.  For instance, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  This means worship, both in a corporate sense and in a smaller, more intimate sense.  Our lives are geared to recognizing Jesus and His rightful place in our lives.  Hearing thanks given from the lips of each other, so that we are built up and encouraged.

Spiritual growth in a caring community versus the individualism.  Do I live only for myself?  Or am I led by my feelings?  Ephesians 2:1 describes the Christian’s former way of life before Jesus enters the picture: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”  Living for oneself vs. living for the benefit and blessing of others.

Or I can live in a godly community of believers where I am in it for others.  Being subject to one another allows your fellow Christians to call you to account for your life, giving people the opportunity to speak the truth in love that you and I might conform to Christ.  Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.  I am part of a larger whole; part of a winning team.  Have you considered the priority that church is in your life?  Is it the center of your social, spiritual and educational efforts?  Are you giving to your church through your time, your talents and your financial resources?

Our church is a caring community.  I recently met a minister and some folks from his church that had traveled from the Reading area to attend the funeral of their member’s mother.  For a small group of individuals to take the time out of their day to show that support was pretty impressive.  Maybe a few of you would like to comment on what this church has done for you?  How has your life been blessed and enhanced by having Central as a part of your life?  I’ll encourage you to come to one of the microphones in just a moment.

Here’s an anonymous testimony: “During a very dark time in our marriage the ministry we received from Central truly led to the healing of our broken marriage.  The combination of the counsel we received as well as benevolent funding to attend a marriage retreat, provided the light to show us the way to bringing God into our marriage, trusting in Him and valuing the importance of our marriage covenant.  We truly feel without the love and compassion we received from Central, our family would be in a much different place today.  We will be forever grateful that God led us to this church as this is just one example of the many blessings we receive from being a part of the wonderful community of believers.”

And another: “I’m Amy Ramsey and I would like to talk about what Central means to me.  In our family, Andy and I made a decision that church would be our first commitment.  We’ve given up travel sports, popular kids school events and weekend getaways. They are not easy choices and usually heart wrenching decisions.  Recently there was a conflict with sports and church and I saw it as a great opportunity to test my faith and see if my actions follow through with my words.  I prayed about what would bless God the most and about the strengths that God gave each of my children.  When I choose God and my church, it gives me a deep sense of peace and the strength to keep going (as only a mother of five can do)!”

All of these are examples of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our midst.  In closing, listen to what Howard Synder says: “Spiritual growth occurs best in a caring community.  There are spiritual truths I will never grasp and Christian standards I will never attain except as I share in community with other believers- and this is God’s plan.  The Holy Spirit ministers to us, in large measure, through each other.”[3]


[1] Citation: The Tennessean (9-29-00); submitted by Rubel Shelly; Nashville, Tennessee

Illustrations for Every Topic and Occasion – – More Perfect Illustrations: For Every Topic and Occasion.

 

[2] Jeff Reed, Belonging to a Family of Families (Des Moines: BILD, 1997), 48.

[3] Reed, 49.

Qualities of a Sound Church

The following message is based on Titus 2:1-15.  It was delivered on February 3, 2013

Etiquette is important.  “How to’s” are necessary.  I remember eating dinner with a friend from England.  My father in-law reminded me to eat slowly, enjoy the experience etc.  If I failed to follow his instructions, I would look like a fool.

When I gave the prayer at the PA House of Representatives, I was briefed on how to enter the chamber and what I was to do and not do.  They told me how to walk, when to approach the podium, when to sit, everything from top to bottom.  One wrong move and I would be toast!

When you go to receive an MRI, they give you instructions about what to expect.  How you’ll be placed in a tube, how there will be loud noise, when to hold your breath, etc.

In a courtroom, you may be told what will take place by your lawyer.  All of these are important because etiquette is essential to being your best.  Then there are “how to’s” for the Christian life.  Being aware of our behavior, knowing my role in relationship to others.  Last week we looked at one of the few household texts that teach how family members ought to treat one another.  Today, we study Titus 2 which is a community text, addressing the church as a family of families.  Titus’ job description in found in 1:5: “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.”  Later in Titus 2:1-15, Paul addresses the different groups within a church community.  This is a very basic text.  It tells us something of how God has constructed community life

All of this instruction has a serious backdrop that we can easily overlook as it applies to the health of our church. Jeff Reed states: “Paul’s theme through this dynamic letter to Titus is clearly a profile for a Christian life style.  By contrast, his primary concern was the ungodly life style of false teachers and, consequently, the way they were influencing then new Christians in Crete.  Too often today we embrace the gospel and yet fail to pay attention to His instructions concerning how we are to live as a community of believers.” [1]

MENTORS ARE IMPORTANT IN THE SHAPING OF OUR FAITH.

Notice verse two: “Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance. 3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good.” All of these qualities we look for in leaders.  And this was before any of the popular books or DVD’s on leadership were ever produced.  For both the older men and women, these are qualities that we look up to, those that we want in our mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers.  They are values that come from those that get high acclaim; those that command respect.

For a moment, I would like for you to think back of who has influenced you in the church.  Who have you looked up to?  I have several.  In my last church, are a couple named Tom and Annette Reed.  Tom was an elder of mine.  Soft spoken.  I never saw Tom angry.  When he served on the city council of our town, he was ridiculed for making decisions that were unpopular, but ethically right on.  They even slashed his tires.  But he never retaliated.  He always took the high moral road.  Tom led our men’s prayer meeting with a devotional.  His wife Annette was a prayer warrior and led the Beth Moore Bible studies in our community.  They were my confidants and are still good friends today.  Although I was their pastor, in many ways, they pastored me.  They loved Linda and me like we were their own kids.  People like that are the salt of the earth.

Who was it for you?  Is there someone now operating as a mentor?  Do you take advantage of the opportunities to connect with them?  A lot of progress can be made over the lunch counter.  Ask questions.  Life experience coupled with the knowledge of God’s word is invaluable. Are we listening?  Wisdom beckons everyone who will listen, as an experienced master would guide a green novice.  Proverbs 3:1: “My son, do not forget my law, But let your heart keep my commands; 2 for length of days and long life and peace they will add to you.”  Would be a mentor to someone in the church?  Would you take the time to invest your life in someone else?  This can be done one-on-one, either formally or informally.  I challenge you older, more seasoned Christians to pray and ask God who He might bring your way to mentor. Next Sunday, you’re going to witness our young people participate in Youth Sunday.  Encourage them; but also be mindful that they need your guidance.  Secondly…

LEARNING AND DISCIPLESHIP IS A LIFE-LONG PROCESS, WHERE ONE REALIZES THEIR ROLE AS RELATED TO OTHERS.

Verse four instructs older women to “…train the younger women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. 6 Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled.”  Note that this section is not a criticism of women who work outside the home.  If you were to read Proverbs 31, you’ll see a woman who is very industrious.  I realize that in this culture that there are situations which force women to work outside the home.  But it also is important to state that women are the heart of the home.  A wife who is keenly aware of the needs of her home is worth her weight in gold!  She provides comfort and sets the tone.  Our home would be lost without Linda.  She recently went away overnight and my kids were waiting for her at the door upon her return!

Verse six tells us that younger men are to be self-controlled.  The Greek is sophroneo which literally means: “to be of sound mind, to be temperate.   It has in view that of sound judgment.  The New American Standard translates it as sensible.  Notice that this is the trait that shows up either explicitly or implicitly in all four groups.  In the Greek culture of widespread immorality and abuses of relationships woven into their religious experience, it was necessary that Christians give a different impression.  This applies to one’s appetite, emotional or physical.  It is keeping yourself in check according to God’s word.  It is practicing self-restraint.  It is knowing your weaknesses and not giving yourself over to accesses that are neither healthy nor right.  On this weekend, as we think of the Super Bowl and the Wing Bowl and any other bowl.  Christians are to be temperate.

Another trait that shows up is focus.  Knowing what you’re job is.  Keenly aware of responsibilities; being resourceful.  Aware of what God has given you and applying yourself to the needs around you.  Our culture seems to communicate an attitude towards finding yourself, being on a journey, but no one knows what their supposed to be looking for when trying to find oneself and the journey never has a destination.  We must understand that it is not all about me; the world does not revolve around me.

A recent study revealed that young people in our culture struggle with direction, yet they also feel entitled and put up a front like they do not need help.  Psychologist Jean Twenge and her colleagues compiled the data and found that over the last four decades there’s been a dramatic rise in the number of students who describe themselves as being ‘above average’ in the areas of academic ability, drive to achieve, mathematical ability, and self-confidence. But in appraising the traits that are considered less individualistic – co-operativeness, understanding others, and spirituality – the numbers either stayed at slightly decreased over the same period.

Researchers also found a disconnect between the student’s opinions of themselves and actual ability. While students are much more likely to call themselves gifted in writing abilities, objective test scores actually show that their writing abilities are far less than those of their 1960s counterparts.

Also on the decline is the amount of time spent studying, with little more than a third of students saying they study for six or more hours a week compared to almost half of all students claiming the same in the late 1980s.[2]

We must not forget that we are connected and related.  We need each other.  Martin Luther King Jr. said: “We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”[3]

Effectiveness of our church’s witness depends on us living properly towards each other and towards outsiders.  Gene Getz states: “The way we live in community, as a local church, makes a difference in our impact for the gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is also true for the way we live within our own homes.  As homes and communities disintegrate in our Western culture, we can have an especially powerful witness before the watching world.”[4]  Lastly, there’s an underlying motivation and dogma underneath this behavior.  That teaches us that…

THEOLOGY IS IMPORTANT.

Paul’s instructions to Titus remind us that how one believes ought to affect how one lives.  The first century cults had a disruptive nature.  They would ruin whole households (cite Paul, Peter).  The Church has always believed in a plurality of leadership that consisted of many functioning as under shepherds.

Titus was to be a model of good works.  In his teaching, he was to show integrity, dignity and sound speech.  This was the picture of the shepherd in the tradition of Jesus.  Jesus was the good shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep.  If you remember from our Scripture Lesson in John 10:1-16, Jesus is the door.  He warns that there will be those that will try to enter by another way and even determine to lead others astray.

Then there is Satan, who seeks to kill and destroy.  Jesus brings life, as He said in John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly.”  And we await His return.  He is looking for the faithful.

One of the biggest obstacles to right belief is our own intuition.  We make up our own theology as we go, rather than conforming our thoughts to Scripture.  Scripture is a revealed book upon which we must center our lives.  Its ideas don not originate with man, but with God.  At a critical time in the life of the Israelites, after Moses died, Joshua could have said, “This is my game now.”  But notice what God said in Joshua 1:7: “Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

All of this is necessary as we wait for Jesus’ return.  I could easily preach a sermon on the last four verses of our passage, and someday I will.  But for now, I will read them and then tell a story.  11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, 12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus; 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds. 15 These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority.”  Our living is in anticipation of something greater that is right around the corner.

Have you ever wondered why folks in a cemetery are buried facing east?  It is in anticipation of the second coming of Jesus.  As Christians, we anticipate a great day, in which we will come face to face with the Lord of the Universe.  It will be a day of freedom that we can in fact enjoy now.


[1] Reed, 43.

[3] Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 72.

[4] Jeff Reed, Belonging to a Family of Families, (Des Moines, IA: BILD International, 1997), 41.

The Church as a Family of Families

The following message is based on 1 Timothy 3:14-16 and deals with the nature of relationships within the church.  It was preached on January 20, 2013.

Over the past 20 years, there seems to have been a change in the cultural climate.  Life appears to be faster than ever.  Information is limited to sound bytes and headlines.  We live moment to moment.  Jeff Reed describes our society as one that builds into us a mindset about our personal development.

  • We want quick fixes—not long-term solutions
  • We want how to’s—not the ability to think clearly.
  • We want short training—not lifelong learning.
  • We want tantalizing subjects—not serious ordered learning.
  • We want fill-in-the-blank exercises—not reflective writing.
  • We want one-time applications—not serious projects.[1]

Does that resonate with you?  Do you feel that there is a constant push for the immediate, the easy, the short, the entertaining, the shallow?  While this takes place around us, the church is supposed to be the alternative.  The Christian faith is not like that.  Churches try to present the faith as such, but Jesus did not die for our convenience.  He said in Matthew 16:24: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”

We continue our study on church health and relationships.  Today, I’ve entitled our message, “The Church as a Family of Families,” based on the small group literature from the Biblical Institute of Leadership Development.  Our Scripture is found in 1 Timothy 3.  This morning, let us ask, “What is the church?”  and “What behavior must be present in those of us who belong to the church?”

Let us consider the two C’s of a health community of faith, that is: Conduct and Confession.  First, let us look at…

THE CONDUCT THAT BEFITS CHRISTIANS

1 Timothy 3:14 says: “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15 if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household….”  Paul uses two words that ought to gain our attention.  The first is “conduct.”  The Greek implies a way of life.  Membership in a local church has certain implications.  It means that members of a congregation treat one another, as they would members of their own homes.  Notice Paul’s words in 1Timothy 5:1-2: “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, 2 older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”  The church is not a social gathering for networking or relationships; nor is it a pool of competition to breed jealousy and envy.  Rather, the church is a family where we respect each other, encourage each other and build one another up.  We see each other as created in the image of God.  Each of us is to live complimentary of one another, for the purpose of mutual blessing.

Secondly, we are to care for one another’s needs.  Take for instance, widows in Paul’s day who did not have any family to see after them.  They certainly did not have the luxury of government programs for the aged or under privileged.  The church is to care for such, as 1 Timothy 5:5 says: “The widow who is really in need and left all alone puts her hope in God and continues night and day to pray and to ask God for help.”  And verse 16: “If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.”  The church is meant to be a family that looks out for those members uniquely in need.

Thirdly, the church is to be led by godly men who take seriously their callings, skillful at leading their families and having a good reputation.  1 Timothy 3:1: “Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”

Why are these things necessary? Because this is what God expects of us.  This is what people need.  This is what is attractive to those outside of the faith.  This is what the church is supposed to be.  Next, let us look at…

THE CONFESSION THAT BEFITS THE CHURCH.

Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:14: “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15 if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”  Last week I mentioned that illustration about leaves.   A brown leaf in winter is a sign that it has fulfilled its mission.  It was here only for a little while to provide pure oxygen and a healthier atmosphere in an otherwise polluted world.  What difference are you making in this place?

Another analogy is that of the pillar.  If you know something about architecture, pillars are used not only for support, but also to project beauty.  Hence, there’s the Corinthian column, the Ionian column, etc.  Churches are collective bodies of Christians, which function as pillars and foundations of the church.  Woe to us if we don’t comment on the spiritual and moral decline of our nation and world.  Our job is to point others authentically to Christ!  We are living sign posts!  We are also known by the love and support we give one another John Stott writes: ‘One of the surest roads to the reform and renewal of the church is to recover its essential identity as “God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”’[2]  To be a church member means something!

A common misconception is that you can have a relationship with God, but be completely separated from His people.  Most recently, I heard actor Dustin Hoffman’s feelings on the subject in response to his dad’s atheism.  He said recently in an interview regarding his lack of religious upbringing: “I remember lying on the grass at night on my back ….  And I would talk to God and I would ask him questions and I would hear his answers. So I kind of made up my own God. I don’t know if it’s correct to have it or not, but organized religion has always (been something that)- I’ve kept a kind of distance from. And I don’t think it has anything to do with your own personal feelings. And in order to please God or to do things moral, to have a morality in order to please God or get into heaven, I have always felt is kind of hypocritical.

I think your morality is your morality and you have it just because that’s the way you want to live your life. Not to get a reward. The reward is in the living itself.[3]  Are we allowed to make up our own God?  Is it right to forsake the assembly of His people?  Is Christianity just another self help approach to life?  What is the problem with this angle?  God does have a specific family; a people for His own possession.  And they are in an organized body called the Church!  1 Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

That includes a confession that Jesus has changed our lives.  Notice the confession that Paul states concerning the life of Christ in verse 16: “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”  The New American standard uses the words that are actually in the text: “By common confession….”  In other words, these are the things commonly held among believers.  This is the life of Christ in one sentence.

Not long after Paul died, the church began dealing with cults that denied the existence of the Son of God in bodily form.  Therefore, the churches had to affirm that Jesus came in the flesh and that He was the Son of the living God, as Peter confessed at Caesarea Philippi, what we heard read earlier.  “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

Today, we have considered the two C’s of church health: THE CONDUCT and THE CONFESSION THAT BEFITS THE CHURCH.  According to British demographer David Barrett, the Church is losing 7,600 attendees a day in Europe and North America, That means that every week, more than 53,000 people leave church and never come back. To put that in perspective, consider that the United States lost about 57,500 people in the Vietnam War. In a different sense—though strangely appropriate—the church “loses” almost that many every week.[4]   Could it be that we’ve lost our footing?  Remember 1 Timothy 3:14: “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15 if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. 16 Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.”


[1] Jeff Reed, Belonging to a Family of Families, 7.

[2] John Stott, 1 Timothy and Titus: Fighting the Good Fight, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1998), 28.

[4] William Hendricks, Exit Interviews, Revealing Stories of Why People are Leaving the Church, p. 252 found in Fresh Illustrations.