Tag Archives: Church Health

Why Go to Church?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Show Love on a Sunday Morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are You a Praying Church Member?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Seventy percent of pastors constantly fight depression.

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

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

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

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

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

Reshaping Our Lives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

Setting Life Priorities

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

INTRODUCTION

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

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

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

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

GOOD PRIORITIES INVOLVE CARE OF LIFE STYLE.

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

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

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

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

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

GOOD PRIORITIES INVOLVE CARE OF COMMUNITY.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

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

[3] Reed, 49.

Qualities of a Sound Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

MENTORS ARE IMPORTANT IN THE SHAPING OF OUR FAITH.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THEOLOGY IS IMPORTANT.

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

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

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

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

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

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


[1] Reed, 43.

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

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

The Church as a Family of Families

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE CONDUCT THAT BEFITS CHRISTIANS

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

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

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

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

THE CONFESSION THAT BEFITS THE CHURCH.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“One Family”

The following message is based on Ephesians 3:1-11 and discusses what the Church is here for.  This message was delievered on January 13, 2013

Have you ever felt like you weren’t being heard?  I recently ran across a cartoon that depicts a couple sharing a moment at a coffee shop.  The man is engaged with his electronic device.  His attention is divided, zeroed-in on his email or Facebook, blocking everyone else out around him.  The woman says: “Do you mind if I strap your phone to my forehead so I can pretend you’re looking at me when I talk?”  In a culture where there are electronic devices to take the place of one-to-one communication, it is important to avoid seeing texting, email and Facebook as a substitute for connecting with a friend or spending time with a family member, or other Christians.

Today, we begin a new sermon series on church health.  The reason why we are doing this series is because it is needed.  On a yearly basis, we must look at how we are doing church, how we are practicing our faith as a collective body.  This particular series presupposes a couple of things.  One is discipleship.  My messages over the next few weeks will be under the assumption that you have made the Lord Jesus Christ, your king and God and that you’ve committed your life to Him; that you’ve been baptized and desire to follow Him.  If not, please see me.  Let’s talk!

I’m also presupposing that you do not see yourself as an independent person.  That you desire meaningful relationships with other Christians.  That you value relationships and you want to be a better Christian.  Today, I want to present to you God’s design for the church, which I’ve entitled our message: “One Family.”  Today I want to talk about the mystery, the ministry and the manifestation of God’s “One Family,” the Church.  First, we learn that…

GOD’S MYSTERY HAS INCLUDED US.

There is a mystery that surrounds the Church as God’s “One Family.”  In Ephesians 3:6, we are introduced to the mystery of God.  In this context, a mystery is something that was hidden for a time, but has now been revealed.  This mystery is mentioned in such places as 1:9: “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment– to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”

And twice in Ephesians 3:4-6: “In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”

As the people of God, our Lord has entrusted us with the best news in the world.  That is, God has a plan for the human race in Christ.  Although mankind is separated from God through sin, He has reached out to us in love through the gospel of Jesus to redeem and transform a people of His own possession.  The church was built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ being the chief cornerstone.  If you know anything about architecture, a building cannot stand without a proper foundation.  And the most important piece of the foundation is the cornerstone.

God would have us promote an environment of inclusion without diminishing our doctrine or ethics.  He is calling us to reach out to folks that are both the same as us and different than us. We are here to introduce good news to others that introduces a different world view and a different lifestyle, because Jesus died and rose again. Where else but in the church can you get that?  If we hold on to the unity, church will be diverse.  We have a unity that is pretty remarkable.  Although there are different denominations, various people, diverse races, God has a family in mind.  Heaven is a picture of both unity and diversity.  Note Revelation 5:9: “And they sang a new song: “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.”  God’s mystery has included us.  We also find that…

PAUL’S MINISTRY HAS BLESSED US.

Towards this mystery, Paul was called to preach the message of the gospel.  Verses 8-9 state: “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.”  Paul, arguably the greatest Christian since the founding of the Church, was the “apostle to the Gentiles.”  He went on at least three missionary journeys to carry God’s word to the world.  Having been blessed by that ministry and recipients of the good news of Christ, we, as His people, carry on that ministry of preaching and spreading the word to a needy world.  The world needs the church.  The statistics on the health of the family are pretty shocking.

During 2010, an estimated 3.3 million referrals involving the alleged maltreatment of approximately 5.9 million children were made to CPS agencies. More than 3.6 million children (duplicate count) or just under 3 million children (unique count) were the subjects of one or more reports.1 Of the number of child maltreatment reports in 2010, More than 75 percent (78.3 percent) of victims suffered neglect.[1]  Most of those were children between one and four years old.

The survey of 23,000 high school students, which was conducted by the Los Angeles-based Josephson Institute of Ethics, reveals that in 2010, 59 percent of students admitted they had cheated on an exam in the past year; Students who copied an Internet document for an assignment stood at 34 percent.  Students who said they lied to a teacher in the past year about something significant stood at 61 percent.  Those who lied to their parents about something significant were 80 percent.  STEALING: In 2010, 27 percent of the students said they had stolen something from a store in the past year. 17 percent said they stole something from a friend in the past year and the percentage who said they stole something from a parent or other relative in the past year was 21percent.

And the saddest statistic is that many so called “Christians” are being more influenced by the world, than by Christ and His word.  The author states that “…more than 60% of the children in our Western churches are failing to continue with the faith as they establish their own households.”[2]

The church is instructed with bringing the true meaning of the gospel to people.  When we get serious about glorifying God, our lives will create relationships by which we can connect with others.

John Calvin knew that the church was central to everything that God did, to such the extent that he said: “You cannot claim God as your father, if the church be not your mother.”  His point is that there is no such thing as an isolated Christian, apart from the presence of a community of faith that aims to educate, encourage and transform its members.

What are people missing out on when they do not affiliate with a local body of Christians?  First of all, the clear preaching and teaching of God’s inspired word.  Do you want to hear from God?  Then you must open yourself to hear from God in His holy word.  It is as Psalm 119:105 says: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  To this end, I love the Christian Endeavor Pledge, which states: “Trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for strength, I promise Him that I will strive to do whatever He would like to have me do; that I will make it the rule of my life to pray and to read the Bible every day, and to support the work and worship of my own church in every way possible; and that just so far as I know how, throughout my whole life, I will endeavor to lead a Christian life.”  God’s mystery has included us and Paul’s ministry has blessed us.  Lastly…

THE HOLY SPIRIT’S MANIFESTATION COMPELS US.

The family is God’s idea and personal growth and development is just a couple of ways the family benefits society.  Note Jeff Reed’s definition of God’s design for the church: “God’s design for the local church is for it to be a family of families with strong, intergenerational roots: a powerful force in raising children, in building strong marriages, and in cultivating an intergenerational heritage (faith in God) that grows stronger generation by generation.”[3]

God would have us here for the world.  Someone once said that the church is the only organization on this earth that does not exist for itself.  We are here to reach others and that means to reach out to others, as His ambassadors.  2 Corinthians 5:15: “And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. …18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

Most recently, Juli Apple had the opportunity to have a 30 minute conversation with a man using the Central’s Community Center.  He wanted to know all about our church.  Another person outside of our church said that the community center is the best thing to happen to this community in a long time.

Another thing that people miss out on by not connecting with the Church is the support that comes from being from others of like mind and faith.  John Donne was a 16th century English poet and Anglican priest.  He wrote: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, …any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” We need each other if we are to be everything God wants us to be.

Michael Griffiths, a well-known missions leader states: “Perhaps sometimes in the West we have lost sight of the importance of these basic Christian communities, and think that churches are merely incidental organizations within institutionalized Christianity.  We think that the gospel tells how an individual may be saved.  Churches are not merely incidental means of grace to help individuals to be saved.  They are not merely temporary providers of care and protection while we are on earth.  God’s long term purpose is to produce a new, beautiful, redeemed human society in which He Himself will dwell.”[4]

So you might ask: Pastor David, what are you saying?  What do you want me to do?  How am I to live differently in light of Ephesians 3 and God’s call to be involved in His administration of including the Gentiles into His spiritual building/administration?  Why not reach out to someone around you?  Why not invite someone to church?  Why not pray for someone?  How about taking an unchurched friend to coffee or lunch?  Or what about reaching out to someone in need?

GOD’S MYSTERY HAS INCLUDED US; PAUL’S MINISTRY HAS BLESSED US; AND THE SPIRIT’S MANIFESTATION COMPELS US.

J. W. Bardsley in his book: Many Mansions, The fading of a leaf is a proof that its work is accomplished and that its mission is fulfilled. The leaves of trees are made subservient by an all-wise Creator to most important ends. One of their chiefest functions is to keep up the purity of the atmosphere. As Christ said of His disciples, ‘Ye are the salt of the earth,’ we might say of them, ‘Ye are the leaves of the world’; your office is to stay the moral pollution which surrounds you and to breathe a healthy and life-giving influence. To have done this is not to have lived in vain.[5]


[1] Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2012). Child Maltreatment 2010: Summary of key findings. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Jeff Reed, Belonging to a Family of Families (Ames, IA: BILD International, 1997), 6.

[4] Michael Griffiths, What on Earth Are You Doing?: Jesus’ Call to World Mission.

[5] The Expositor’s Dictionary of Texts, Volume 2, Part 1: Luke through Romans.