Category Archives: Healthy Relationships

A Common Element Among an Effective Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Agreeing to Disagree

The following message is taken from Acts 15:30-42 and uniquely addresses how the church should handle disagreement.

This is the story of two friends; two men who had the same vocation.  They were called of God to preach and plant churches.  One was from one city; the other from an island.  Both loved God and served the Lord.  They had worked closely for several years.  Their names were Paul and Barnabas.

Paul and Barnabas were chosen with a number of others to go to Antioch and deliver the decree made at the Council of Jerusalem.  This council would inform the Gentile converts that they in fact, did not have to be circumcised as a supplement to faith in Jesus Christ, like the Judiazers had promoted.  Verse 28 gave them their ethical expectations: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell. 30 The men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter.”

Paul and Barnabas were skilled teachers of God’s word and were used to set the church on the right course.  They were teachers of teachers.  They had taught and preached together, seeing many come to faith in Christ.  They had a fruitful ministry together.  And as they prepared to leave Antioch, they determined to go back and strengthen the churches throughout Asia Minor, what we know as Paul’s second missionary journey.

In verse 37, we see the men preparing to go on their trip but a controversial issue came up. When it came time to make an important decision concerning John Mark, these two men were divided. John Mark was the younger cousin of Barnabas and the author of the Gospel of Mark.

On an earlier occasion, this man had deserted Paul and Barnabas; left them in difficult circumstances, at the hands of difficult people. You can read about that in Acts 13:13, Mark left them to return to Jerusalem, while the other two set out for difficult territory.

Do they take John Mark with them? Did he learn his lesson from deserting his friends?  Or have they both learned that John Mark was no good for their ministry. Evidently, Barnabas was willing to give John Mark a second chance. Second chances are an act of grace. This gave rise to a “contention.”

But the apostle Paul knew that John Mark could be a liability. Being deserted a second time could mean their premature deaths. They faced much controversy as they went about preaching Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. As well as facing Jews who were instigators.

There was no agreement.  We are not told who was right or who was wrong.  All we know is what happened next: Barnabas left with John Mark for the island of Cyprus.  Paul recruited Silas and set off for other places.  Paul and Barnabas no longer served as one. Both were wholeheartedly committed to the Lord Jesus Christ, but they could not agree on this one subject. Their situation raises the question, when is it okay to agree to disagree?

There are times in the church where it is okay to disagree. There are times in the church where disunity on the smaller matters is allowable. The ultimate calling to serve the Lord Jesus Christ should be the rule which binds us together. But it does not mean that we have to agree on details such as where we should minister or how we should minister.

There are various controversies; all issues in the church today; how we should worship; what instruments can be used, if any at all. I know of a denomination that believes that the use of instruments is worldly and a distraction to worshiping the Lord Jesus.  That same background teaches that immersion is the only legitimate way to baptize a new converts.  Quite different than the practice of many Christians today.

What are those things that should unite us? Paul said in Ephesians 4:3 “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called– one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  Consider the following tenets which must bind us together:

  • One, is the authority of Scripture; 2 Timothy 3:16-17
  • Two, is the divinity of Christ; John 14:6
  • Three, is the work of the Trinity; 2 Corinthians 13:14
  • Four, is the practice of the sacraments; 1 Corinthians 11:26

Style of worship is a negotiable. Methods of outreach are negotiable. Where we should send our mission money is negotiable. Should we do missions? Nonnegotiable. Should we worship? Nonnegotiable. Should we do outreach? Nonnegotiable.Consider the following obstacles to unity, the tendency for small things to become big things. For one, is our ego, or the passion to be right. I was recently brought face-to-face with something challenging in ministry. I wanted something to turn out a certain way in the life of this church. But, after consulting other leaders on it, it wasn’t meant to be. I had to humble myself and except this as God’s will. The problem is when ego gets in the way. We believe that we have to be right or else…

  • Or else I won’t attend this church anymore.
  • Or else I won’t give my money to the church.
  • Or else I won’t treat that person with love and respect.

You must beware of falling prey to a power trip. Maybe God would want you to be more flexible in some areas or more strongly convicted in others. The next time you feel disagreeable, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this what I want or is this what God wants?
  • Is my agenda at stake or is God’s agenda at stake?
  • Who will be served as a result of this effort?
  • Who will come to know the Lord Jesus for the first time?
  • Who will be deepened in the faith?
  • Is this just challenging my presupposition? (I’ve/we’ve never done it that way before.)
  • Should I be open to something new?
  • Have I prayed about this?
  • Have I consulted God’s word on this matter? John Calvin one said: “It matters not what you say or I say but what God says on the matter.”
  • Even though this might not agree with my political party’s line, is this the right thing to do?

Two, is our inability to listen. If conflict goes unresolved, it can be the soil where bitterness, anger and resentment grows. James 1:9 says: “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.”

Three is our ability to squabble.  Don’t be given over to squabbling.  Don’t go looking for a fight.  Pastor Carey Nieuwhof, says: “I really want to walk into a great church fight. Said no unchurched person ever. Squabbling, faction and division in the church has killed our evangelism efforts as effectively as anything.”[1]  I have come across many people who have admitted to leaving or avoiding a church because of infighting.

CONCLUSION

How did it end?  Paul eventually came back around and welcome to John Mark. You can read about that in. He said in 2 Timothy 4:11: “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”  Did you catch that?  He asked for Mark, “…for he is useful for me.” There’s always a double purpose to everything done for the Lord one is what how it affects me and to how it affects others. Paul labels Mark as “my fellow worker” in Philemon 1:24.  Obviously Paul and Mark reconciled and resumed their ministry together.

What about Barnabas?  We are not given but one verse.  1 Corinthians 9:6 where he states that Barnabas, along with himself is worthy of the label of apostle and worthy of their compensation.  All’s well that ends well.  Is this story such a tragedy?  No.  God is perfect.  People are flawed.  Paul, Barnabas and Mark were flawed.  You and I: flawed.  But God works in and through us, in spite of ourselves!

In the late 16th century, the mayor of Windsor engaged architect Christopher Wren to design and oversee the building of a town hall. When it was completed, the mayor refused to pay the bill, insisting that it needed more than the few columns Wren had designed. No matter that it was pointed out to him that the columns were holding up the building just fine. He wanted more columns and would not pay until they were installed.

Christopher Wren had several more columns added to the building. Each was identical to the first ones he had installed, with one exception. Each lacked one inch going all the way to the ceiling.

Some of those columns were load-bearing and others were cosmetic. The building became known as the Windsor Guildhall.

In the church, it is important to know what is really important, and what is not so important. Be willing to fight for the former, and sacrifice the latter. Let us pray.

 

 

 

 

[1] http://careynieuwhof.com/2015/01/9-sure-fire-ways-make-church-completely-ineffective/?utm_content=bufferfcfe7&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer.