Tag Archives: discipleship

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.

How are You Spending the Summer?

The following message deals with that which Christians must remember, the basics of our faith found in the Apostles’ Creed, The Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer.  It was preached on Memorial Day, May 26, 2013

This weekend marks a highly anticipated time in the life of Americans, the Memorial Day weekend.  Memorial Day is a time to remember, ever since its inception in 1868, it has been placed aside as a day to remember those who’ve passed and those who’ve served.  Where I come from, Memorial Day is a time to go to the resting places of your loved ones and decorate their graves.  It is also a day to gather with family and friends for a barbeque.  The weekend functions as the unofficial kickoff of the summer.

That brings up the question: what are you doing over the summer?  I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with several of you.  Some are going on vacation- to South Carolina or on a cruise.  Others are spending their summer at the shore; still others are planning family reunions.  Me?  I’m going to be writing a dissertation; my final project for the Doctor of Ministry.

The theme that I am addressing is the need for Christians to remember and return to the basics of our faith, which involves learning and growing in our understanding of Christian belief, as exemplified in the Apostles’ Creed; Christian ethics as understood in the Ten Commandments; and Christian devotion, as found in the Lord’s Prayer.  For the first five hundred years of the church, these objects were the mainstays of Christian education.  Those wishing to be baptized had to recite the Apostles’ Creed.  It became a necessity in teaching the faith for centuries to come.

Catechesis is the practice of learning the basics of our faith in question and answer form.  Although the Middle Ages experienced a wane in catechesis, the Protestant Reformation made a reprise of it.  Catechesis has been utilized to disciple new Christians since the Reformation in the West.

And there was a time when those wanting to join the Schwenkfelder Church were asked to recite the Ten Commandments and the Apostles’ Creed, as it appears in our Book of Worship for Church and Home.[1]  But this is no more.

As history repeats itself, a sense of desperation for classical Christian education has returned.  In many congregations today, the youth and new members’ introduction lasts a few weeks at best and contains a broad array of material written to welcome newcomers at the sacrifice of equipping them spiritually.  As a result, very few newcomers and church members can recall the essentials of our faith and apply them to their lives.  With the dawn of Postmodernism, catechesis is seen as a thing of the past.  And with its passing, believers are found to be wanting in their knowledge and application of the Christian basics.

Today, we like story, we like visual, and we like easy.  An absence of such a foundational teaching contributes to the social ills of today.   Christians struggle to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) in their settings.[2]  The theological needs in the culture of the United States and Great Britain are shocking.[3]  Rabbi Jonathan Sacks states: “In virtually every Western society in the 1960’s there was a moral revolution, an abandonment of its entire traditional ethic of self-restraint.  The Judeo-Christian moral code was jettisoned.  In its place came: whatever works for you.  …something has gone badly wrong since.”[4]

In addition, the youth are no longer receiving moral and spiritual instruction as they once did.  The National Study of Youth and Religion revealed that although many U.S. Protestant youth participate in worship services, few engage in Bible reading, which is the starting point of Biblical understanding.  The study said:

“The majority of U.S. Protestant teenagers say that they read the Bible either less frequently or not at all. Furthermore, of all U.S. teenagers, only about one in four reads the sacred scripture of their religious tradition weekly or more often (26 %). Large numbers of U.S. teenagers do claim religious affiliations and report attending religious services.”[5]

Also disappointing is that new data suggests that church attendance and membership is slipping.[6]  Consider the following:

  • In New England, less than ten percent of the population is in church on any given Sunday.  Only two percent of the population of Massachusetts is in church any given Sunday.
  • Except for the state of Hawaii, Christianity has not seen a net expansion in any state in the union in over 25 years.
  • Over 4,000 local congregations permanently close their doors every year in the U.S. alone.
  • Over 3,000 new church plants must be launched each year just to keep up with the changing demographics and population growth in the United States.[7]

Furthermore, Christian education in the home and within the corporate gathering of the body of Christ must change.  Families and churches must work in tandem to recover a discipled congregation of young and old, ready to live out the faith.  So on this Memorial Day weekend, when we are recalling those who were close to us and those who gave their lives for our freedom, let us also remember some critical things about our faith…

CHURCH, LET US REMEMBER WHAT TO BELIEVE.

The Church has been forced over the centuries to define what she believes in. Creeds were written to answer heresies, which have always been around. The Apostles’ Creed affirmed the belief in the Trinity, denied by Arianism.  The Nicene Creed affirmed the deity of Jesus Christ, of which Arianism also denied.  The Chalcedonian Creed affirmed the separate, yet coexisting divine and human natures of Christ, denied by Eutychianism.  Caspar Schwenkfeld denied all these ancient heresies and stated so.[8]  Churches, both Catholic and Protestant have endorsed the ancient creeds in an effort to separate themselves from these heresies which exist in other forms today.

The earliest portions, found in the Old Roman form, date back to the mid second century, around 140 AD.  Today, it is the most basic statement of the contents of the Christian faith.  It is the greatest commonality among Christians: Roman Catholics; Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists and the Schwenkfelders.

It was thought to have been a baptismal formula; something that was recited when individuals converted to Christianity.  At Central, we recite the Creed on the days we practice communion.  The creed is a response to God; A statement of communal identity and reminds us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into Hades. The third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Christian church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.”

It presents the significance of the three persons of the Trinity.  The Father is our Creator, the Son is our Redeemer and the Spirit is our Sanctifier/Sustainer.  Last week, we celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit.  We also quoted both the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed in our traditional worship service.

It is important that we recognize that the Christian faith is not what we make it, but what is handed down to us.  We are not given options on what to believe.  Rather, our faith is that which is once and for all delivered to us, as Jude 1:3 indicates: “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”

We cannot believe some parts and reject others, nor can we understand the faith without knowing its parts.  How can a plumber do his work without knowing connections and joints?  How can a Mathematician operate without knowing Algebra?  So, it is necessary for believers in Jesus to know the basics of the faith, more than just quoting the creed, but believing it also.  Let us not only remember what to believe, but

CHURCH, LET US REMEMBER HOW TO BEHAVE.

The Ten Commandments have functioned as our basis for ethics in this country since its inception.  Could you name the Ten Commandments by heart?  If you can’t, it could be that their power has slipped from your radar.  The first four, specifically define our love for God.  Jesus said that the greatest commandment is that we would love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength.  We do this by having no gods before Him; by abstaining from idols, whether they be the television, the golf course or the internet; that we revere God’s name and hold it in the highest respect; that one day per week we abstain from work to rest and worship Him and meet with God’s people.

The last six commandments teach us how we must love our neighbor as ourselves.  That we first honor authority, given to us in mom and dad; that we preserve the lives of others with both deed and word, that we keep ourselves sexually pure before marriage and sexually committed inside marriage; that we seek to protect the property of others; that we tell the truth and are content, being happy for others when they are blessed.

The Ten Commandments are designed to be moral guide for our decision making and to remind us that we need a Savior, that Jesus who perfectly fulfilled God’s demands.  There are moral absolutes, though the culture would disagree.

If you wonder about the relevancy of God’s moral law, just consider the events of this past week, when 25 year old Lee Rigby was brutally massacred outside of London in broad daylight, a result of Muslim extremists. He leaves behind a two-year-old son.

Or Jodi Arias, the young lady from Southern California who murdered her boyfriend, Travis Alexander by shooting him, stabbing and slashing him nearly 30 times.[9]  Or Kermit Gosnell, who murdered innocent children in his doctor’s office in West Philadelphia.  You say, “Well Pastor David, that’s the world.  That has nothing to do with me.”  Actually, that is the world that you and I live in.  We are called to know and love God’s law, when the world disregards human life and promotes filth and promiscuity every day.  We must recover the sense that sin is first an offense to God, then an offense towards others.  Lastly…

CHURCH, LET US REMEMBER HOW TO PRAY.

Prayer is a popular subject.  It is a spiritual exercise that is quite popular.  And it was quite popular in Jesus’ day.  Notice Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:5: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

I have to say that I was blessed to be a part of the Claire Schweiker funeral yesterday.  It was said of Claire that she would pray 2-3 hours per day.  Her son Rich, a lawyer, was experiencing a particularly challenging trial.  She wrote him a note of encouragement to say that she and Mr. Schweiker were praying for him morning and evening and several times in between.  Claire made it her practice to encourage others with Scripture verses.  Prayer should be a regular part of our daily duties, as easy as exhaling.

I have a friend that does not attend church, but claims that he prays.  Books are written by scads of people that advocate a form of spirituality, with or without the guidance offered by Scripture.  So the Christian notion of prayer is in the backdrop of a world that practices prayer.  But not all prayer is heard by God or is legitimate.

What follows Matthew 6:9 is the Lord’s Prayer, a logically guided dialogue with God consisting of six requests: that His plan and desires would be accomplished with our full cooperation and participation; that He would grant us our needs as we depend upon Him; that He would not only cancel our moral debts as we violate His law, but that we would also forgive others when we are wronged; that we might be kept from temptation, or when it is necessary, we would be delivered from it.

Just a word on forgiveness.  Notice that it is believed on in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”  And practiced in the Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”  In case you don’t think it is practical, remind yourself of the need to forgive others the next time you’re offended or wronged in some way.  I knew a woman who was married for nearly 60 years.  You might assume that such a couple was happily married, but such was not the case.  They struggled and fought to get along and be happy for most of their married life.  At a critical time, the husband did something foolish and incurred the wrath of his wife for most of the rest of their lives.  Unfortunately, she went to her grave, possibly not forgiving him.  Not only did this bring added misery in their marriage, but also damaged her walk with Christ.

As Christians, we must conform to God’s wishes, God’s character, even when we don’t feel like it.  Our lives are not our own.  We don’t dictate what we are to do.  We belong to the Lord and we are accountable to Him.  It is the best thing for us.

On this Memorial Day, let us remember.  “To remember,” means “to bring to mind or think of again.”  We must remember and in some cases, relearn what belief, behavior and devotion mean within a Christian context.  It is easy to live life without a sense of accountability to God.  Oh, we have the civil authorities to remind us that there are consequences to bad behavior.  But if we are not careful, we can fall prey to the idea that life is just an endless search for the next form of entertainment.  Something that traditionally might be wrong, is now acceptable, as long as we keep out of trouble and don’t hurt others.  But what about the condition of our souls?

Pastor John Piper writes: “The real pursuit of pleasure must connect the most profound appetites of our being to the One by whom, in whom, and for whom we exist. God is our joy. God. Every other search is a dead-end road, no matter how fast we can drive it.”


[1][1] Book of Worship for Church and Home, “A Service for the Reception of Members into the Church,” (Pennsburg, PA: Board of Publication, 1928), 38-41.

[2] For instance, the divorce rate among Christians is similar to that of the unchurched.  See. http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2011-03-14-divorce-christians_N.htm.

[3] A recent survey confirmed that most youth in Great Britain do not believe that Jesus Christ was an historical figure.

[4] Jonathan Sacks, “Reversing the Decay of London Undone,” The Wall Street Journal, August 20-21, 2011.

[5] “Few U.S. Protestant Teens Regularly Read the Bible,” found at http://www.youthandreligion.org/news/2004-0623.html.

[6] Amy Frykholm “Loose Connections,” Christian Century, 31 May 2011, 20-23.

[7] Statistics shared at the Area Representative retreat for the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, February 7-9, 2012 in Orlando, Florida.  Much information taken from David Olson, The American Church in Crisis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 37-39.

[8] Caspar Schwenckfeld, Eight Writings on Christian Belief. Kitchener, Ontario: Pandora Press, 2005.

Setting Life Priorities

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

INTRODUCTION

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

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

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

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

GOOD PRIORITIES INVOLVE CARE OF LIFE STYLE.

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

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

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

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

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

GOOD PRIORITIES INVOLVE CARE OF COMMUNITY.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

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

[3] Reed, 49.

Qualities of a Sound Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

MENTORS ARE IMPORTANT IN THE SHAPING OF OUR FAITH.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THEOLOGY IS IMPORTANT.

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

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

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

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

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

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


[1] Reed, 43.

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

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