“Our Modus Operandi” by David W. McKinley

The following message is taken from Exodus 20 and deals with the subjects of work, rest and purpose in life.  It was preached on September 2, 2012 at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA.

What is our Modus operandi?  Maybe you’ve heard of that term.  According to Wikipedia, Modus operandi is a Latin phrase, basically translated as “method of operation”.[1] The term is used to describe someone’s habits or manner of working, their method of operating or functioning. In English, it is often shortened to M.O.  The expression is often used in police work when discussing a crime and addressing the methods employed by the perpetrators. Today, I’d like to use that phase to talk about what we do with our lives.  What is our “Modus Operandi?”  Often times, I’m in the presence of other men, like at soccer practice or community functions where I’m meeting new people.  One of the first things out of a guys mouth is “What do you do?”  This morning, I would like for us to think about our purpose in life.  What is our motivation for living?  On this Labor Day weekend, let us think about our lives in relation to work, rest and purpose.

Some say that our work ethic in this country is wanting.  A recently article by Wayne Allyn Root stated that the work ethic in this country is hurting.  One seventh of our population is on food stamps.  20% of American children under 18 are obese.  Almost 11 million citizens are on disability.  In 1967, the ratio of able-bodied workers to disabled was 41 to 1.  As of June 2012, it is now 16 to 1.[1]  Now, a little over 8 % of Americans do not have a job.

Yet, we have the most opportunity of anywhere.  United States is often referred to as the “land of opportunity.”  James Truslow Adams coined the term “American Dream” in his 1931 book The Epic of America. His American Dream is “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.  I am convinced that we do not know how good we have it in America.

I was having a conversation with Clifford Liu, one of our missionaries.  He told me of the educational needs in China.  The average for the last five years has indicated that 9.5 million students graduate from high school each year.  Due to limited opportunities, only 5 million go to college.  That leaves close to five million students that have nowhere to study.  Many of them try to find jobs in China or study abroad.  Only 400,000 study abroad in places like Europe, Australia or the United States.  128, 000 students have come each of the last two years to the United States to study.  Last week, we met two such students: “Belle and Jimmie.”  That brings up the subject of work.  What is work?

 

WORK IS A NECESSARY ELEMENT OF OUR LIVES, BALANCED WITH REST AND WORSHIP.

In God’s moral law, what we know as the “Ten Commandments,” God instructs us in Exodus 20:8: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

We must recover a balance between work and rest.  Some people call it rhythm.  The point is to not get overextended in one or the other, as you live your life for Christ. Many of us do not see work as a privilege, do we?  Your mind and ability are gifts.  Do you count them as such?  Laziness is our position by default.  A recent article from USA Today spoke of how college students are earning extra money by doing what their classmates should be doing for themselves.  For instance, consider the following entrepreneurs who have seized the opportunity to make money off of those who are lazy.

Clean rooms: Nate Andorsky’s own messy room at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., inspired the student cleaning service he founded with Mike Waterman, in April 2011. He says DC3 can do 60-70 cleanings a month because one crew can clean many dorm rooms in a single trip. Cleanings start at $39.

Clean laundry.  Jeremy Young helped found HillFresh Laundry in 2011 as a Hamilton College sophomore in Clinton, N.Y. He says students are too busy to do laundry. However, Wendy Leone pays $349 a semester for HillFresh to wash and fold her 19-year-old son’s weekly laundry, because he doesn’t know how to do it himself, she says.

Pack and move. Students at Cornell University pay $38 an hour if they miss the dorm move-out deadline. Can’t meet the deadline? Students can pay $67 an hour for student-run Big Red Shipping and Storage to box up all the items in their rooms and load them in the car. Bubble wrap is extra.

Laundry-free linens. No matter how gross sheets get, some students never wash them. College moms since 2009, Beantown Bedding founders Joan Ripple and Kirsten Lambert released a solution July 30: Bedsox, biodegradable sheets that go into the compost instead of the wash, available online at $25 a set.”Basically, what it boils down to is, college students are lazy. They’d like to have clean sheets, but their moms aren’t there to wash them,” says Lambert.

Indentured slavery constituted over half of the Roman Empire in Paul’s day.  Paul instructed Christian slaves in Colossians 3: 22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

But if you found yourself in prison, a job within there is the most treasured privilege.  Not that the pay is good, but it gives you something to do, to pass the time.  I was recently told that at one of our state correctional facilities, there are 3,000 inmates, but only 300 jobs.  For some, picking up trash is a privilege to pass the time.  It doesn’t matter what the task is, it is a sense of duty and faithfulness that gives satisfaction.  It is not about what you are doing, but how you do it, and the gratitude to have the opportunity to do it.  The next time you feel like hating your job, imagine complaining to someone who has been unemployed for a year with no end in sight.

 

HOW MUST WE APPROACH OUR EXISTENCE AND PURPOSE FOR LIVING?

With such news, we wonder if we’ve maybe left out the notion that there is such thing as self maintenance and responsibility.  I visited with a mom recently who had to lay her mother to rest.  She did not know how to tell her 21 year old son of his grandmother’s passing.  She told me that he keeps odd hours, so I offered to join her in order to break the news. I asked if it was his job that caused him to sleep during the day.  She said “No.  He just stays up most of the night playing video games.”  Unfortunately, he did not attend his grandmother’s funeral.

Whatever we do, we must take an attitude of salt and light.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  Our work ethic is our opportunity to witness.  Remember: “an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.”  Andrew Carnegie once said: “The average person puts only 25% of his energy and ability into his work.”  Work is something that you did.  It was a part of life.  Today, people don’t want to work.  More toys equate to more laziness.  We need to “man-up,” as someone said.  We need to bring a work ethic to wherever we are employed.  We need to be a good steward of our time.  Maybe it means beginning our day with God.  Someone once said: “If you give God time at the start of each day, God will work out the rest of the time.”

Oprah Winfrey once said: “I don’t think of myself as a poor deprived ghetto girl who made good. I think of myself as somebody who from an early age knew I was responsible for myself, and I had to make good.”

What is our primary purpose?  The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches that our primary purpose is, “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  From time to time, I hear from older adults that they lack purpose or direction in their lives.  Each of us is called to be a good manager of his time and resources.  Life is not defined by one’s sense of productivity.  If you cannot do “x”, you can still “y.”

It was said of Savilla Frye, a church member who recently moved to California, that she took it upon herself to be a friend to others, to help out, and to pray.

Now that a person is retired or elderly, what purpose do they serve?  Let me offer some things.  Regardless of what shape you are in, you are able to …

Pray: Philippians 4:6 states: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”  One of the most loving things you can do for this church and this ministry is to pray for it.  Pray for the sick.  Pray for the lost.  In a day when so many are distracted from spending time with God, will you?  For the benefit of others?

Also, you are able to love.  Colossians 3:12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Some of us are closer to meeting the Lord than others.  Maybe there’s a relationship that needs work.  Maybe there’s some forgiving to do.  Maybe there’s some advice to give.

Mentor: What contributes to a good work ethic?  Some say good training.  Others say good parenting, or modeling.  Could you be a role model for someone?  Especially a father.  Many of us grew up watching our dads go off to work.  Sally House recently told me that she remembers when her father, Jack Gramm, a leader here at Central, would follow the snow plough to work.

When I entered the ministry, I wanted to spend time with an older minister, someone who would mentor me.  I spent seven years in the ministry before I had that opportunity.  Then I came to Central and met a man by the name of Dave Derstine.  Dave was the solo pastor at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church, then the first Director of Development for Dock Woods Community.  I spent a significant amount of time with him, asking him questions, probing his opinions.  I greatly valued my relationship with him.  Maybe God is calling you to mentor someone?

Lastly, maybe God has called you to encourage others.  Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  Too often, we define ourselves by what we do; not by what we think and what we say.  Maybe we need to get the focus off of ourselves.  We need to see that every day is a gift.  IT is not a matter of being fulfilled, but what you do in dedication to God and others.

You never know when you will pass.  Recently, I have been made aware of young people who pass.  I traveled to the Flight 93 Memorial near Bedford, PA.  While there, it was revealed that  on September 11, 2001 that by 9:30, the crew and passengers knew that they had been hijacked.  They had under thirty minutes to figure out what to do.  Todd Beamer is the man given the credit with saying: “Let’s Roll,” and storming the terrorist, overtaking the cockpit and bringing the plane down.

But as I stood listening to a local tell the story, he said: “Do you see that woman’s name down there?  Sandy Waugh Bradshaw was a 38- year-old stewardess.  Shortly before the takeover, she was talking with her husband and said: “I have to go.  My water’s boiling.”  She then got off the phone and threw scalding water on the terrorists, disrupting them, just before Todd Beamer said: “Let’s Roll.”  Another 17 minutes in the air, the plane would have reached its designated target of Washington D.C.  Who would have thought that boiling water would save the U.S. Capitol building from being destroyed and many of our lawmakers, who were in joint session, from perishing?  From God’s perspective, nothing is insignificant.  Whatever it is, it’s important to do it well.


[1] Wayne Allyn Root, “Why we are on the brink of the greatest Depression of All Time,” found at http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2012/08/23/why-are-on-brink-greatest-depression-all-time/print.

“Membership Has Its… Obligations”

The following message is based on Luke 14:1-27, and covers the topic of racism and immigration, to some degree.  It was delivered at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA on August 12, 2012

One week ago today, we heard of Wade Michael Page a forty-year-old white male who walked into a Milwaukee-area Sikh temple and opened fire, killing six before turning the gun on himself.  One news website stated that “Page was a white supremacist and leader of a band that spewed hateful lyrics… . Wade Michael Page was a man who harbored contemptible racist beliefs. He wore a tattoo that referred to white supremacy. He played in a skinhead heavy metal band. He once reportedly possessed an application to join the Ku Klux Klan. Some have said that he was confused; that he actually mistook Sikhs for Muslims.

It is sad, to hear of these situations, in a country that prides itself on welcoming all kinds within our borders- regardless of skin color or creed.  Such news stories remind us that hatred is alive and well.  A 2005 study by the U.S. Department of Justice estimated there are about 191,000 hate crimes incidents per year. The death of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin reopened painful wounds. It stands as the opposite to the life of love and tolerance that the gospel calls us to.

And there was Martin Luther King, Jr. who experienced repeated death threats he received.  His strength to persevere under trial is inspirational.  This need exists in a culture which can be hostile or apathetic to the Christian message.  Many of us have not experienced racism.  We might even struggle to define the term.  Webster’s defines racism as: “… a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.”

We want to assume that we are welcoming people, that America is a welcoming place.  But how do we look at foreigners?  Can we appreciate different cultures?  Can we share our privileges with others?  Or better yet, how should we look at our lives?  Are we grateful?  What is the church supposed to look like?  Being a follower of Jesus Christ includes renouncing of your place of privilege, as a white, as a Schwenkfelder, as a male, and the list goes on.

THE GOSPEL CHALLENGES US TO LOOK AT OURSELVES AND OTHERS FROM A PERSPECTIVE OF EQUALITY.

Luke 14 challenges us on a couple of different levels.  It speaks to us of how we look at ourselves and how we look at others.  The scene is where Jesus is called to eat at the house of one of the Pharisees.  It is the Sabbath.  They were all suspicious of Him and what He would do.  The NKJV says they were “watching Him closely.”  At the meal, Jesus is confronted with a man with dropsy.  He had a fluid problem; where large pockets would gather at different places along his body.  It was a humbling condition.  Jesus heals him; not to break the Sabbath, but to show mercy.  Acts of mercy were allowed on the Sabbath, but the Pharisees were predisposed against mercy.

He then spends time speaking on the subject of humility and how we ought to relate to others.  Jesus then embarks into the Parable of the Great Supper.  The man invited many to the supper, but there were those that gave different excuses.  All excuses were legitimate to a degree.  All had to be done.  No one buys a field or oxen without inspecting them.  Marriage is an obligation, which freed a man from military service for up to a year (Deuteronomy 24:5).  But notice that these obligations did not have a time constraint on them.  They had to do with priority.  So the servant went to the streets and lanes of the city and brought in those that would have been considered nonpreferred to the Pharisees: the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind.  One commentator noted that such represent the despised Jews who were not able to observe the traditional laws of ritual purity.  Then those outside the city, in the “highways and hedges,” would no doubt be the Gentiles.

The point is that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone who will listen; who will forsake those things which he loves to love God and His Son Jesus Christ more.  This is why Jesus states later in Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. 27 “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple.”  It is not that Jesus wants us to hate our kin, spouses, children or selves.  He just wants us to put everything in its proper perspective.  Jesus must be our first love.  Even our own race, must not come before our love for God and our love for others.  Self-abasement is key to being a follower of Christ.   One scholar noted: “Discipleship means love the Master so much that all other loves are hatred by comparison.”

I was raised in a setting that was in some ways, void of diversity, but not void of racism.  I grew up in a small town in Southwest Missouri.  Out of the 9,736 people in Nevada, Missouri, there very few minorities.  I did not realize how privileged I was to be born into a white, middle class family.  I am educated.  My name speaks of privilege.  My skin color stands for privilege.  I have no “cards” stacked against me.  I am not wrestling with stereotypes, for the most part.  The question is what do I do with that sense of privilege?  Do I use it to leverage against those that are different than me?  Or do I use it to bless others?

It was not until I went to college that my perspective changed.  In 1991, I became good friends with James Fields, an African American man from Memphis, Tennessee.  That same year, I met my wife, whose mother came to this country from Korea.  When in seminary near Boston, my best friend was Juan, a Puerto Rican man from Camden, New Jersey.  Since coming to Central, I have become friends with Revs. Ed Winslow and Alfred Duncan of the Schwenkfelder Missionary Church.  Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of interviewing these men.  In our time together, I’d like to draw from that experience.

One of the things that they pointed out was that an excessive amount of segregation contributes to racism, because you never get to know someone who is different than yourself.  Human beings are relational.  When you are not around a group, by default, you tend to be slanted in your opinion of that group.  Racism is really a matter of the heart and must be dealt with via the spirit.  It is important to get outside of our setting to dispel feelings of bigotry.

Another interesting point is that a low self esteem can contribute to a racist mentality.  If you do not believe that you’re worth much, you may transfer those feelings or feel resentment towards others who are better off than you or different than you.

Systemic racism is found in unsuspecting places.  Alfred has a family member who is a motivational speaker for inner city youth.  He knows of many a job application that got pushed aside because of an African name, or because of a persona presented. Preconceptions of who people are.  None of us have had to deal with changing our name in order to find a job.

Both men said that thoughts affect attitudes; and attitudes lead to actions.  The goal is education.  We cannot be afraid to teach the next generation how to treat others.  In MLK’s Strength to Love, there’s the story of a black basketball team whose bus accident left many injured.  Three young men needed immediate attention.  The ambulance came and said that they did not serve blacks.  Then when an alternate driver was found, the first hospital rejected them because their policy stated that it did not serve blacks.  Then by the time they reached the second hospital, all three young men had died. [1] With proper medical treatment in a timely fashion, all three would have lived.  You and I have never been subjected to such things.

Another friend of mine told me of his Irish relatives who came to this country after the potato famine in the 1850’s.  When they were scratching to survive, looking for work at the loading docks of Philadelphia, they would encounter the signs that read, “Irish Need Not Apply.”

One story is when my mother-in-law was working at a manufacturing job in Kansas City.  She was a divorced woman, raising her two daughters alone.  She spoke broken English.  It was a challenge to live in an English-speaking country.  Her coworkers once drew a cartoon character with squinty eyes and insulting captions. She recently told me that no matter how hard it got, she would not go back to Korea.

Very few of us know what it is like to have to survive in a strange place.  Here in America, we are accepted, welcomed, entitled. What are we proud of?  What do we have that we’ve not been given?

Other examples of racism around us are like those found in the movie, “The Help.”  Where young black women in the 1950’s cleaned homes for a living.  They had to use outdoor restrooms rather than those in the home.  This is an example of systemic racism.  Then there are examples of personal racism, when those who are of minority status are called slang terms, just because they are of a particular race. That leads us to another question…

WHAT IS THE BIBLICAL RESPONSE TO RACISM?

There is a Biblical response to racism.  From the Old Testament in Genesis 1:26, we know that man is created in the image of God; every human life is worth more than we can imagine, regardless of outward appearance.  God made the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3: “…in you all the families of the earth would be blessed.”  The good news of Jesus is for all, regardless of their skin color or background.

Or Ephesians 2:14 where Paul tells this racially divided congregation that

God has broken down the wall of separation and hatred between Jew and Gentile.  Or in Galatians 3:28 that those who have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.  Therefore, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” All of this means that we are to love others regardless of their race, their socio-economic class, their home/family situation.  The gospel is good news to all.  And membership has its obligations!

Christianity is a faith that brings all peoples of the world together.  Revelation 5:9 gives the song that will be sung in heaven: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”With that in mind what is your view of minorities?  How do you look at people who come to make their home here in the USA?

Jesus calls us to be the light of the world.  Racism is part of the spiritual darkness around us.  It starts with a thought, then an attitude, which leads to a behavior.  Margaret Mitchell, President & CEO, YWCA Greater Cleveland, offers ten practical ways to stop racism.  Consider each of these:

  • Learn about other people and their culture but go beyond foods and festivals.
  • Explore the unfamiliar. Put yourself in situations where you are in the visible minority.
  • Be a proactive parent. Talk to your children candidly about race.
  • Don’t tell or laugh at stereotypical jokes.
  • Think before you speak. Words can hurt whether you mean them to or not.
  • Be a role model and help educate others regarding your own experiences.
  • Don’t make assumptions because they are usually wrong and stereotypes are destructive.
  • Consider how race and racism impact your life and those around you.
  • Don’t let others get away with biased language or behavior- speak up and out.
  • Take a position against hate and take a Stand Against Racism.

If you happen to be of a race that is privileged, use your privilege to bless others.  Realize that you and I have nothing that we have not been given.  We who are blessed need to be a blessing to others.  What would it be like to be a Middle Easterner living next door to you?  What would the experience be if I were from Iran or Iraq and living in your block?  Schwenkfelders, of all people, should appreciate those suffering displacement for the sake of emotional or physical well being.  This country was founded on such things.  Would you use your blessings to bless others?  Would you see yourself as a missionary to whoever comes your way?

Maybe you have heard of the statement: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” This quote comes from Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, New Colossus, which she wrote for a fundraiser auction to raise money for the pedestal upon which the Statue of Liberty now sits. The poem did not receive much recognition and was quite forgotten after the auction.[2]  It wasn’t until her death that it became synonymous with the Statue of Liberty.

“God’s Symbol of Cleansing”

The following message is based on Acts 2:38 and is a treatment of the subject of baptism.  It was delievered on June 3, 2012

We know what landmarks are.  They are property or monuments that have functioned as helpful reminders of our past.  Mount Rushmore, reminds us of the strategic leaders in our country’s history: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.  They represent the founding of our country; it’s formative time; it’s most difficult time, and its time of international influence.  All of them represent the freedom and growth of the United States.

Landmarks serve as reminders of what has happened to us, as well as propelling us to where we’re going.  Merriam Webster defines a landmark as “an event or development that marks a turning point or a stage.”  Baptism and confirmation function as developmental landmarks in a Christian’s life.

Last week we discussed the importance of the Holy Spirit from the miracle on the Day of Pentecost.  Often referred to as the birthday of the church, Pentecost is when God gave us His Holy Spirit; 3,000 souls were saved and baptized.  Today, we look at a landmark in the Christian’s life, that by which we know as baptism.   What purpose does this “landmark” serve?  So we turn to the question, “Why be baptized or confirmed?”

BAPTISM IS A POINT OF ENTRY AND A POINT OF DEPARTURE FOR THE CHRISTIAN

For this, we turn to the early church and the testimony given to us in Acts 2.  It takes up where Peter is finishing his great sermon on the day of Pentecost.  In this sermon, he traces the history of the Jewish people and how the death of Christ should be understood.  Although it was God’s plan that Jesus go to the cross, it was also a result of the sin of the people of that time: Jewish, Roman and Gentile.  Peter was asked, “What must we do to be saved…?”  He then instructed the crowd on that day “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”

Athletes wear uniforms with pride.  The colors represent a school; the logo represents an organization.  Uniforms depict whose team you are on.  To hear of Derek Jeter speak of what it means to be a New York Yankee; when they talk about putting on the “pinstripes.”  Or when an Oakland Raider speaks of wearing the “silver and black,” you get a glimpse of how important and how prideful it is to don such a uniform. Baptism and Confirmation function as a type of uniform for the Christian.  In doing so, we are “putting on” a uniform of sorts.  Paul states in Galatians 3:27: “…for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

Confirmation is a time when those who have been baptized, confirm the faith that they were pledged to when they received their baptism as an infant.  The instrument of their confirmation is Peter’s Confession at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus asked: “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is a joy to see people dedicate their lives to Christ and participate in Christian baptism.  These ten young people come from various homes within our membership.  We’ve taken good efforts to prepare them, not just for membership in Central Schwenkfelder Church, (which they will express next week), but in the kingdom of God.  One should reflect the other. It was on this confession that Jesus said He would build His church.

BAPTISM IS A LANDMARK OF JESUS’ CLEANSING GRACE THAT WASHES AWAY THE FILTH OF OUR SIN.

In Acts 2:38, Peter preached to the crowd at Pentecost: “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 “For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God shall call to Himself.”  I’ve often wondered why Peter included baptism in the invitation.  Was there something about it that benefited these new converts?  We find the answer to such a question in the phrase: “for the remission of sins.”  Acts 2:38 contains a phrase that denotes, “on the basis of the forgiveness of sins” or “with a view to the forgiveness of sins.[1] Baptism is not a condition for salvation, but a proclamation of it.

There are several places where individual benefits are illustrated to the participant.  For instance, Jesus told His disciples that on account of His authority in the entire world: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you… (Matthew 28:19-20).”  One of the distinguishing signs concerning the advancement and growth of the church was baptism.  People need to be reminded that God has provided a way that our slates can be wiped clean and our consciences can be pure by simply coming to the Lord Jesus Christ and asking Him to forgive you and cleanse you.  1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  That is good news in today’s world.

Moreover, Paul, possibly alluding to baptism tells us in Titus 3:5: “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….”  Just as we need to be made outwardly clean, and take a shower to remove the dirt from our bodies, so baptism functions as a reminder that God can purify the heart and cleanse the spirit. Peter, drawing from the illustration of the flood in the days of Noah, states: “There is also an antitype which now saves us — baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (1 Peter 3:21).”  We may think that baptism is just something that God wants us to do for him.  Rather the opposite is true.  God wants us to participate in baptism to remind us what He has done for us!

History teaches that baptism benefits those who participate in it.  The Heidelberg Catechism, published in 1563, is a system of Scriptural teaching which came into being soon after the Protestant Reformation, in an effort to unite factions among the Luther and Reformed churches.  I happen to relish its teaching on baptism, that it confirms God’s grace to us.  It states that: “Christ has instituted this external washing with water and by it has promised that I am as certainly washed with His blood and Spirit from the uncleanness of my soul and from all my sins, as I am washed externally with water which is used to remove the dirt from my body.

Baptism also functions as that which propels us to mission.  We are reminded to live in the future as God’s people; to live out the baptized life.  These baptisms and confirmations today place these youngster’s in a minority among their peers.  You are now enlisted to be missionaries to the culture around you.  David Barrett has stated that “…in Europe and North America an average of 53,000 persons are permanently leaving the Christian church from one Sunday to the next.”[2]  Why is this?  One reason is that churches have lost sight of the good news of Jesus, that one can be cleansed from sin and reconciled to God through faith in Christ.  Unfortunately, many churches have chosen rather to peddle “…prosperity and dispense the gospel of narcissism,” as Ross Douthat states.[3]  In baptism, God’s calls us to a different way of belief and a different way of life.  We are called to share that difference to our friends and neighbors that so desperately need it.

Where is your landmark of the Christian faith?  Have you been baptized?  If so, hopefully you possess the faith that was reflected when you were, or when your parents offered you up in baptism.  Faith and the water should be connected, either as a confirmation, or as an indication.  If you have not, have you trusted Christ?  Do not withhold yourself from this sacred rite, which reminds us of the good news of Jesus Christ, that we can be made clean, whereas our sin makes us filthy morally and spiritually.  Now, baptism indicates the work of a loving God and a penitent sinner.  A wonderful landmark for all who want a changed life.


[1] Zerwick and Grosvenor, “Acts 2:38,” A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament, Fourth ed.: 356.

[2] David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2006), 3.

[3] Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012.

“What is the Church?”

The following sermon is based on Acts 2:42-47 and argues that the church is not a structure, but a community of people, committed to Christ and one another.  It was delievered on June 10, 2012 on the occasion of receiving new members.

Is the church a building; a structure of stone and metal?  Or is it something greater?  We need each other because life is not easy.  We are people, dependent on relationships.  Because God is relational, He has graciously given us something called the church, to support us and assist us in our spiritual journey.  Christianity is not an individual enterprise; not to be gone at alone; not a self help plan, but community-intentional.

The church has always been a vital part of my spiritual experience.  I grew up as a part of the First Christian Church of Nevada, MO.  My mother would knock on my bedroom door on Sunday morning, to wake me in order to get ready for worship.  I routinely said that I was “going to church.”  I fell prey to the idea that the church was a brick building with a large steeple on the corner of Washington and Austin.  But a structure is not what the church is at all.  Church is a people.  A body of baptized believers who love each other.  This morning, I want us to consider the health of the ancient church; and consider how we might emulate the things that made up the gathering of Christians so long ago.  Consider that…

THE EARLY CHURCH HAD A DYNAMIC FELLOWSHIP BASED UPON GOD’S WORD AND GOD’S LOVE, ONE FOR ANOTHER.

Our text functions as a commentary of church life after Pentecost.  It answers the question: “What did Christians do after the 3,000 came to faith?  Acts 2:42 tells us: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.”  Here we have the practice of the early church.  Their doctrine was rooted in apostolic teaching.  The church, according to Paul, was built: “…on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, (Ephesians 2:20).”

The Christian faith is not a smorgasbord of whatever philosophy you want to acquiesce.  Rather it is the historic Christian faith, handed down these last 21 centuries to form a people after God’s own heart.  You will notice that our new members will affirmatively respond to the question printed on your bulletin insert: “Do you confess your faith in the Triune God as Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and in the Holy Spirit as Sustainer?  Do you take for your rule of life the words of our Lord found in Luke 10:27: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind… and to love your neighbor as yourself.”  This means that you are giving yourself to something and someone outside of yourselves.

I was talking with a minister from the Lancaster area recently.  His church recites the Apostles’ Creed each Sunday.  The reason he gave was interesting, I thought.  He said: “We do so because we do not feel the right to make up our own theology.  The Christian faith is something that is handed-down from generation to generation of Christians.”  Afterwards, I thought: “How true.”  And yet, in our postmodern culture, god means anything and theology seems to be one of those creative interests, in which many believe what they want to accommodate their lives.  But the Christian faith is something given to us that we embrace.

They also fellowshipped around a meal, uniquely around the Lord’s Supper.  There’s something connective about food.  The early Christians ate together frequently and celebrated communion as part of the Love Feast.  There’s something about breaking bread that brings people on equal footing, causing them to be open to one another.

And they devoted themselves to prayer.  I heard it once said that prayer is the machine room of the church.  Our church is only as successful as God allows it to be.  If we don’t need God, then let us stop praying!  Prayer is verbal dependence upon God.  We have a prayer meeting on Wednesday nights in our chapel.  We usually begin with a song or two.  Then share requests.  Afterwards we pray for about a half an hour.  Then, we open up God’s word and share- usually in anticipation for Sunday morning.  Because of other conflicts, I’ve not been able to attend the prayer meeting the last two weeks.   I miss it.  And that’s how it should be.  I should miss the prayer meeting with my fellow Christian friends.

C.H. Spurgeon was showing some visitors over the Tabernacle (London). After taking them to the main part of the building, he said, “Come, and I’ll show you the heating apparatus.” Imagine their surprise, when he took them to a room where four hundred were gathered in a prayer meeting. The church with warmth of spirit must have the warmth-producing prayer meeting.[1]

What’s more is that God was doing special things as His word was being spread.  Signs and wonders refer to the miracles God allowed the apostles to perform in order to invoke belief.  God continues to do mighty things in the lives of His people.  Some get healed from cancer.  Others don’t.  Some are miraculously protected.  Others aren’t.  God knows and does all things according to His pleasure.  But the signs and wonders spoken of refer to unique miracles.

Finally, they held all things in common.  In other words, such love and consideration pervaded the church in Jerusalem that no Christian went without.  All needs were met.  No one was hungry.  All had clothing.  Everyone was cared for.  This was a communal aspect. I wonder how we might care for the underprivileged in our midst, in our area?  Could we gather items that we no longer use and have a “care and share”?  What ways might we assist those less fortunate?  I would welcome your suggestions.

In our age where privacy is a premium, how can we show this type of concern for each other?  What would Acts 2:42-47 look like in 2012?  It is a shame when church health is jeopardized with conflict or infighting.  Leaving a church should only be for two reasons: when leadership compromises doctrinal or moral integrity.  Yet people leave for all kinds of reasons: when their business did not get a bid or the minister is boring, or the music is not to my preference.  I wonder what God thinks at such things.

Personalities have not changed all that much.  I am quite sure that amongst the followers of Christ, some were more difficult than others.  But love involved a choice.  And it was fed from a love that they experienced from Christ.  They took seriously the words of Jesus found in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”  We as a congregation, “…promise to walk with you in Christian love and sympathy, and to promote, as far as in us lies, your growth in the Christian faith.”

Just this weekend, I was talking to one of my neighbors who happens to be Roman Catholic.  We were discussing the difficulties his parish is experiencing.  He said: “Church is not a building; the church is the community, the people.”  A recovery of community must happen, if the church is going to stay relevant.  The church a system of interdependent relationships where encouragement is given, sin is confessed, teaching is present and growth occurs, both spiritually and numerically.  Colossians 12 3:states that we are to: “…clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances we may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave us. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”  Dave Coryell, Director of Christian Endeavor states it this way: “God intends us to be part of a group of people that will worship Him together.  This is called a church.”[2]  We desperately need the teaching, learning, accountability, support and friendship that comes with the presence of the church in our lives.

These four elements constitute good health for the church: apostolic doctrine, fellowship, breaking bread and prayer.  Of these, the late Donald Barnhouse, pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia, wrote: “Keep those four factors alive in any church group and you have the makings of a healthy church.  Depart from any of those characteristics and you have an anemic, sick church, such as we see so much of today.”[3]

What is your attitude toward the church?  Is it just a place to satisfy your social needs?  Is it just a place that educates your faith?  Is it not both and even so much more?  Hopefully you realize that this is not ordinary organization.  No other organization that I know of has God’s commitment, as well as fosters our commitment to Him.  May we take notice of these four indicators and imitate the early church!


[1] Al Bryant in Encyclopedia of 15,000 Illustrations: Signs of the Times.

 

[2] Dave Coryell, I Accepted Christ!  Now What? (Ephrata, PA: Dave Coryell, 2001), 9.

[3] Donald Barnhouse, Acts: An Expositional Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 33.

“Why We Are, the Way We Are.”

The following sermon is based on Acts 1:4-8, 2:1-13; and Galatians 5:16-26.  It introduces the Holy Spirit as the One who enables us to live the Christian life.  This message was preached on Pentecost Sunday, May 27, 2012

A number of miles from the Los Angeles basin there is a river.  The river has been dammed up by man, and through the genius and innovation of engineers, they have put together a dam that has, in its process of working, housed electricity- hundreds of thousands of volts that are fed into the Los Angeles basin.  And if you were to go to the plant, the source, and follow the lines that come into the city, you would come to various transmission plants along the way that would be marked: “Danger.  High Voltage”  “No trespassing.  Danger.”  Hundreds of thousands of volts are available in energy for your home, but who needs a hundred thousand volts unless he wants to burn up his home?  Knowing that, the engineers have built transformers into the system- not transmitters, but transformers.  And the transformer does nothing more than break down into meaningful units just the electricity you need.

When the Holy Spirit comes into a person’s life, He functions as a bit of a transformer.  He takes the majestic truth of God and dispenses it just the way that you need, give it to you with handles that you can take and use.  It is the Spirit’s delight to take the full truth of God and make one thing meaningful to that woman, something altogether different to that man, and something different again to that fellow down there.  That’s the work of the Spirit, and He never makes a mistake.  He gives you just what you can handle.

Without the Holy Spirit, we have no power to live the Christian life.  Paul in Romans 7:18 agree with our experience: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.”  Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday.  It marks the coming of the Holy Spirit after Jesus ascended into heaven.  With Jesus’ departure, came the Holy Spirit in power.  Jesus promised in Acts 1:7 reads: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 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.”  He is the Giver of life, as the Nicene Creed teaches.  Christianity is a religion of dependence and indwelling.

What, or WHO gives rise to Christian behavior.  On this special Sunday let’s consider the One who influences us as Christians.  If we are not careful, we can see the Christian faith from only an outward perspective- a set of rules found in the Bible, with no life.  But the Holy Spirit brings a whole different identity to faith and character.  So how does one live out the positive character qualities that we think define a person who is “good?”  That’s what I’d like to talk about today in a message I’ve entitled: ““Why We Are, the Way We Are.”  We must first understand that within a Christian’s life …

THERE’S A WAR TAKING PLACE WITHIN OUR SOULS.

The Holy Spirit works in the Christian’s life.  There are two parts at work and two parties at war in how we live out our faith.  There is the flesh, where Satan is at work, tempting us, lying to us, wanting us to follow his “cleverly crafted schemes” as Ephesians 6 states.  He instigates those things which appeal to our sinful natures (James 1:14).  They are listed there in our passage.  There are various outplays of this.  The battle comes as they wage war against each other in our soul.  Verse 16: “Walk by the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”  What are the deeds of the flesh?  Paul lists them in verse 19: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”  This is why Christian belief and Christian behavior must coincide.  There is no room for hypocrisy in the Christian life, though all of us struggle with hypocrisy to one degree or another, if we were honest.

You will notice that hear listed are a wide range of outward behaviors, from the worst, demonic type of actions to those things that we tend to think aren’t that bad, to those things that are hidden within the recesses of our mind, yet provide a struggle.  Hopefully, there would not be an argument here as to what is sexually perverse, or that witchcraft is wrong in God’s eyes.  But what about selfish ambition?  It can masquerade as goal setting and achievement, but if done with the wrong motives or if it hurts people in the wake, it is wrong.  Or what about jealousy or envy?  They are pretty private until acted upon.

And then there’s the life in the Spirit.  When our spirits are governed by the Holy Spirit: from which there is a host of qualities with various outplays.  Jesus said in John 15:5: “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” So how can we live out our faith?

THE HOLY SPIRIT ENABLES US TO LIVE A TRANSFORMED LIFE.

The fruits of the Holy Spirit are available to every Christian.  God’s Sprit is the One who places these qualities within us and motivates us to show them. You might notice that these qualities are both related to a personal disposition that God give us, as well as skills for how we relate to others. All this comes through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.  It is good to memorize these: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.  It is good to memorize these.  I was at one of our prayer meetings recently and one of the attendees had these memorized.  She prayed, “Father, give us more, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”  These are wonderful, admirable qualities for all of us, antithetic to the deeds of the flesh as stated earlier.

Let’s look at a few of these.  Consider patience.  The New King James uses the word, “long-suffering.”  “Long-suffering,” is not widely practices in our culture today.  We want things now and we want them a certain way.  To wait for something or to have things differently than one wishes is a cause of disappointment.  We believe we’re entitled whether that be material possessions or relationships. Calvin Coolidge said: “”There is no dignity quite so impressive and no one independence quite so important, as living within your means.”  Long-suffering is the ability to put up, to adapt, so the outward does not kill you.

Then there’s goodness.  You know, good people stand out.  I’m not talking about the regular, run of the mill “good,” the good that is tends to be labeled upon everyone at their funeral.  I’m talking about goodness that stands out.  I remember Chester Whitehead, who was my barber growing up.  His haircuts were not what made an impression on me.  Rather it was his integrity.  He was an elder at my home church.  He loved Jesus Christ.  Our church went through some troubling times, but Chester led our congregation by being an example of goodness.

Then there’s joy.  The Greek term is chara, which can denote gladness or happiness. Happiness is tied to outward circumstances, whereas joy is an inner satisfaction regardless of the conditions.  One can have joy, regardless of their job status.  One may have joy, even though they’ve lost someone very special to them through death.  Joy is attainable to the one who has experienced adversity.  James 1:2 states: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.

All of this is related to the third person of the Trinity, working within us.  God gives us His Holy Spirit before we trust Christ, for we never could trust Christ without the assistance of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said in John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.

Christians have the Holy Spirit.  That‘s the way we know God and know about God.  As a believer, your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  He is the catalyst in our communion with God.

We need one who restrains us; one who convicts us; one who counsels us.  When our car breaks down, we call AAA and they send someone to help us. When our computer won’t work, we call the expert (Jeff Ost).  When our body hurts, we go see the doctor.  When Jesus ascended into heaven, He sent the Helper, to assist us and the church, that we might live out the Christian faith with power.

What’s also important to note that the Holy Spirit convicts us when we do wrong or prods us when we ought to do something in accordance with the gospel  He is active in our daily lives.  Our culture tends to look at guilt in a negative way, and avoids it at all cost, even when our behavior would warrant some guilt.  We live in a guiltless society because many consciences are seared.  But only God can restore the human conscience.  David prayed in Psalm 51:10: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”  Confessions is often called, “Agreeing with the Holy Spirit.”  He redirects us when we’re going down the wrong path and steers to the right one.

If you are a Christian, you have the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9-11).  If you have yet to decide to follow Christ, the Holy Spirit is available to you today.  God the Father gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.  In Luke 11:11 Jesus states: “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 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 the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  If you need more peace in your life, why don’t you ask Him?  If you need more joy in your life, why not ask Him.  Why not ask for the One who can bring His truth into your soul and change you forever?

What is Marriage?

The following message is based upon Genesis 2:18-25 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-17 and deals with the subject of marriage, gay marriage and how the church should respond.  It was delievered at the Central Schwenkfelder Church on May 20, 2012

Today marks the beginning of a new sermon series on current events.  It was Karl Barth who said that that a mark of a good preacher is to have a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.  A topic that has come to the forefront of the news, especially over the last two weeks is on the subject of marriage.  All one has to do is look at the latest cover of Newsweek magazine to notice that the question of who should get married; marriage rights, and related issues are in the news.

Normally, I would not venture into these waters so as to avoid appearing to promote a political agenda.  As always, there is a risk of being misunderstood on such things when a minister wants to be relevant on social issues, whether it be gay marriage, abortion, etc.  So is there a Christian response to these recent happenings in the news?  I think so.  The following is my response.  I’d like to first ask…

WHAT IS MARRIAGE?

God designed humankind as male and female, as we read in the first couple of chapters of the book of Genesis.  And when He designed our first parents, they were created in His image with a special ability to cohabitate and procreate.  Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  More specifically, before He brought the woman to the man, he looked upon the man and saw that he had a need.  Genesis 2:18 records: “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’”  And when he received his mate, perfectly matched for all of his needs, emotional, physical and spiritual, he said: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”   This naming action implied a special covenant relationship that is foundational to our understanding of marriage; one man, one woman, helping, caring for and loving each other for the peace and propagation of society.

Then, as if we needed to be given the purpose for this covenant, verse 24 states: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.  The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”  It is not to say that everyone is supposed to experience marriage, but that is the environment in which romantic love flourishes, commitment is established, perseverance is practiced and children are to be born.  There is a synergy involved; a mixture, a bringing together of two complimentary parts to form a perfect union; such was the case with our first parents.  Any other arrangement for romantic love taints the original design that God gave us; whether it is heterosexual immorality, an adulterous affair, homosexuality, polygamy, incest or anything else.  All of these are unnatural.  God’s design of marriage between one man and one woman is the natural choice.    Deviating from God’s design and provision for romantic love invites all sorts of unnecessary pain and heartache.  With this is our backdrop, we must also ask…

WHAT IS HOMOSEXUALITY?

For the record, I have gay friends.  I have friends who have gay children and I have friends who have gay siblings. And you do, too.  I think for one, to be reminded that the Scripture is clear that the practice of homosexuality is something of which God does not approve, from such places as Leviticus 18:22: “‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.”  Such sin is coupled with other sexual sins that God finds detestable.

In the New Testament, homosexuality is part of a broader issue of sexual immorality that is to be abandoned by the Christian, alongside of adultery and heterosexual promiscuous behavior.  For instance, Ephesians 5 tells us that immorality must not be named among Christians. Paul writes: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.  But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.”  Or in Colossians 3:5 tells us that we must lay aside these sins. “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.  You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.”

As I said before, homosexuality is one example of sexual immorality.  It is a sin, just as heterosexual sex outside of marriage is; just as adultery is, just as pedophilia is, etc.  Paul goes on to express in 1 Corinthians 6:9 states that those who practice shall not inherit God’s kingdom.  The English Standard Version reads: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.   And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Homosexuality was something practiced widely in the first century Greco-Roman world. Fourteen out of the first fifteen Roman Emperors practiced homosexuality.  For instance, when Nero was emperor, He had taken a boy called Sporus and had him castrated.  He then married him with a full marriage ceremony and took him home in procession to his palace and lived with him.  When Nero was eliminated and Otho came to the throne, one of the first things he did was take possession of Sporus.

I visited Corinth in 2010 and saw the bathhouse where male and female prostitutes would designate themselves with a shaved head and a greased body, advertising their availability to the next client/worshipper. But then notice that he says: “…and such were some of you.”    Paul taught that repentance was possible then; it is today as well.  To say that this isn’t possible is to tell those struggling with same-sex attraction that they might as well give up.  So many want to see their sexuality as their identity.  But should any of us be identified by merely our sexuality?  Isn’t that seeing ourselves as so one dimensional?  I am not defined by my heterosexuality.  Rather, I’m defined by who I am in Christ; and I’ve been blessed to be a male, a husband, a father, a son, a pastor,etc.

In today’s rhetoric on the subject, not many talk about the health risks of the gay lifestyle.  Many want to point out that their gay friends have been together for years of monogamous love.  According to a Madison and McWater study, Homosexuals have an 83% infidelity rate.  Another study by Dr. John Diggs, M.D., stated that monogamy was extremely rare for gay couples. In addition, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has said as recently as 2010:

“The data indicate that rates of HIV infection among gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) are more than 44 times higher than rates among heterosexual men and more than 40 times higher than women. Rates of syphilis, an STD that can facilitate HIV infection and, if left untreated, may lead to sight loss and severe damage to the nervous system, are reported to be more than 46 times higher among gay men and other MSM than among heterosexual men and more than 71 times higher than among women.[1]

Is this a part of God’s plan?  With God’s revealed word, confirmed with the stated risk factors, I think the answer is plain.  Some want to say: “Are not homosexuals born with that predisposition?  Officially, to date, there are no biological factors, contributing to same-sex attraction; possibly environmental factors, but no biological factors are known to date.

So what are we to make of gay marriage? While I believe that one ought to have the opportunity to visit whoever they would like in the hospital; or leave their assets to whom they want.  But to call it marriage is unnatural and runs contrary to God’s design.  To put it as Pastor Kevin DeYoung does: “In our age of hyper-tolerance we try to avoid stigmas, but stigmas can be an expression of common grace.  Who knows how many stupid sinful things I’ve been kept from doing because I knew my peers and my community would deem it shameful.  Our cultural elites may never consider homosexuality shameful, but amendments that define marriage as one man and one woman serve a noble end by defining what is as what ought to be.  We do not help each other in the fight for holiness when we allow for righteousness to look increasingly strange and sin to look increasingly normal.”[2]  Gay marriage is innovative.  By allowing same sex couples to marry, are we not creating a new brand of human relationships?  Should we be creating new forms of human relationships recognized by law?  Is this not heading down a slippery slope?  What about polygamy?  What about incest?  What about bestiality?  As heinous as these are, do they not also deviate from the form which God has given us?

WHAT DOES OUR CULTURE SAY CONCERNING HOMOSEXUALITY?

You would have to be asleep to not notice that we are living in a culture that is constantly changing.  Our sense of morality is eroding and there is a loosening of self restraint.  Our changing culture is moving in a different direction.  Never before have traditional views on sexuality been challenged.  Cohabitation is commonplace.  Marriage for life is a rarity.  What is acceptable to one generation and setting is unacceptable to another.  Starting in 2003, with the case of Lawrence vs. Texas, overturning sodomy laws, followed by the Massachusetts Supreme Court making gay marriage legal, there has been a gradual acceptance of the gay lifestyle.  What would have been unheard of 25 years ago; now several states in the United States have laws allowing for gay marriage.  As of 2012, same-sex marriage is recognized in New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, Washington and the District of Columbia. New Jersey lawmakers recently passed a gay marriage bill, but the bill was vetoed by the governor. In contrast, just two weeks ago, North Carolina became the 30th state in our union to amend their constitution with a definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman.

What influenced this change in society?  Princeton Sociologist Kwame Appiah suggests: “If you ask the social scientist what has produced this change, they will… give you a historical account that concludes with a sort of perspectival shift.  The increasing presence of “openly gay” people in social life and in the media has changed our habits.  Over the last thirty or so years, instead of thinking about the private activity of gay sex, many Americans started thinking about the public category of gay people.”[3]  The challenge for the Christian is to adapt, rather than conform to a culture that is moving away from Judeo-Christian values.

This is not only an American political issue.  It is something that is challenging the church of Christ in other parts of the world.  Just this week, I met with a missionary who serves street people in a major European city.  Among them are the transvestites who live sexually confused lives.  He told me that such men: “…are not happy.  They feel trapped and oppressed; caged with no way of escape.  He told me that gays are in bondage to a lie.  God has given us powerful feelings, emotions and desires.  We try to fill them with other things.  We’ve been duped into believing Satan’s lies.”  Jesus called him the deceiver, “…the father of all lies, a murderer from the beginning. (John 8:44).”  He recycles his ideas, always asking: “Did God really say that?” as he did in the Garden of Eden to Eve and in the wilderness to Jesus.  What a disservice we do to those struggling with such issues if we stay silent.  Woe to the church that allows those struggling to go the way of destruction without saying something!

I was ordained by a Christian conference that made the following statement: “Neither individual Christians, nor ministers of the Word of God, nor congregations of the Lord Jesus Christ, may take away from or lessen God’s prohibition of and warnings against the practice of homosexuality.”[4]

In addition, the Church of England Evangelical Council, which is a conservative arm of the Church of England, states: “Because marriage is instituted by God, neither the Church nor the state is authorized to re-define it.  A relationship between two men or two women cannot therefore be a marriage and neither the state nor the Church should describe it as such.”[5]  The Christian stance on the issue is over 2,000 years old and spans the world- it is not confined to the 2012 presidential election.  For the record, Central’s marriage policy states, among other things: “Believing marriage to be the sacred union of one male and one female, under no circumstances, will a same-sex ceremony take place at Central Schwenkfelder Church.”[6]

HOW ARE WE TO MINISTER TO HOMOSEXUALS?

That is a good question.  I believe I can love someone, without agreeing with their lifestyle.  I can treat a person with dignity, regardless of their identity or sexual orientation.  We must love them with the love of Christ.  But part of that love is being honest about what Scripture has to say concerning homosexual behavior.  Allowing someone to fall off a cliff without telling them that the bridge is out, is not loving, is it?  Thus, we would never want to approve of any promiscuous lifestyle, whether it is homosexuality, adultery or heterosexual promiscuity, which leads to unnecessary pain and heartache.  But in our conversations on the issue, we can be loving, honest, willing to listen, civil and prayerful.

How can we minister to gay people, without being for gay marriage?”  For one, we must draw a difference between same sex attraction and same sex behavior.  Maybe you’re struggling with same sex attraction.  Don’t believe the lie that you were made for this.  God can give you the strength to overcome these urges, as you put your trust in Christ Jesus.  Or if you know of someone who struggles with same sex attraction, you can come and talk with me; we can pray, I will give you resources that might help you in your concern.  Secondly, to recognize that mistreatment of someone just because they are different than you, is not Christian, nor does it represent the gospel.  Rather, we must show love and dignity to all.

I conclude with something that Pastor Bill said last week in his sermon on Deborah, the Old Testament prophetess from the book of Judges.  Deborah was one who was immersed in life, a mother and a wife.  And she spoke God’s truth.  She was God’s representative for a strategic time.  Her life was a testimony that God intervenes when we honor His authority and obey His commands.  I encourage you to do that as you think not only about gay marriage, but about any social matter.  The purpose of your life is to glorify God.  You and I glorify Him by honoring His authority and obeying His commands.  Let us have the mind of Christ on these issues.  May He give us the grace to do so.  Amen.


[2] Kevin DeYoung, “Five Reasons Christians Should Continue to Oppose Gay Marriage,” found at http://www.christianpost.com.

[3] Kwame Anthony Appiah, Cosmopolitanism, (New York: W.W. Norton, 2006), 77.

[4] Statement of the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, “Homosexuals and the Christian Fellowship,” found at http://jswat.net/cccc/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/PPLH_-_Homosexuals_and_the_Fellowship.pdf.

[6] “Wedding Policy for Central Schwenkfelder Church,” approved by Church Council on March 16, 2009.

“The Value of Music in Worshipping God”

The following message is based on 1 Samuel 16:14-23, explaining what church music is designed for: to assist us in our worship of God.  It was delivered on May 6, 2012

Music is powerful.  It places us at different times in our lives.  I can remember as a youngster that I used to hum a tune after I prayed, to calm my spirit so I could go to sleep.  Someone at prayer meeting on Wednesday spoke of how Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City,” placed him back in his service days.  Still another spoke of how she would come to church during a difficult time in her life and the hymns especially touched her.  Just recently, a church member remarked how Dottie and Karen’s Black’s rendition of “My Tribute,” especially ministered to her during her time of loss.  Today is Choir recognition Sunday.  We are reminded that sacred music does so many things for us.  One of Central’s strong points has been its music program.  We are grateful to everyone involved in our music program.  You minister to us every Sunday.

In our text for this morning, we see the value of music to the soul.  Saul was tormented by an evil spirit; the Hebrew is vague.  It could mean a harmful or distressing spirit, as the New King James puts it.  Regardless of what type of spirit it was, the sending of it was part of God’s judgment against Saul because he disobeyed the Lord by not destroying the Amelekites in chapter 15.  Saul feared people more than he feared God.  The church father Tertullian said: “God grants the devil power to inflict trials on humans in order to bring about their sanctification or punishment.”[1]

In the Old Testament, God’s Holy Spirit rested only on Prophets, Priests and Kings.  In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit inhabits all believers in Jesus Christ. God’s Holy Spirit had left Saul to reside upon David, Israel’s future king.  As part of God’s sovereign provision, David was appointed the court musician for Saul.  As he played on the lyre, Saul’s heart was put at rest and he was able to function.  1 Samuel 16:23 tells: “So it came about whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul, David would take the harp and play it with his hand; and Saul would be refreshed and be well, and the evil spirit would depart from him.”  This morning, I’d like us to consider a couple of aspects of this portion of our worship experience.  First of all,

MUSIC IS ANOTHER MEANS TO PRESENT GOD’S WORD.

The music that David played would undoubtedly be the psalms written from the time of Moses.  The Psalms were Israel’s hymn book.  Many were written by the Sons of Korah, a special designated group that led the people of God in worship.

There’s a lesson in good church music.  There’s a text that appears within the selections, but also in the bulletin itself.  Donald and Sally are teachers by calling; you will find them employing that approach on a continual basis.  Just like the sermon, our challenge is to be in a position to receive the message in the music, regardless if it fits our style.  Music draws intellectual and emotional responses.  Some music is meant to be lively and rhythmic; other music is meant to be smooth and legato.  Music is meant to invoke a response in us.

There is value to singing the Doxology, the Gloria Patri and other regular numbers.  Music affords us an ability to share, as well as listen and appreciate.  Music is a gift.  There are two sides to musical element of our service.  Our choirs present God’s message in song, whether that be Cherubs, Juniors, Dorians Bells, Celebration Brass, Chancel Choir or Brasswinds.  Our musicians help us feel the themes.  It might not be a wow song.  Or your sense of wow is not another’s sense of wow.  That’s why we aim to have an eclectic program.  There is a goal in mind: to minister God’s message to you through music.  The more styles we’re presented with, the more capable we become of understanding and appreciating other musical forms.  And, the more we appreciate, the more we are likely to be moved and inspired.  So, be adventurous.  Expand yourself.

The more we understand the closer we become to our Creator.  We gravitate to what we know.  Music affects the soul.  Music is another way that we can “…be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:1-2).”  Music touches us on an emotional level.  That is what the arts do.  They touch the soul.  Personally, when Keith Maurer sings: “Bow the Knee,” I can’t help but become emotional.   Recently, I had the privilege of attending the Vincent Van Gogh exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Van Gogh struggled with mental illness most of his life.  He would read Shakespeare and become so bothered that he had to go outside and meditate on a blade of grass.  Nature was his “music.”  Unfortunately, he was a troubled man and took his own life when he was just in his mid 30’s.

But if we are not careful, we fall prey to thinking that music is meant for entertainment, just as the sermon or the presentation may be for entertainment.  So, if we’re not entertained, we leave disappointed.  The sermon and music don’t have entertainment as their goal.  They might contain portions of entertainment, but that is not what they are there for.

And we can be wrongly influenced by music.  Some popular music has the foulest messages; many of which are overtly sexual and violent in their meaning.  Jimi Hendrix, the iconic guitarist of the 1960’s once stated: “Music is a spiritual thing of its own. You can hypnotize people with music and when you get them at their weakest point you can preach into the subconscious mind what we want to say.”  What are the values, ideas and philosophies being presented to the minds of our young people?  Parents’ Music Resource Center found five major themes that rock music returns to repeatedly: rebellion, substance abuse, sexual promiscuity and perversion, violence and the occult. These themes are blatant and recurring. Our minds are like computers: garbage in; garbage out.   In contrast, we try to marry the text to the music.  Look for it and use it as another means of receiving God’s word.

Moreover, our culture has made religion such an intensely personal and individual matter that we make it intensely self-centered and void of a sense of community.  Dr. Soong-San Rah in his book The Next Evangelicalism states: “While there are times when we should express our personal adoration of God, should the subject of the majority of our songs be the great I rather than the great ‘I Am?’ Worship, which should be the ascribing of worth to an Almighty God, can become an exercise of attaining personal self-fulfillment.”[2]

In contrast, worship music is meant to exalt God.  Psalm 108 states: “My heart is steadfast, O God; I will sing, I will sing praises, even with my soul. 2 Awake, harp and lyre; I will awaken the dawn! 3 I will give thanks to Thee, O LORD, among the peoples; and I will sing praises to Thee among the nations.  For Thy lovingkindness is great above the heavens; and Thy truth reaches to the skies. 5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and Thy glory above all the earth.”

MUSIC INVOLVES US.  IT IS ONE OPPORTUNITY TO PARTICPATE IN THE WORSHIP EXPERIENCE.

Music is also an opportunity for us to add something to the worship experience.  Worship is meant to be a participatory exercise.  You’re not coming into this “auditorium,” to see a show.  You are here to offer up something to God.  Colossians 3:16 is a directive: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

Music has always played a role in the worship of God.  The Sons of Korah were musicians meant to aid the Israelites in their worship. In addition, Jesus sang a hymn with his disciples before He went to the Mount of Olives, as part of their Passover observance (Matthew 26:30).  So we ought to give God our best when participating in it.  Are there some practical suggestions for this?

John and Charles Wesley were two brothers that felt called of God to bring about a renewal movement within Anglicanism, what later came to be known as Methodism.  Both loved music and Charles Wesley wrote many of our favorite hymns like “”And Can It Be That I Should Gain?” “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today,” “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing”  “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing” and “Rejoice, the Lord is King.” In 1761, the following rules were singing were written by John Wesley[3]:

  • Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.
  • Sing with passion and courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength.
  • Sing modestly. Do not bawl, as to be heard above, or distinct from, the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
  • Sing in time. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before, not stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
  • Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

Dr. Sam Logan, former President of Westminster Seminary and my advisor at Biblical Seminary, is quite animated when he sings in a worship service.  He pours himself into the experience.  You come away being inspired by watching him sing hymns.  There’s nothing wrong with getting into it.  Fred Seipt, avid Penn State football fan, once said: “Why is it that we can get excited for a football game and not about God on Sunday morning!?”  That’s a very good point.  Offer to God your best and get into it, as God enables us.


[1][1] Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Vol. IV, p. 263.

[2] Soong-Chan Rah, The Next Evangelicalism (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2009), 35-36.

“How to Listen to a Sermon”

The following message is based on 2 Timothy 3:14-17 and argues for the value of listening to a sermon with worshipful intentions, for selfish and selfless reasons.  It was delivered on April 29, 2012.

It pays to listen.  Sometimes our lack of listening gets in the way of our understanding.  “A woman had just returned to her home from an evening of church services, when she was startled by an intruder. She caught the man in the act of robbing her home of its valuables and yelled: ‘Stop! Acts 2:38!’ (Repent and be baptized, in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins may be forgiven.)

The burglar stopped in his tracks. The woman calmly called the police and explained what she had done.  As the officer cuffed the man to take him in, he asked the burglar:  “Why did you just stand there? All the old lady did was yell a Scripture to you.”

‘Scripture?’ replied the burglar. ‘She said she had an Ax and Two 38s!’”

Sometimes our lack of listening gets in the way of our understanding. Listening was a key part of Timothy’s spiritual formation.  Notice what Paul wrote to him near the end of his life, around 63 A.D.  “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”  Those verses say a lot about the value of listening and understanding God’s word.  Listening is a struggling art these days.  Our ability to listen is tied to our attention span.

Our attention span is often linked to our desire for entertainment. Are we putting ourselves into a position to listen to God, especially in the context of the worship service?  Today and next Sunday, I want to speak on the value of two aspects of worship, that of the sermon and that of music.  Today, I’d like to ask you a number of rhetorical questions that have to do with the all important spiritual exercise of listening to a sermon.

First, what is a sermon? 

My own, homespun definition is the following: A sermon is a message from God, derived from His word, meant to inspire, educate and inform us in our faith.   A sermon is different than any other type of presentation.  It takes unique skills to deliver a sermon.  Seminary teaches the minister how to accurately divide the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:14ff).  Knowledge of Hebrew and Greek is needed as well as exegetical skills, how the words relate and flow, Systematic theology puts the text into the bigger picture of what we understand about God.  Because there is such a thing as false doctrine and there continues to be false doctrine.  And yet, we live in an evil age that says that objective truth does not exist.

A good sermon is derived from the word, and should speak into our lives.  But there are times when we are distracted and not engaged with the text or the speaker.  Sometimes we are our own obstacles to spiritual growth.  We need to have the right attitude going into worship and the sermon time; an openness, hunger, thirst, anticipation for what God will say. Psalm 119:18 states “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your law.”  When we come to worship, our attitude plays into our ability to listen more than anything.  One dedicated church member was having a discussion with her youngster about why they had to attend the worship service.  “Honey,” she said, “that’s my lesson.”  A sermon is a lesson, and listening to a sermon is an act of worship whereby you are giving your attention to God, by listening to the minister, whoever they may be.  The right attitude is that we need to be humble, teachable.  There should be no trace of pride or arrogance on the part of the speaker or the listener.  We also need to be encouraged, but we also need to be confronted, rebuked, corrected and trained, so as to be equipped to be the person God wants us to be and to do the things He wants us to do.  The Lord wants to refine us through the message.

How does one listen to a sermon? 

Learn to get past the speaker.  I am not the world’s most gifted speaker.  But I am your pastor.  Look past my faults to listen to/for God.  Don’t get sidetracked or distracted by my accent, the baby crying in the third row, your upset stomach, or the loud outfit of your neighbor.  Strain to hear.  Sit on the edge of your seat.  Take notes.  Take 2-3 things away from the message.  If you are here to be entertained, you will leave disappointed.  I am a poor entertainer; God has not called me to entertain.  There are entertaining preachers.

Some make it their primary goal to make you feel good; others want to entertain; still some mark a good sermon by whether or not a tear was shed.  All of that may happen within a sermon, but that should not be the main goal.  The main goal of preaching is to point the listeners to Jesus.  John Calvin said: “It matters not what you say or I say, but what God says.”

Why do we listen to a sermon?

Instruction, reproof, correction, training in righteousness.  All of these are good.  We need these!  At my last church in Kansas, I had a very astute farmer visit my home for prayer one afternoon.  My 100 lbs. Black Labrador Retriever was going crazy with excitement when Frances approached my gate one day.  The dog jumped up on him.  He looked at me and said: “Dogs are wonderful.  But if they are not trained, they can be a nuisance.”  Humans are the same way.  We have wonderful capabilities, but if we close our hearts and minds to the training of God’s spirit, we become spiritual misfits.  Train yourself to listen to anyone.

Let me give you a couple of reasons why we listen: First of all, listen for the soul’s renewal.  As you receive the sermon, listen that you may be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Romans 12:1-2: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Sermon content, if it is based in Scripture, is meant to transform your mind and soul to the image of Christ.  Don’t let your mind wander.  Dr. Phil Ryken, former pastor of Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia and now President of Wheaton College states: “(Listening to a sermon)  is a prime opportunity for us to hear his voice.  We should not insult His majesty by looking at the people around us, thinking about the coming week, or entertaining any of the thousands of other thoughts that crowd our minds.  God is speaking, and we should listen.”[1]

Secondly, listen so as to learn how to be a missionary to those around you.  Maybe God wants to teach you something; remind you of something?  The Thought for Mediation is carefully selected so that you might take away a thought from the message to meditate on throughout the week.  Turn it into a prayer: “Lord, help me to….”

Thirdly, listen with the Bible open.  Be a Berean.  Acts 17:11 gives a great testimony of those from Berea: “Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, [a]for they received the word with [b]great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.”  Listen to judge what we are saying is found in the book!  That is why we should keep our Bibles open during the message, so as to interact with the text as we listen.  And we should write down those things that especially interest or spark us to remember.

What can you do for me as your “preacher?”

  • You can get a good night’s rest.  Prepare for the morrow, as Charles Spurgeon used to tell his London congregation in the late 19th century.
  • Come with your Bible.  Get familiar with YOUR Bible.  Do you realize that only 16% of church-attendees read their Bible on a daily basis?
  • Come, ready to hear; eager to learn; open to what God would show you.
  • Pray for me. Pray that I might accurately present the truth; that I might think and communicate God’s word clearly.

Listening has selfish benefits, but is also a selfless act; that is why we consider listening to the sermon as an act of worship towards God.  We benefit from giving Him our undivided attention.  We also show Him that He is of immense, indescribable importance.  Jim Reapsome, in an article that appeared in Homemade magazine stated that “Teenage prostitutes, during interviews in a San Francisco study, were asked: “Is there anything you needed most and couldn’t get?” Their response, invariably preceded by sadness and tears was unanimous: “What I needed most was someone to listen to me. Someone who cared enough to listen to me.”


[1][1] Phil Ryken, “How to Listen to a Sermon,” http://www.reformation21.org/articles/how-to-listen-to-a-sermon.php.

Serving as a Leader Within the Church of Christ

The following is a testimony shared by Carl B. Sensenig, former Moderator of the Central Schwenkfelder Church. Carl shared this testimony on Sunday, April 15, 2012 at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA.  Carl is also the President and Principal Advisor of Sensenig Capitol Advisors.  See www.sensenigcapital.com.

When Pastor David called me a few days ago to ask if I would consider giving a testimony regarding his sermon topic today, I think deep down he knew I would not say no. After all he is very good at that…and I think it is one of the pre-requisites for being an effective pastor. I kiddingly told him, as I had told someone else recently, that I was practicing the fine art of saying “no,” and it’s not easy! And let’s be honest, we can tire in our service, pulling back or stop serving altogether. But this is when we need to remind ourselves of God’s goodness, and what he has done for us in Christ, and become re-energized to serve Him. We both agreed that sometimes we do need to decline different requests in order to maintain a truly healthy balance in our lives. But there are other times, and in our gut we often know when those times are, when we must step up to serve others, and serve the Lord. I must humbly admit to you, I had that feeling roughly seven years ago when I was asked to serve as vice moderator. Our church was going through a rather difficult stretch at that particular time.

As I mentioned in an article in the recent March newsletter….In James 1:17, God’s Word tells us that every good gift comes from Him. God encourages us to give back some of our time and talents so we can truly make a difference in others’ lives – within Central, the surrounding community, and, possibly on a global scale. But in the end, the lives that are touched the most are, quite often, our own. I think that’s why God gives gifts to his people – not primarily as a means of fulfillment for us as individuals, but for the maturing of his church.

Again in the newsletter, I mentioned that early on I became involved with the Potpourri Sunday School class. We had a small team of teachers and Fran Witte asked if I would be willing to teach one Sunday. “Me, are you serious?” Reluctantly I agreed to just one “subbing” Sunday and of course it became many Sundays over the ensuing years. As the saying goes, it was time to take the ball and run with it. Little did I know at the time that I was about to begin to appreciate the unmistakable joy of serving. And you know, serving more often than not, is primarily behind the scenes. As a teacher it’s preparing for 3-4 hours or more for a one-hour class….and, it’s in the actual preparation where we are drawn closer to God.

Having served as Central’s Moderator for the past five years, the opportunity and privilege to serve the Lord has taken on even greater meaning for me personally. As you might expect, the more you put into something the more you get out of it, especially when serving and strengthening one’s faith. This is true whether it’s serving on a board, a committee, or in countless other areas such as children’s ministry, greeting visitors, giving rides to seniors, writing cards of encouragement, or joining in a corporate prayer meeting on a Wednesday evening here at church; the list goes on and on! But through serving, the opportunity to work closely with so many of you has been an incredible blessing to me. Whether it’s the time you give or the amazing talents you have in all sorts of endeavors, I am constantly reminded of how very blessed we are as a church and in all the different ways we can serve and please Him. At the heart of these many blessings are our Pastors, David, Bill, and Julian, who with their collective gifts lead us in our true purpose, that of striving to build God’s Kingdom.

I mentioned earlier about how when asked, I felt I knew I should agree to serve as vice moderator. Then just a couple of years later many of the reasons behind this came into a sharper focus. One of the important benefits of endeavoring to discern God’s vision and mission for Central was – the process itself. In Church Council we were led to a story of Nehemiah. As Charles Swindoll says about Nehemiah, he was a prayer-filled leader who sought God’s leadership in his life. And from him we learn four important lessons about leadership:

First, expect opposition– when the threats came he combined prayers to God with preparations to defend himself and his workers, and when the opposition came he was prepared.

Second, keep a positive perspective – Nehemiah never lost his motivation or his confidence in his powerful God. He defeated his enemies with the glass always being half full, not half empty.

Third, fight your battles with prayer – Woven throughout his personal journey are brief prayers: “Then I prayed to the God of heaven…” (2:4); “Hear us, O our God, for we are despised…” (4:4). Nehemiah fought his battles on his knees.

And fourth, stay close to others – After he inspired his group of volunteers with his vision for the new wall being built in Jerusalem, he stayed close to them. They worked with him and prayed with him and stood guard with him during the entire construction process.

Nehemiah, the prayer-filled leader is a prime example for us all as to how we may better serve the Lord by working together with a strong unity of purpose.

And so, the opportunities are everywhere if we just step up and take advantage of the privilege to serve our Lord. I believe it starts with a true recognition of our mission, to LOVE GOD, SERVE OTHERS, & GROW DISCIPLES.

Serving Others, Serving Christ

The following message was delivered at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA on April 16, 2012.  It presents the importance of service and leadership in the local church, based on Jesus actions of washing the disciples’ feet, John 13.

What if you were asked to work as a bus boy?  Everyone knows it is not a very glamorous job.  You clean up peoples’ messes.  You do the dishes.  The tips are not for you.  You are just to “clean up.”  Yet, if you take that roll out of the picture, the place is mess!  How many times have you walked into a restaurant, have found the table that you want, only to find that it needs to be cleaned and cleared!?  A bus boy holds an important and well-needed job!  Could you be a bus boy?  Could you be a bus boy if God asked you?

Probably the first century’s equivalent to being a bus boy was a household slave.  You job was to show hospitality, among other duties, to guests, which included washing their feet upon their entrance to the home.

With this in mind, I would like to encourage those of you being installed today, as you will be serving others by taking an active role in the ministries of our church.  This morning, I’d like to briefly discuss service and leadership with you from John 13.

Our context this morning is at the Passover meal where Jesus is eating with His disciples.  He has revealed that He will go to the cross and give His life.  He has talked of His Father’s kingdom and of His return.  Now He does something most unusual and unexpected.  He gets a towel and basin and begins washing their feet.

Now washing feet in the first century would be different from washing one’s feet in the 21st century.  It was a pedestrian society.  You walked everywhere.  If you wore shoes, they weren’t Sketchers, they were sandals!  It was a much dirtier scene.  I wondered how long it would take Jesus to wash 12 peoples’ feet.  Each person has two.  He probably spent several minutes at each person.  It was the job of the house slave.  Moreover, it is an intimate situation.  Feet hold no secrets.  There are calluses.  It’s germy.  It stinks.  Here is the Son of God, the Lord of the universe, doing the work of a slave.  It is the attitude that nothing is beneath Him.  There is no work that is too menial.  There is no task too demoralizing or too difficult.  In this action is an attitude of humility and willingness.

Peter, being rather impulsive, reacts to Jesus beginning to do this task.  He states: “You shall never wash my feet!”  If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.”  Simon Peter said to Him: “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!”

Why is Jesus adamant about washing the disciples’ feet?  Foot washing is a picture of a couple of things.  It is a picture of cleansing, possibly related to baptism.  Jesus spoke of being clean.  Baptism signifies our being made clean and forgiven by the blood of Christ. It might also be an allusion to Jesus’ husband like role toward the church, as we are told in Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

But what cannot be denied is that Jesus takes on the roll of a servant.  Being a common form of hospitality in the first century; kind of like serving appetizers when you go to someone’s home for a meal, only servants would wash the feet of their master’s or the household guests.[1]  Jesus states in verse 12:”Do you now that I have done to you?  You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.  Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.”  The example is that of a servant.  One commentator states: “The humility of Christ is a patter for His disciples.  Instead of aspiring to dominate, they must be eager to serve.”[2]  These were the leaders of the church.  Part of being a good leader is a willingness to do anything for the success of the organization.  There’s no job too menial or too simple.

Those of you in leadership, you are the ones washing our feet, by your planning, your organizing and your valuable input.  You are not serving to advance your own personal interests; you are serving to advance the cause of Christ.  You are working as unto the Lord, as Paul instructs slaves in Colossians 3:22, that they were to do their work: “…with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

What became of the original disciples?  Peter was the apostle to the Jews.  He is thought to have preached in Asia Minor and Italy, assisting Paul in planting the church at Rome.  John was an early opponent of Gnosticism and was banished to the island of Patmos.  He eventually died in Ephesus.  Bartholomew went and preached in India.  Andrew preached in Achaia and was eventually crucified for his faith.  James the son of Alpheus preached in Jerusalem eventually stoned.  James the son of Zebedee preached in Judea and was killed with the sword.  Simon the Zealot served as bishop of the church in Jerusalem and preached to the people of Edessa.  Thomas went to India and planted churches.  Matthew translated the gospel into Hebrew and died in Parthia, modern-day Iran.  Philip preached in Phrygia.  All of them resigned themselves to poverty and persecution.  Most of them gave their lives for the sake of the gospel.

This church is only as good as we take on the role of a servant for Christ.  Whether we are praying for it, serving in it, God is at work in and through all of it.


[1] The New Geneva Study Bible, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995),1689.

[2]Ibid.