Becoming A Healthier Church: Fellowship-May 8, 2013

Becoming a Healthier Church:  Fellowship-May 8, 2013

1 John 3-4, 7

Fellowship like all of the other five walls are begins first with God and His desiring fellowship with us.  God comes to walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening.  He also created us to want and desire to live in fellowship with Him.  The fellowship God intended was broken by sin and disobedience.  God loved us so much and that fellowship with us was so important that He was willing to send His Son to die in our place paying the penalty for our sins and re-establishing Jesus Himself as the Way back to true fellowship with God.

Fellowship is of God and it begins in our relationship with Him and is understood and lived out in our relationships with other believers first.  God reaching out and inviting us back to Him.  Today we too can look at fellowship much the same way and we invite people in to connect to God with us and through us.  This connection is strengthened through tough times and the times of celebration.  Paul in his letter to the Philippians speaks of knowing the fellowship of His sufferings…there is fellowship when we live together in relationship with Him and one another.

Before we spoke about vital relationships and that most folks are not able to have too many.  Generally 8 to 16 and Jesus had 12 disciples that He poured His life’s teaching into.  When we think of fellowship we must look at this as vital and mutual and is not just an event we plan.  This deeper fellowship can begin at one of these events but once people are invited in to join we also must create connections for them in the body of Christ.  Without those connections the people may attend the church but may never really know fellowship.

The arrow on blueprint one shows it starting inside and moving out.  Fellowship is a place where the people begin to understand themselves to be the body of Christ and as an extension of His redeeming work.  This is done through our living out our lives as forgiven people who also are extending the grace of God to one another for mutual harmony, unity, and the building up of the body of Christ.  In lifting up Christ people will be drawn to Him and we also need to help them to make vital connections to the body, if not they are not fully.

Take for example a Lego block these blocks are meant to connect to one another in different ways.  Some of these blocks have more connection points than others but when they are filled up they are filled up.  These blocks can be a lot like us, some feel more comfortable having multiple vital connects and others are not as comfortable.  These connections can become more complicated when we get comfortable with our connections and aren’t able to help make room for others.  If there are 8 people in a small group and they have all their vital connections in one place then that group becomes a closed group and the newcomer has no place to make a connection.  This typically not intentional at all, but to help others connect will take some intentionality and perhaps helping them to find places to connect to the body.

It is in sharing these times of suffering and grief that we will gather others around.  You will only gather others around you by giving yourself away to them as Christ died for us.  Hebrews 10:25 tells us not to forsake assembling together and too often when difficulties arise people pull away from church and Christ rather than running to the only one who can help.

In I John, John writes about having fellowship with other believers.  There are three principles with behind true Christian fellowship.  First, our fellowship is grounded in the testimony of God’s Word.  Without this underlying strength, togetherness is impossible.  Second, it is mutual, depending on the unity of believers.  Third, it is renewed daily through the Holy Spirit.  True fellowship combines social and spiritual interaction, and it is made possible only through a living relationship with Christ.  Let us encourage one another as Christ has us and let us reach out to others in Christ’s love providing room for them to connect to the mutual sharing of the body of Christ.

*A couple of notes came from the Life Application Study Bible.

Advertisements

A Faithful Witness-May 5, 2013

A Faithful Witness-May 5, 2013

Acts 16:9-15

When most of us think about a witness we think of people like Paul who because of his dramatic conversion became such an effective witness for Christ.  A faithful witness is the one who responds with action to the testimony they have received.  In today’s culture of shock and 24 hour news it is much easier to look at something and not be moved by it.  Far too often we are witnesses but we are not faithful to either the testimony itself or to respond in a way the testimony calls for.  It is easier to sit back and not step-up or step-out.  Valuable information, people, and resources are not making it to the frontlines means we are fighting blind, undermanned, and with very little ammunition.  Faithfulness is more than about information but rather transformation.

When God calls us forth and gives us a mission and a testimony will we be faithful to Him and His Word of truth.  I am convinced that many believers today do not share their faith because they don’t feel like they have a dramatic testimony like Paul himself.  Any time the Lord has touched a life or given a word it is truly a testimony worth sharing.

In today’s scripture Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia.  The man was begging Paul to come to Macedonia and help.  Immediately after seeing this vision they got ready to leave, concluding that God had called Paul and his companions to preach the gospel to the people in Macedonia.  Let us consider for a moment that it is the middle of the night and Paul receives what he thinks to be a vision from God and they all start getting ready to go.  No one else had seen this vision but they trusted Paul’s testimony that he had received a vision and they acted on it in faith.

There would be many of us who would like to have the impact of a ministry like Paul, but most of us don’t want to trust God that much or make sacrifices that great.  Paul was a faithful witness, going from being a man who had sight and yet was blind.  On his way to Damascus he was able to see truly for the first time by a blinding light.  It was in this moment of clarity that Paul began to see Christ for who He really is.  Paul’s story is extraordinary and his impact was far-reaching.

In our own lives many have witnessed God’s grace and mercy but yet neglect to share that testimony of God’s work in their lives.  Although you may not feel like you have a dramatic testimony of God’s work in your life, His saving grace for us all is a testimony.  Still others think it best to leave the sharing to those who are “better qualified” or with “more training.”  There is no retirement age for a Christian, nor is there anywhere in the Bible where a person can just stop sharing about God’s saving grace.

The Bible says that God’s mercies are new every day, and so is our commitment to Him daily.  If you are alive and a Christian, then God’s expectations are that we will tell the world of the greatness, grace, salvation, and mercy of our great God.  We can tell great stories of literature about heroes both past and present.  We see these stories lived out on stage, big screen, or television and we don’t mind telling others about these things, but what about Jesus?

The transforming grace of God in Jesus Christ in our lives is to have a testimony.  Many don’t share because they are not living into His power daily and are not transformed through grace and obedience.  We don’t have to have gone through something horrible to have a testimony to the greatness and mercy of God in our lives.  Our very lives may be the testimony that someone needs to see to come to faith in Jesus Christ.  Will you share of His great love for you today?

 

If My People: National Day of Prayer

If My People:  National Day of Prayer

America!  America!  God she His grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.

Today is the National Day of Prayer.  When we look at what we may be praying for the list could include our government:  federal, state, and local.  We are praying for the world of violence we live in today.  We are praying for the loss of life through acts of terror both foreign and domestic.  We are praying but continue to see homes and families destroyed by natural disasters, and some man-made ones as well.  We are praying but continue to see the rise of greed, power, selfishness, and self-destruction in our country.

Even as we pray there is a rise as well in homelessness, poverty, and the objectification of people.  In our greed and selfishness we begin to see people as commodities for personal gain, benefit, and utility and in doing so ascribe each a value based on their impact on us and for us.  This objectification begins to shape how we see people closer to us as well.  We begin to see friends, neighbors, coworkers, spouses, parents, and our children as being here for us and not truly as brothers and sisters.

We are a people, as Thoreau pointed out, “Yet men have come to such a pass that they frequently starve, not for want of necessaries, but for want of luxuries.”  We are by the world’s standard rich people but perhaps our poverty is one of the soul rather than luxury.  Scripture poses the question this way, what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul?

We are broken people, with broken relationships, broken families, broken dreams, and broken hearts.  Our country is in need, in spite of its luxury, for basic humanity.  We are hoping to become our own gods by serving the lesser gods of money, pride, and power.

Have things gone so far that we are beyond hope as a nation?  What can we do?  We can begin praying not for our country but for our own hearts as His people.  Many cry out the country is in bad shape because the bible and prayer are “not allowed” in schools, while we neglect both in our own homes.  We must pray for ourselves, confess our sins, and extend to others the grace we have received.

America has a hope for its dignity, integrity, humanity, and for its very soul, but it is not found in the government, schools, or in institutions of higher learning.  If we the people continue to live for ourselves, step on others, and don’t think anything about it until we are the ones being stepped on.  We want the world to be better by each person doing “their part.”  We as believers have too often sat in judgment of others instead of kneeling in prayer for ourselves.  It seems easier to find fault in others in an attempt to make ourselves “feel” or “look” better by comparison.  This brings about a false righteousness based on ourselves not the grace that covers all.

America!  America!  God shed His grace on thee!  And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.  Frist, we must recognize that it is God’s grace alone that we are a blessed nation.  The goodness that we have received should be echoed in brotherhood as we seek to care for all people as those loved by God not as a commodity to benefit ourselves.  On this National Day of Prayer, we as believers should not pray for anyone else before we pray for our own condition before God.

American believers, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land”  2 Chronicles 7:14.  The scriptures are clear until His people pray for themselves and their condition first things will not change for “we the people.”

The hope for America is not a National Day of Prayer but that each day the heart of believers would be humbled, and that daily we would pray and seek God alone, and turn or repent from the sin in our lives that God will hear, forgive, and heal our land.  The hope for America is people getting real themselves and God, seeking Him and allowing Him to heal their hearts and eventually their land.  In this healing blessings may come to believers and unbelievers alike, and that is why we call it grace.

Grace is the work that makes true brotherhood a reality.  In grace we see the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.  It is in this grace that we don’t see the commonalities of our individual evils, but the Godly gift of grace.  It is this gift of grace that gives us a common identity in Him as brothers and sisters.  “We the people” may never know the healing of their land and ours, if we His people, called by His name don’t humble ourselves and pray.  Are you one of His people?  Do you want healing and brotherhood for our country?  It is possible, “if His people…”

Becoming A Healthier Church: Worship-May 1, 2013

Becoming A Healthier Church:  The Wall of Worship-May 1, 2013

Scripture:  Psalm 22:3; 2 Chronicles 5:13-14; Hebrews 10:23-25

Worship is our response to God’s revealing of Himself.  It is truly the only proper response to God.  Worship has both a corporate and individual component.  The worship of Christ is individualistic in nature but is expanded and strengthened in the corporate dimension.  God expects us to worship together collectively.  The collective praise of His people brings the people into the presence of God.  God inhabits or lives in the praise of His people.

Worship also in the corporate sense requires sacrifice of time, self, and resources to be together and contribute to the body of Christ.  True worship is the sense that God is worthy even if we don’t think He does anything for us.  God’s very existence is worthy of worship.  It is in the coming together that we sacrifice our time, money, and our right to ourselves in taking on our identity as the people of God.

Worship is the place where we come because He is worthy but also as we move toward maturity in Christ our identity is transformed.  Worship also because a place of rest, renewal, challenge, encouragement, learning to be God’s own together so we can be His in the world today.

Worship is an issue of the heart, not of self.  It is not about music style or preference.  It is about understanding the gifts of the heart offered to God.  He needs nothing but desires our praise.  Worship is about our connection and relationship, both to God and to one another.  Worship must be central in the life of a believer or everything else we do or offer will be skewed.  We will have a skewed view of fellowship, discipleship, evangelism, ministry, and mission.  These things will be less about God and more about us if true worship is not central to our lives.  All parts of our lives will be effect by a skewed view of worship, and then as others see us they will have a distorted picture of the reality of Christ.  Worship is the main thing and a church cannot afford to do without a healthy understanding worship.

It is in worship that God inhabits the praises of His people.  If we want to open ourselves up to see the power of God in its fullest we need to come together to worship.  It is in this worship that God is present and we are ready to receive Him and His Word.  It is not about what we can get out of the service but it is giving ourselves to the one who is worthy and with praise, adoration, and worship come before Him and then we look with anticipation for the glory of God to be revealed in our midst.  If our view of worship is skewed and we make this time about us then we will never truly come together in Christ and grow in maturity lifting Christ up that He may draw all men to Himself.

Worship is the key because it is the place where we continue to give God the praise He always deserves and we begin the process of becoming the body of Christ.  When the body of Christ becomes filled with the presence of Christ is becomes a powerful force for Christ in the world today.  Worship is the key, it bring us to a proper understanding of ourselves in relationship to God and to one another.

Mother’s Day 2013

Mother’s Day

On the second Sunday of May each year we honor our mothers on Mother’s Day.  I was remembering back to an earlier time in my life when the church I grew up in honor mothers.  There was a little something special for each mother, but then there was a special honor for the oldest mother, youngest mother, and the mother with the most children, and the mother with the most children present.  Looking back it almost seemed like an auction, “how many mothers have 5 or more children present with them today?” and so on until we arrived at that one.

In today’s culture we are noticing that families are small and moms and dads are having fewer children.  In recent years there have been shows and news stories featuring the mother giving birth to the most children at once (with the help of modern medicine), and others with large families.  Most parents and mothers may think, wow, how do these people do it?

As popular as these stories and shows are they are not even close to the record.  Elizabeth and William Greenhill had a family that consisted of 7 sons and 32 daughters.  Not only is this a large number of live newborns but unusual in that apart from one pair of twins the rest were single births.  The Greenhill’s had 39 children.  Although that is impressive the record is nearly double that.  Mr. & Mrs. Feodor Vassilyev hold the record for most children a couple has parented.  Although we do not know her first name, Mrs. Vassilyev gave birth to a total of 69 children.  She gave birth to 16 pairs of twins, 7 sets of triplets, and 4 sets of quadruplets between 1725 and 1765, in a total of 27 births.  67 of the 69 children born are said to have survived infancy.  We think we have rough days as parents we just need to be reminded of the Greenhill and Vassilyev families.

While this is impressive, almost inconceivable by today’s norms, there are many families who do not know the blessing a child or children.  In the years since those Mother’s Day celebrations at my home church, I am glad that we have moved away from the emphasis on age and numbers.  I remember some dear saints in my church in my early years as a child who blessed me and love on me, and some where mothers or grandmothers, but there were a few who were not.  Too many times we have understood motherhood only for its biological factor and not its nurturing capacity.  Looking back there have been more than a few blessings of spiritual mothers of nurturing in my life and I’m sure with some thought you will think of some too.

Dear friends, take time not only on Mother’s Day, but on any or every day to tell these special ladies how much we love them.  Not just for the gift of life but for nurturing us throughout our lives.  That nurturing also comes from some blessed spiritual mothers as well, don’t forget to let them know the impact they have made in your life.  I don’t know a single one who would not want to know they are loved.  Mothers, both biological and spiritual, thank you for your gift of love and nurturing in our lives.  There is no love gene but is a gift of God for a heart willing to pass is on.