Tag Archives: Church membership

Are You a Gracious Church Member?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Answer: Yes, it is as possible as being:

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

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

Am I a Serving Church Member?

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

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

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

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

In Philippians 2, Paul is writing from prison. What would make him happy? Their unity. And the key to that unity was the removal of self. This idea is summarized in Philippians 2: 4: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” So the key to unity is humility, selflessness, etc. In verse five, we’re instructed to be like Jesus. 2:5: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Picture that Never Fades

The following message is based on Romans 6:1-11 and presents the subject of baptism, which is a sacred picture, offered by the church, of ritual cleansing from sin.  It was preached on June 2, 2013, on the occasion of baptizing six young people and receiving them into membership.

Pictures are representations of memories or special events.  We go to great lengths to save them.  Unfortunately, old pictures can fade, turn yellow or be destroyed.  The preservation of one’s collection of photographs is a popular topic today.  Many get theirs scanned into a computer for ready access.  Old movies can now be transferred to DVD.  Pictures remind us of important people, events and occasions.  Graduation pictures have been taken by the hundreds over the last few weeks.

We value pictures. Something that I like to do is go through old albums of years gone by and look at loved ones.  I especially like to view old pictorial directories of years ago.  You all don’t change!

Today, I want to speak with out about an important picture.  It is not a photograph, per se, but a representation of what Jesus does in the life of His followers, as we look at the picture of baptism.  We first learn that…

BAPTISM IS A SACRED PICTURE OF CLEANSING, DEATH AND RESURRECTION.

Water is the primary instrument of baptism.  It is associated with many things.  Water has always been seen as a universal cleansing agent.  The definition of baptism is the application of water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  It is an initiation rite into the Christian faith.  It is the sign and seal of God’s grace, as circumcision was in the Old Testament, as Paul teaches in Romans 4:11 and Colossians 2:11-12.

Baptism is also a symbol of transformation and cleansing.  Why do we need cleansing?  Because God says so.  Our sin says so.    God makes this invitation known in Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

In Romans 6, Paul teaches that baptism is a picture of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It implies that new life has been imparted to the individual and that there’s been a change in identity.

In answer to the question, if God’s work in our lives gives us license to do whatever we want, Paul answers: “May it never be!  We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

It marks the beginning of this new life in Christ.  Jesus called himself the source of living water (John 4:10 and 7:38).  Because of God’s offer of cleansing and forgiveness, many people in the Scriptures were baptized.  John the Baptist baptized at Aenon (John 3:23). Jesus was baptized; not for the reasons that you and I share, but to identify with us and mark the beginning of His public ministry.  The Ethiopian Eunuch was baptized by Phillip; Paul was baptized after being converted on the Road to Damascus.

This new life is what gave rise to Paul being made a new person; one who persecuted the church and responsible for the killing and imprisoning of Christians, to one who traveled the entire world and put his life at risk to preach the gospel.  He would say in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Sometimes Christians think that baptism is something that we do to get saved.  This is incorrect.  We are saved by grace through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Baptism is not something we do to get salvation.  It is not a cause and effect relationship.  Rather, it is a passive picture of the benefits of an active faith.

Baptism is also a reminder of the ongoing benefits to trusting and following Christ.  Baptism is necessary to our faith.  Baptism is needed because we forget.  If you have not been baptized, then please see me.  It is an ordinance that you will never forget.  Caspar Schwenckfeld taught: “I believe in a holy Christian baptism for the washing away of sins in the confession of the Holy Trinity and calling upon the name of the Lord.  …I hope (I am) a baptized, though weak Christian.”[1]  We need this picture and must refer to it again and again.   BAPTISM IS A SACRED PICTURE OF CLEANSING, DEATH AND RESURRECTION. Secondly, who administers baptism?  Next, we find that…

THE CHURCH IS THE KEEPER OF SUCH BLESSINGS.

These people also come today to commit themselves to the Central Schwenkfelder Church, as their spiritual family.  Today, the church has become optional in the eyes of many.  As I shared last week, church membership is seeing a dip as well as church attendance.  Over 4,000 local congregations permanently close their doors every year in the U.S. alone.

We cannot appreciate spiritual growth without giving the church, the family of God, its rightful place.  John Calvin said: For what God has joined together, it is not lawful to put asunder [Mark 10:9], so that, for those to whom he is Father the Church may also be Mother.[2]

Many of you grew up with Christian Endeavor.  You might remember its pledge that says: “I will support my own church in her Sunday worship, and all her ministries, in every way possible…”[3]  My good friend, Dave Coryell, the Director of CE says: “God intends us to be a part of a group of people that will worship Him together.  This is called a church.”[4]  In other words, you cannot claim to be a Christian and be permanently outside of the fellowship of the local church.

The Church plays a vital role in the lives of its members in the following way.  First, it is the body of Christ– Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, “Upon this rock (of Peter’s confession), I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”  It is Jesus’ bride and God’s ordained instrument to spread the gospel to the world.  As Christians, it is not optional part of our lives, but functions as a lifesaver in a world that is lost and dying.

Secondly, the church guards the role of Scripture, God’s sacred love letter to us.  Paul wrote to Timothy:  “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2: Timothy 3:14-15).  And as Christians, we are to desire the Scriptures as we desire nourishment.  1 Peter 2:2: “like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.”  It is among the body of Christ that we primarily learn and grow through our study of the Bible.

Thirdly, the church promotes the role of prayer.  The early church prayed as we find in Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Jesus told His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”  It is most readily in the church that we see and hear of God giving and blessing and opening doors for His children.  We have a midweek prayer service throughout the summer  in our new Prayer Garden, or if it is raining or too hot, in the Community Center: Wednesdays at 6:45 p.m.

Fourthly, the church also promotes the importance of relationships. We need each other.  Proverbs 27:17 teaches: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”  There are so many “one anothers” in the Bible.  We are taught to love one another; serve one another; forgive one another; teach one another, encourage one another.  All of these are pictures of love.  Bob Russell states: “I’m invited by a lot of churches to come and talk to them about church growth.  One of the first things I tell them is that the church will not stay healthy and grow without love.  The place to begin to improve your congregation is not with programs or organization or even doctrine but with the attitude of the people toward one another.”[5]

BAPTISM IS A SACRED PICTURE OF CLEANSING, DEATH AND RESURRECTION.  THE CHURCH IS THE KEEPER OF SUCH BLESSINGS.  Why is the fount on our altar?  It functions as a reminder that we need the Lord to cleanse us if we are to know Him.  Baptism is needed because we forget.  It is the entry to our relationship with Christ and the church.  It represents cleansing and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Lent originally was established for new Christians, those who experienced a call. They were to spend 40 days and 40 nights preparing for their baptism. If at the end they still wanted to follow Jesus, then on Easter Eve they would be baptized as the sun was rising in the east, signaling the new day, the new era, inaugurated because of the Resurrection.

I am sure it had a powerful significance for them, to have prepared for their vocation as Christians the same way Jesus prepared for His vocation as the Messiah: 40 days of introspection and self-examination.

There was a young convert in Haiti whose family believed in voodoo. They urged him not to forsake the family faith for this new Christian religion. But he ignored the family pressures and came for baptism. He walked into the water, stopped, and turned back! The missionaries were sure he had changed his mind. They were certain that the family pressures had prevailed. But he went back to shore to empty his pockets of all his voodoo charms. Then he reentered the stream and was baptized.

 

 


[1] Caspar Schwenckfeld, Eight Writings on Christian Belief (Kitchener, Ontario: Pandora Press: 2006), 135.

[2] Institutes IV, 1.1.

[3] 2011 Pledge of Christian Endeavor Mid Atlantic, found at http://www.cemidatlantic.org/who-we-are/c-e-essentials/.

[4] Dave Coryell, I Accepted Christ! Now What? (Blaine, WA: Arrow Leadership Ministries, 2001), 9.

[5] Bob Russell, The Power of One Another, (Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 2004), 7.

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.