Tag Archives: church

A Common Element Among an Effective Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Do We Go From Here?

After hearing of the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday, I was faced with a moral dilemma inside my soul. What do I preach on in light of the current events?  Do I remain silent and say nothing? Or do I comment on the present situation?

The recent decision by the United States Supreme Court demands a different message.  I hope these words are relevant, Biblical, and in good taste because history was made last week.

I share these words, fully realizing that in our congregation there are those that have gay friends and gay family members.  I do, as well.  My efforts are not to repel you or cause you to rethink your church membership. If anything, I want you to realize that it is possible to love a person and not agree with their lifestyle, or philosophy, for that matter.

As with any issue, it is important to think the way that God thinks on it.  Romans 12:2 tells us: “Do not to be conformed to this present world but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.”  God’s word and God’s Holy Spirit are two instruments which He uses to renew our minds into thinking His way on various subjects.  John Calvin said: “It matters not what you say or I say, but what God says.”

Some believe that homosexuals were/are as God designed them and such is their lot in life. Some say: “They were born that way,” as if it were scientific. And yet a gay gene has never been found; it does not exist.  On the other hand, behavior does influence wiring of the brain. This has been found with those addicted to pornography.  Why would God allow someone to be born with a condition that was specifically against His ethical demands?  “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” – Leviticus 18:22

The secular world says that it is impossible for gays to change. You can’t “pray the gay away.” But the apostle Paul notes that some did change to the gospel message.  “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” – (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Obviously same-sex orientation is mysterious and rare (10%).  I think that there are many factors which influence a person identifying as a homosexual: environmental, social, familial, etc.  While undergoing mandated reporter training, I heard of a sad situation of a boy who was molested by an uncle.  He believed that there was nothing wrong with this behavior. He said the experiences felt good and that he developed a desire to do such things to others. As a result, he developed deviant sexual desires.  Former experiences can guide future decisions.

Over the last 20 years, there has been a shift in society’s feelings on the subject of homosexuality. There were sodomy laws in almost every state during the 20th century. Then in 2003 with the Supreme Court case Lawrence vs. Texas, such laws were removed.  Now society has said this behavior is acceptable. We have shifted from focus on the behavior to focus on the person.

But God has never changed his mind on the subject of homosexuality. He puts the gay lifestyle in a group of behaviors which He promises to exclude from His kingdom and to judge such individuals with His wrath, just like other forms of sexual sin or taking advantage of others (read Paul’s list in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Consider the following Scripture as it pertains to Biblical sexuality.  These verses speak to all forms of sexual behavior outside of one woman and one man committed for life in the covenant of marriage:

Hebrews 13:4: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”.

“For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” – Ephesians 5:5

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.” – Colossians 3:5-6

Furthermore, the gay lifestyle makes a person vulnerable to specific venereal diseases and infections that he would not normally be exposed to if he were living as God prescribes.  This is not to mention the personal guilt, ostracism, and other social and psychological effects of the lifestyle.

Is it loving for me to be silent with this information?  No; it may be politically correct for me to be silent!  God is calling Christians today to speak the truth in love. We must not conform to the culture’s philosophies, but hold fast to God’s word.

Just because something is now the law of the land does not obligate the church to go against the word of God.  We are not to fear our government that has lost its moral compass.  Jesus tells us who to fear in Luke 12:4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.”

Romans 13 tells us to obey civil authorities. But there are times when civil disobedience is an option.  Peter and John’s civil disobedience is found in Acts 4:18 “So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”

What happened on June 26 is an example of how there are times in the Christian life where one’s government will go in one direction and the church must go in another.  As a minister of the gospel, I cannot conduct a same-sex wedding ceremony. Nor will any of our staff. To do so would oppose God.  The present situation presents a test to our loyalty to Jesus!  Our allegiance is not to the Supreme Court or to the laws of Pennsylvania when such laws are contrary to God’s specific teaching.

Many churches are making efforts to further protect their religious liberty in light of the Supreme Court’s decision.  You may say, “No such protection is needed.”  But listen to Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito:

“The decision will also have other important consequences. It will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women.”

In other words, what was common understanding and conviction on this issue is seen as hateful and bigoted by those who champion a new ethic and a new level of acceptance to behavior that has been immoral since the creation of man.

The future is unknown. You might take our efforts as bigotry or hate.  That’s wrong, unfortunate, and presumptive. It is more to protect us should we be faced with litigation.

Dr. Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary writes:

“The threat to religious liberty represented by this decision is clear, present, and inevitable. Assurances to the contrary, the majority in this decision has placed every religious institution in legal jeopardy if that institution intends to uphold its theological convictions limiting marriage to the union of a man and a woman. This threat is extended to every religious citizen or congregation that would uphold the convictions held by believers for millennia.”[1]

In March of 2009, our Church Council passed the following statement: “Believing marriage to be the sacred union of one male and one female, under no circumstances, will a same-sex ceremony take place at Central Schwenkfelder Church.”

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas states: “The majority’s inversion of the original meaning of liberty will likely cause collateral damage to other aspects of our constitutional order that protect liberty.”

Not everyone goes to heaven. 1 Corinthians 6 offers both warning and hope; warning to those who practice such things along with other sins will not inherit the kingdom of God. They will not go to heaven; they will suffer for an eternity, separated from God, just as anyone who is not redeemed by the blood of Christ.  Redemption brings about a changed lifestyle.

The hope is that through the power of the Holy Spirit and the presentation of the gospel that sinners would be regenerated; turn from their sins and be given the supernatural ability to live a changed life just like everyone who has genuinely come to faith in Christ.

Jesus said in John 8:12: “I am the light of the world.”  The church holds a privileged place being used by God  as He conducts His affairs in the world.  In Matthew 5:13, Jesus called us to be salt and light to preserve and illuminate this dying and dark world.  We are to reflect the light of Jesus Christ to a world that desperately needs Him. Jesus likened us to “a city on a hill.”

If we reject this role, we will become like the world and will be good for nothing.   We will blend into a world that does not know God.  We will become like them instead of being the missionary center that God has called us to be.

You will be tempted to go with the flow & fall into line. People on both sides of the political aisle are calling traditional folks to “come up with the times.”  But as John Piper wrote in his recent blog, the court’s decision brought us to a new low in our country.  Instead of sin being a choice, we have institutionalized it.

May we never hear those demoralizing words that Jesus spoke to the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:15: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm– neither hot nor cold– I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

This morning, consider the words of Franklin Graham as a wake up call.

“The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled today that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. With all due respect to the court, it did not define marriage, and therefore is not entitled to re-define it.  I pray God will spare America from His judgment, though, by our actions as a nation, we give Him less and less reason to do so.”

[1] http://news.sbts.edu/2015/06/26/mohler-responds-supreme-courts-same-sex-marriage-decision/.

Crucial for a Healthy Church

The following message is taken from Philippians 4:1-7 and addresses compromise and unity.

In his book, The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer gives this interesting illustration:

“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers [meeting] together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”[1]

Healthy relationships is a practical topic for all of us.  In our times together, we’ve looked at several personal associations in the Bible.  By God’s grace, we have learned the danger of jealousy, as we’ve studied Cain and Abel.  We’ve also learned the blessing of close friendships, like that of Jonathan and David.  We’ve understood that there will be disagreement among the most noble of people; for instance, Paul and Barnabas.

Today, I will conclude our series by looking at one of the more obscure relationships in Scripture that illustrate unity and sacrifice.  Our story today is about two women dedicated to their church, Euodia and Syntyche.  They both served in positions of leadership and service.  They were Christians among the faithful in the city of Philippi.

Paul visited the city of Philippi on his second missionary journey, told of in Acts 16:12.  This was Paul’s first visit to European soil.  He returned there twice to strengthen the believers.  The congregation that God birthed there became very dear to Paul, so much that he referred to them as his “joy and crown.”

THE CHURCH IS KNOWN FOR HUMILITY, HARMONY, AND THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.

Paul writes this letter from jail, possibly from his Roman imprisonment mentioned in Acts 28, around 61 A.D.  The city was named after Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great.  The church there was largely Gentile.  It is a note written to emphasize the themes of Humility, Harmony and the Holy Spirit’s work.

For instance, Jesus is the picture of humility in the letter to the Philippians.  Just as Christ became a servant, so also the Christian becomes a servant of Christ’s.  Philippians 1:1 says: “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons….”

The one who causes us to willfully become God’s servants is the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit’s work is emphasized in places like Philippians 1:6: “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

And harmony goes with the work of God’s Spirit, as Philippians 2:12 says: “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. 14 Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe 16 as you hold out the word of life– in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.”

Humility, Harmony and the Holy Spirit.  Paul’s exhortation is for the church to be at unity for the cause of the gospel.  It could be that this was a congregation that struggled with disagreement, in part because of the growing concerns that surrounded them.  The Philippians were faced with false teachers and opposition from the outside.

And so it was critical for the church to be united.  It takes a proactive attitude; a conscious effort.  This is why Paul identifies three individuals in our brief passage as leaders, who must make a conscience effort to lay down their own preferences and be united in the Lord.  Paul writes: “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, so stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. 2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. 3 Indeed, true comrade, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

These women were being asked to lay aside their own opinions and be united in the Lord.  A key to living in harmony is the place of the Lord Jesus.  He holds a preeminent place in the life of the church.  He is the name above every name.

And one of the most challenging prices of being a member of Christ’s church is to remember that it is Christ’s church.  This takes a conscious laying aside our own preferences for His preferences.  It means that He calls the shots.  What I want is secondary to what His will is.

This attitude is tested with diversity.  The Roman Empire was a diverse, melting pot of races, religious backgrounds and economics.  The church is meant to be diverse for all who are willing to follow Christ.  God wants people in his church that are like you and differ than you!  The church of Jesus Christ has always been made of people from different backgrounds, languages, socio-economic classes. Everyone’s needs are different.  On the other hand, Biblical and theological truth should never be sacrificed for the sake of diversity.

The humble attitude of the Son of God was the prescribed attitude of Euodia and Syntyche and Clement. The church at Philippi existed for the glory of God and for the sake of the good news. This is what brought the church together. Regardless of what divided them, these individuals were on the same team as Paul. They fought for the same things. They were employed by the same God. They lived for the same cause.

The most profound illustration of humility is found in our Lord Jesus Christ.  Philippians 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!”

There’s a certain way that we ought to think about Christian fellowship. Thinking influences living. Sinclair Ferguson states: “…the details are, tactfully, not discussed by Paul. But the situation was obviously serious enough for him to address these women by name, and the division sufficiently long-standing for news of it to have reached Paul’s ears.”[2] The division between these two women affected the entire church. And that’s what divisions do, if not dealt with. They start out small, but then they grow larger and affect more people when sides are drawn up. Paul was sure of their salvation, but they still had a disagreement. It is possible for two people to be genuinely saved and to know Jesus Christ and yet be in disagreement with each other. We must check our egos at the door. Each of us has a choice to make- to be an agent of division or an agent of unity. Maybe God is calling you to heal a division. People will disagree, but the real issue is not to be disagreeable. And the call to be united is always upon us.

What does unite us?  One thing is our mission statement, which is simple: to love God, serve others and grow disciples.  That’s a message that is meant for us, so that we are reminded what our key business should be about!

It is important for the church to be united today.  All Christians will one day live in the same place for eternity.  So doesn’t it make sense that we learn how to get along this side of heaven?  The “book of life,” is that document in which all the names of God’s elect, the faithful are written; those who were willing to lose their lives for the sake of Christ, and to find it in Him as a result.  Remember that Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it (Matthew 16:24).”

But what is it that encourages unity in the church?  What is one thing that we might do to foster more unity among us?  How does unity relate to prayer and God’s peace?

PRAYER PLAYS A CRUCIAL ROLE IN DISCOVERING HIS WILL FOR OUR CHURCH.

Let us consider the role of prayer.  Verse 4 of our passage: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Maybe those verses could be summed up with the following: “why worry, when you can pray?”  The antithesis of anxiety is prayer.  When we commit ourselves to prayer, we no longer have the need to stalemate, to dig in our heels or be possessive of the church.  We pray and live as Jesus did when He prayed: “Father, not my will, but Yours be done (Luke 22:42).”

But we become self dependent when we say: “This is my church!” in the context of trying to get what we want.  “This is my church” does not mean that you will always get your way or that preferences will always be accommodated. Your personal history or heritage, years spent in service or amount of your offering does not determine your importance or strength of your voice. For your information, I have no knowledge of what individuals in our church give.

Being a congregational church does not mean that everything is a popularity contest.  Remember it is Christ’s church.  When we come together with a unified vision that seeks to glorify God, lay our preferences aside and seek His face, His plan and His purpose, then God will bring unity.  We realize the total dependency we have on the Lord Jesus, as He said in John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  Psalm 133 tells us that God commands his blessing where there is unity.

After our study of Thom Rainer’s I Am a Church Member early last year, we discovered that ministry is not about our personal preferences or desires, but about expanding and building up the kingdom of God.

Let us rally around this church’s vision statement, which is to… Become fully mature disciples of Christ by… 

  • Glorifying God individually and together as a church
  • Growing spiritually through Bible study and prayer
  • Supporting one another within our church family
  • Serving others as an expression of our faith
  • Witnessing in our neighborhoods and throughout the world

Would you be an instrument of God’s peace? St. Francis of Assisi, who ministered in the early 13th century, is thought to have prayed:

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”

[1] http://www.biblestudytools.com/pastor-resources/illustrations/11550051.html.

[2] Sinclair Ferguson, Let’s Study Philippians (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1997), 98.

Friends Are Like…

The following message is based on 1 Samuel 19:1-7 and addresses the value of friendship.

To have a few close friends, even just one or two is a tremendous blessing in life.  They help us through life’s challenges.  They encourage us.  Life comes easier with friends.  Ecclesiastes 4:9 tells us: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

To what can we compare friends?  Consider these descriptions…

Maybe you could think of a few more.  The point is that good friends are hard to come by and worth their weight in gold.  I’m impressed to hear of several of you who enjoy friendships within the church.  You vacation together, dine together, and spend time together with each others’ families.  What a blessing!

I asked a teenager recently to describe someone who is a good friend.  They responded: “participation in sports, a good sense of humor, someone who is popular, etc.”  Outward qualities attract, but they go away over time. No, rather we should look for qualities that we want to emulate.  Things like honesty, loyalty, trustworthiness. Proverbs 17:17 says: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

Church is often described as a family. How would God have us regard each other?

The qualities of 1 Corinthians 13, would certainly make a good friend.  We are reminded there that a friend is: “…is patient, kind. A good friend does not envy, he does not boast, she is not proud.   A good friend is not rude, he is not self-seeking or easily angered.  She keeps no record of wrongs. A good friend does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  A best friend always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.”

Our Scripture today speaks of two men who had a special friendship.  They eventually became family, but the kindred spirit they shared long preceded their legal connection.

David was Jonathan’s best friend and his brother-in-law (David married his sister, Michal).  David was also Saul’s son-in-law.  David was the heir to the throne.  When he was just a boy, Samuel anointed David as Israel’s future king, after the Spirit of God left Saul.  Most sons of a king would have felt insecurity or even hatred towards someone like David.  Not Jonathan.  His soul was knit to David’s.  He loved him like a brother.  What drew the two young men to each other?

For starters, Jonathan and David were close brothers because they served the same God.  They both submitted to God’s will.

In contrast to his father, Jonathan did not feel threatened by David.  Rather, his heart was knit to David’s.  1 Samuel 18:1 says: “Now it came about when (David) had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself.  Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself.  And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt.”

One commentator states: “As crown prince, Jonathan would have expected to succeed his father as king.  Here Jonathan’s gifts of his robe and weapons to David not only signifies his loyalty but implies his recognition of David as God’s choice for the next king.”[1]

Part of that relationship with God involved the humility of the two men.  Neither was boisterous or arrogant.  David and Jonathan hit it off.  Such was their friendship that Jonathan was willing, and in fact did step aside as heir apparent to welcome David as Israel’s future anointed king.  Hence the disrobing and bequeathing his sword and other items to David.  What made their relationship so unique?

A second quality that made David and Jonathan such good friends was that they had sacrificial loyalty for one another.  Saul was plagued by an unclean spirit.  He was also obsessed with jealousy towards David.  The king sought to kill David on many occasions.  1 Samuel 20:30 tells us: “Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you?”

Mark Boda comments regarding Saul’s jealousy of David: “Saul’s jealousy of David is undiminished throughout the latter half of 1 Samuel.  On several occasions he seeks to kill David, trying to convince his family and soldiers to eradicate his foe.”[2]  Jonathan would risk his life for his friend.  Saul continually tried to kill David.  But every time Jonathan would defend and protect David, even at the risk of his own life.

I want to be a friend like Jonathan was to David.  But I must not look at the qualities that they had and say: “I will only be friends with someone who has this or that.”  Rather, I must ask God to change my heart that I might be more humble.  You must seek the Spirit’s help to make you a better friend!

Maybe this means becoming a friend to someone younger than you, in years or in the faith.  Is God calling you to become a mentor?  Or maybe you could use the friendship of an older, more seasoned person.  Would you allow yourself to be mentored?

Spouses, seek to be friends with your mate.  Parents, seek to be friends with your children.  Grandparents, who knows how much longer you have with your grandchildren?  Time is short. It was once said that my kids will not so much remember what I said when they are older, but how I made them feel.

The following is a message I received from a young mother in Kansas who just lost her dad last week to cancer.  She said: “It is extremely hard all the way around for us. He is in a better place with no pain, we know that, but we want him here with us. He was such a great father, grandfather, husband and friend. He set a pretty high standard for us to follow. I can only pray to teach my children all that he taught us.”

Brothers and sisters, treat your siblings with respect and love, regardless of their age. Seek to build up and encourage each other with your words. Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

We are not given any details of daily conversations between Jonathan and David, but I would venture to say that they lived out these.  People are not friends over night.  Time and actions make individuals friends.

David reacted when hearing of Saul’s and Jonathan’s deaths, by executing the person responsible (2 Samuel 1:15).  This is the song David taught the Israelites to sing for generations afterwards, recorded in 2 Samuel 1:23: “Saul and Jonathan, beloved and pleasant in their life, And in their death they were not parted; They were swifter than eagles, They were stronger than lions.  How have the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan is slain on your high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; You have been very pleasant to me. Your love to me was more wonderful Than the love of women. How have the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!”

Much has been said over the years about Ronald Reagan’s friendship with Margaret Thatcher.  A USA Today article noted that “Thatcher first met Reagan one-on-one in April 1975 at the House of Commons in London. Reagan, then the governor of California, wrote a thank-you note to Thatcher, then the Conservative Party’s opposition leader in Parliament.”Please know,” Reagan wrote, “you have an enthusiastic supporter out here in the ‘colonies.'”  Nancy Reagan was quoted as saying: “Ronnie and Margaret were political soulmates, committed to freedom and resolved to end communism.”[3]

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of touring the Reagan library and museum in Simi Valley, California.  As I was enjoying the different displays, I noticed against the wall the signature book from President Reagan’s funeral.  Under glass, it was opened to a page that read: “Ronnie, Well Done, Thou Good and Faithful Servant.  Margaret Thatcher.”

[1] The New Geneva Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 404.

[2][2] Mark Boda, After God’s Own Heart (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2007), 61.

[3] See http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/04/08/thatcher-reagan-political-soulmates/2063671/.

“The Value of Music in Worshipping God”

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

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

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

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

MUSIC IS ANOTHER MEANS TO PRESENT GOD’S WORD.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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