An Open Letter to New Horizon Christian Church

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Dear Church Family,

What a couple of days it has been.  Over the past 72 hours, we have gone from many polls seemingly pointing to a huge win for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the General Election over Republican nominee Donald Trump, to a November surprise on election day that showed Trump beating Clinton.  If you are anything like me, you probably stayed up and watched the coverage, simply to follow the drama of it all and see how everything would turn out.  What a night, filled with emotions of joy for those who were supporting Trump/Pence and emotions of sadness for those who were backing Clinton/Kaine.  Some are incredibly optimistic about the next four years for our country, while others wait in horror for what they expect to be a time of national misery.

Add to all of this the fact that we now have social media, which means that we can immediately post our thoughts, our concerns and our “expertise” at a moment’s notice, without necessarily thinking through not only what we are saying, but the impact that it may have on our readers.  Church family, it is getting ugly out there.  People are making various claims with no basis of understanding (Trump voters are all uneducated bigots who don’t care for minorities, women and the LGBTQ communities/Hillary voters don’t care about babies and want to be able to kill them up until delivery).  These sorts of blanket statements are being made so carelessly, causing a stronger divide than what was already in place.  The winners are gloating while the losers are reacting out of fear and anger.  We as a people tend to speak out of a worst case scenario mindset (e.g. minorities, women, and others will have to live in fear over the next four years).  It simply seems like tensions have reached a boiling point.  It is something we have been dealing with for years now, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.  Healing is lacking from both ends of the political spectrum.

So how are we, the Church, supposed to act?  What does it look like, in the midst of all of this, to be a City on a Hill, that gives light and peace to a world filled with fear and turmoil?  Here are a few thoughts that might start us moving in the right direction:

Please understand that we find ourselves in a unique moment of our history.  It can be difficult for Christians to differentiate ourselves from the world around us, and yet we have just been served a moment in time where the difference can be huge.  Our society, at the moment, is engaging in a brutal war of words and philosophy.  Hate is quickly being spread by supporters of both political parties through name-calling, oversimplification of complex issues, and sometimes flat out dishonesty.  If you, as a follower of Christ, have ever looked for an opportunity to be different from your surroundings, you may be finding yourself in such a situation right now!  So take advantage.  Live and speak in such a way that you will be set apart from that what is going on around you.  Instead of hate, spread love.  Instead of tearing down, build up and encourage.  Instead of drawing lines of division, look to accept those who differ from you.  By doing this, Christ will be glorified in you and people will take notice, not of you, but of the God you worship and represent!

Know your limitations.  Something that I am seeing from a lot of younger students, both in high school and college (and from some adults as well), is an attitude of omniscience.  This means that they leave little room for doubt in their own beliefs and also that they believe that they know the inner workings of the minds of others.  They make claims that they know exactly why someone would vote for a particular candidate and cannot imagine that they could be wrong in their knowledge.  Please know that only God is omniscient.  This means that God alone truly knows the motivations and reasons behind a person’s behavior.  I cannot state why someone would vote for Trump or for Clinton because these are complex decisions that involve many different motivations that go into a person’s choice.  So it would be best for us to completely avoid acting as though we have any inkling of an idea as to why people made the choice that they made.  To claim that someone voted Republican because they don’t care about people of color, or to claim that someone voted Democrat because they don’t have a job and want to collect welfare shows a lack of maturity, not only in life, but in faith as well.  So know your limitations and avoid making claims that you cannot prove.

Please do not discount fears and concerns.  A lot of folks are truly terrified of where our country will be going over the next few years, and they have every right to be nervous.  I cannot say what a woman should feel if she believes her incoming president disrespects women.  I cannot say what a Muslim ought to feel is he believes that our incoming president wants to limit his rights as a citizen of our country.  Recognize the fears of others rather than dismissing them.  These fears will often become a gateway for some incredible conversations!  Look to discuss rather than dismiss.

Please be sensitive in your comments, likes and shares.  I know that this seems crazy, but the fact that you “like” a particular post of Facebook can speak volumes to someone about what you believe or support.  As soon as someone sees you liking a status that is filled with hate, sarcasm or bigotry, they will immediately believe that you support such things.  To go along with this, we should most likely limit some of our statements that are over-simplistic and only cause division.  “He’s not my president,” is not only untrue, but extremely divisive in a time when healing is needed.  “See you later Obama,” does nothing to advance any sort of kindness to those who might legitimately miss our current president.  Be careful about what you post, comment, like and share.

Finally, have some hope, and be sure to share your hope.  First of all, know that God is in control, even when it seems like he is not.  Read through your Old Testament, through some of the prophets who were tasked with speaking to Israel and Judah, and you will find that God was moving the chess pieces of the world even though it seemed to His people that He was nowhere to be found.  I know that many people did not like this election, and felt that God could never use either of the two major presidential candidates.  And yet, God has used and will use leaders to bring about His will for our world.  Place your hope in the fact that God’s Kingdom remains intact though worldly kingdoms collapse as dust.  You may find it to be easier to doubt, but God is at work in our lives, and for that reason alone, we as followers of Christ must remain hopeful.

Again, please recognize the weight of the situation in which our church family finds itself.  The world is lacking hope, and as a result are lashing out at one another.  You have the ability to calm nerves, to restore hope, to reach out in love and kindness, and to spread the joy of Christ, a joy that will not be removed by the situations of our world.  Would you devote yourselves to praying for our nation?  This includes praying for our outgoing president and his administration, praying for our incoming president and his coming administration, praying for those who are living in fear, praying for a nation which is seemingly torn in two, and praying for all of those who do not see eye to eye with you.

You are called to be Christ, to bring peace.  May we all go out of our way in order to extend such peace to others.  Romans 12:18 states, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”  Will you take this challenge seriously?  Will you swallow your pride in order to hear others and accept those with whom you disagree?  If so, you will exhibit the love of Christ amid a time of great hardship.

I’m praying for all of you and am so blessed to be a part of our church family.

-Pastor Ernie

 

 

Reflections on CIY Move 2016

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It is bittersweet knowing that Ali and I may have just returned from my last CIY Move for a decent while.  It’s sweet simply because it can be taxing on our lives to head out for a week away from home and away from our daughter, Aletheia.  It’s sweet because van rides are not always my favorite things to do, even if it is only a little over 4 hours.  It’s even sweet because, strange as it sounds, I miss being in the church office during the week, working on lessons, writing emails, all of the stuff that I probably wouldn’t admit that I like had I not had a break from it in a while.

But it is bitter.  So bitter.  Being able to spend a week with 25 of our high school students this past week, away from sporting events, away from difficult family situations, away from significant others, has simply reminded me how much I love those students!  Yes, it can be difficult, but it’s so wonderfully rewarding just to be able to hang out with these folks!  As I was returning our rental vans this afternoon when we returned, I had a chance to be alone in one of the vans, and it got my mind wandering off to what a great week it was.  I just kept cycling through all of the parts of the week that I appreciated, quickly discovering that there was not much that I didn’t enjoy!  Here are just a few thoughts that I had:

  1. Before we even get to CIY, I have to mention our church family, because I kept thinking about all of the folks who have supported our students financially and also through prayer during the entire week.  Every year we ask if there would be any adults in the church who would partner with our high schoolers, not only in prayer, but offering a financial gift in order to help them get to Move.  Our church’s generosity simply cannot be ignored.  People gave, and gave, and gave.  Then, a couple of students who are going on the trip decided to sponsor other students.  WOW!  How cool is that?  I love being a part of a church filled with givers and prayer warriors!
  2. Secondly, a word about CIY.  It was incredible programming this year.  From getting the students more involved in small groups to the wonderful sermons that were preached, CIY has to be able to pat themselves on the back.  Not only all of this, but they also worked through Ephesians, which is simply a phenomenal book that is so relevant to the lives of teenagers (I know, all books of the Bible are relevant, but man, Ephesians!).  Our kids should be walking away from the week feeling challenged but also encouraged.  How could you not be built up after reading something like, “But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ,” (Ephesians 2:13).  I think that all of our students had some pretty major takeaways that they can be building on in the years ahead.
  3. How can we get more of Mark Christian in our lives?  The speakers were all amazing, but every morning we got a chance to hear from this pastor who works at a church in Joplin, MO.  Seriously, he is one of the major reasons that we keep heading up to Michigan for CIY.  He is authentic, genuine, honest, challenging, loving, caring, everything that every pastor hopes to be. Don’t believe me?  Go ahead and click on a few of his sermons and see for yourself.  You might be watching for a while once you hear from him.
  4. It was incredible to see some of the transformation that has begun to take place in many of our students.  Not only did we have two stand up who were called into vocational ministry, but we had a large handful rededicate their lives and the entire group stood up in order to say that they all felt called to Kingdom work, meaning that they wanted to devote their lives, no matter which career they pursued, to following and serving Christ.  I was so blown away by this.  Can we even imagine if in the small town of Heyworth, Illinois, we had 25 high school students seeking to transform their school, their church, their friendships, their families and their town?
  5. I found out a lot about our students during CIY Move.  They have some pretty major plans, which I love to hear about.  A few wanted to get into nursing and use their gifts to serve others in foreign nations throughout their lives.  Another of our students took a look at the state of counseling today and wanted to begin helping people who are in emotional distress by pointing them to Christ.  One wants to join the military in order to ensure the freedoms that we often take for granted.  Some want to teach, lead worship, work with children and orphans in ministry and many other pursuits that I can’t even remember.  Our students are thinking big, and I am a huge fan of that!
  6. We brought our 7-month old son Azariah with us to CIY this year, which can always be a bit of a gamble.  However, our students took care of us, literally.  Both guys and girls stepped up wanting to hold Azariah, feed him and even change diapers.  This was a massive weight taken off of Ali and me.  This is the sort of help that we have grown to hope for from adults, not from high school students.  We were so encouraged by students who stepped up to help us.
  7. On that note, a quick shout out to Kevin and Jen Campbell who watched our daughter Aletheia for the week and also from Kade, who watched our house and dog for us!  We are surrounded by wonderful friends!
  8. Finally, my last reflection is on the behavior of our students.  CIY can be a frightening time because we have all these high school students away from their parents and pretty much under our supervision.  That is intimidating every time that we head to Michigan.  But over the past few years, our students simply amaze us.  We don’t have to deal with much as far as behavioral issues go.  Our students seem to be there in order to learn and grow and that is all that we can ask of them.  High school can be a pretty rough time, especially when you take parents completely out of the equation, but NHCC’s students always step up to the challenge and show us the potential for high schoolers!

I am going to miss taking our students to CIY.  But I am excited to continue watching them grow into disciples of Christ, seeking His will for their lives and bowing in obedience.  I truly believe that they can have a massive impact on this world and I am thrilled that I get to be around to see what they can do!

-The Pastor

Selfie Versus Panorama

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2016 has lasted about 5 hours thus far and I’ve already felt the desire to get back into the habit of occasionally blogging.  And of course, this happens most frequently when I have some things on the mind, and New Years Day is a good day for having things on the mind.

Today’s topic: selfies.  No idea when these really took off as a “thing,” though perhaps they have always been with us since the invention of the camera.  The cell phone has seemingly made the art of taking pictures of ourselves quite popular and much easier to perform.  Selfies have become the rage as of late, even further made possible by the invention of the selfie stick.  I remember first seeing one of these monstrosities while at Disney World in the summer of 2014 and I laughed (a lot). I could not have imagined it possible that people would actually spend money on a stick on which you could attach your phone in order to take a better picture of yourself.  And yet, here we are.

Please don’t misunderstand.  If you were to peruse my Instagram account, it’s not like you would never find a selfie.  I promise you, they’re there.  But it seems like we have become obsessed with taking our own picture.  Not a few times a year, but instead on a daily basis for some.

So are selfies in and of themselves a bad thing?  Of course not.  But, just like anything else that we can enjoy, even our picture-taking can become corrupted, can’t it?  Some things really cause us to focus on self rather than on others (or even on Christ) and it is at this point that we find such things to have become detrimental.

This is completely compounded by the fact that many of us tend to live our lives from a “selfie mentality.”  Hang with me here for a minute.  I simply mean that we want to be the focus of the frame.  We don’t want to share any ounce of limelight and so become completely infatuated with self and ignorant of others.  We shouldn’t live this way.  Everyone is aware of that.  Even the most humanist person around would admit that we are missing something if we truly only consider ourselves and forget about others.

In the New Testament, Paul seems to speak directly to our culture while addressing the church in Philippi.  In Philippians 2:3-5, he writes:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…”

Seems that instead of having only our lovely faces in the frame, Paul encourages us to include others as well.  It could be said that we should be taking panoramic pictures rather than selfies, fitting in as much of the landscape and people around us as possible.

So here’s the challenge for 2016.  Love others, include others, meet the needs of others, find the beauty in others, help others, and live with an attitude of humility.  Let’s widen the borders a bit and see just how many people we might be able to have join us in our thoughts, prayers and actions.

And my goodness, let’s take a few less selfies…

-The Pastor

 

The Necessity of Volunteers

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In just over a week, NHCC will be putting on the first Ministry Fair that we have had in at least the time that I have been a pastor there.  There have been two primary motivations behind putting together the fair.  First of all, we hope that our church will become aware of all of the various ministries that we have to offer.  We want all of our parents of 4th-6th grade students to realize that we have a ministry specifically designed for their kids.  If we have any adults who might want to dig deeper into their faith, we have many Sunday School classes and small group opportunities available to them.  We also want folks to know that if they should find themselves in financial trouble, we have a Benevolence Team who will most likely be able to help.

Our second goal is to help make our church family aware that there are many areas of need within these ministries.  We have so many ministries currently up and running at our church that simply need a few more people to be willing to step up and volunteer their time, efforts and resources in order to help these ministries thrive.  As a youth pastor who interacts with a whole lot of volunteers, I’ve had quite a few thoughts as we prepare for this ministry fair and would like to share just a few with you.

1. Pastors always seem to get the credit.  This is something that I’ve observed quite a bit over the past six (nearly seven) years of being in full-time youth ministry.  Pastors are the ones who tend to receive praise when the church is headed in the right direction, and I think that’s a shame.  One reason for this is that I’ve come to understand that without volunteers, ministry would largely cease.  In the realm of youth ministry, I’ve come to depend on our volunteers.  Currently at The Hype (our Wednesday night youth group), we have about ten adult volunteers who come out ever Wednesday night in order to spend time with our students.  They spend at least 2-3 hours every week building relationships, worshiping together and even leading a small group of students.  As I have repeated many times to our volunteers and our students, the small groups are the most important part of what we do on Wednesday evenings.  More important than the meal we eat together; more important than the sermon I preach; more important than the songs we sing.

Suppose one day that all of our volunteers decide to step down.  All of a sudden I’m looking at a Wednesday night with 40-50 students all by myself.  I can’t build relationships with all of those students.  I can’t lead small groups with all of those students.  In fact, there is very little that I could do with all of them!  I greatly depend on our volunteers to help the vision that we have for The Hype ministry become a reality.  And this happens all across our church.  Two pastors cannot effectively lead worship every week, yet with volunteers, it is made possible.  Two pastors cannot effectively lead all of our congregation in small groups, yet with volunteers it is made possible.  Pastors may receive the praise, yet we are fully aware that we are completely reliant on the large number of volunteers who step up and give of themselves to serve the people inside and outside the church.

2.  I think that it’s always important to keep in mind who you are helping when you volunteer your time in various ministries at the church.  It’s easy to simply think you’re helping out the leadership of the church, the pastors, elders or ministry leaders.  However, it is so important that we all keep in mind that we are serving others that need to be served.  What I mean by this is that when someone signs up to teach Sunday School, they are not only serving the Sunday School Ministry Leader by filling a much needed teacher spot, but they are serving the students that they will be teaching.  The new teacher is able to invest in relationships with a handful of kids while teaching them some incredible truths out of Scripture.

The reason I bring this up is because I think a lot of people might find their motivation for volunteering in doing a personal favor for me, or another pastor, or a ministry leader.  However, if this is the motivation, then the volunteer will find no satisfaction in the act of serving others.  They’ll find themselves serving out of obligation rather than out of the joy of ministering to the needs of other people.  Serve because there are plenty of people who need to be served.

3. Finally, remember that the ministry opportunities that are provided at your church are a way for you to fulfill your calling to love others and care for them.  As Pastor Luke pointed out a few weeks ago in a sermon, loving others is how we love God.  It is the natural outpouring of our love for God.  So when we serve others and take care of their needs, those actions are the manifestation of the love that we have toward our God.  The various ministries at our church provide a great opportunity for folks to love others AND love God!  I love seeing our church body step up to the challenge of loving others, contributing our gifts, our abilities, our resources and our time in order to show our love of God and neighbor.  It is our hope that the Ministry Fair on February 15 will provide the opportunity for folks in our church to serve and be served!

-The Pastor

The Convenient Relationship

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One of the biggest struggles that most youth pastors face is the fact that many of their high school students will leave the church once they head to college.  While the numbers always vary according to the study that one is citing, the reality is that students tend to drop away from the church at least for a while during their years away from home.  The most frustrating part is that we know it’s coming and yet there is very little that we can do that will stop it.  We try our best to prepare our students for the reality that they will face during their college years, and yet it continually seems to make very little difference.  So the job of youth ministry becomes planting seeds that will hopefully bear fruit in the future, whether during high school, college, or even the years that follow.  We seek to plant truths in the minds of our students so that years later they may remember and come back into a living and growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Even though Ali and I are prepared for what may happen with many of our students in college, we constantly must ask ourselves a simple question: why?  Why are students walking away from the church during college?  Why are core students, those who have been a part of our ministry for years, simply giving up on so many of the things they have been taught?  These are tough questions, yet I believe we are called to wrestle with them.

Desiringgod.org posted a wonderful article entitled, “College Doesn’t Change Your Heart, It Reveals It.”  This title makes quite the statement.  The main idea behind this title is that students who leave behind being a part of a church and growing in a relationship with Christ are doing so because these actions reveal the heart that they actually possess.  It reveals the heart that they have always had.  It’s not that something happens in college that changes the mind of students, but rather that once they find themselves in this new environment, their true self is revealed.  They find that their relationship with Christ possibly wasn’t nearly as important to them as they once thought.  This attitude is revealed in them and to them.

But there is something else that I’d like to add to this truth.  I think that the attitude of the heart that is revealed with so many students is that their relationship with Christ is one of convenience.  We have all found ourselves in these sort of relationships with others in our past (or possibly even in our present…).  Sometimes, we just like being around someone because they’re easy to be around.  We continue a friendship not because we are seriously interested in investing the time in the relationship, but rather we find that it is simply what we are used to.  If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we’re really not all that committed to these relationships of convenience, but they are where we find ourselves most comfortable.

I think that it’s possible that a lot of students in high school find themselves in a convenient relationship with Christ.  It’s easy to go to church and develop what looks like a healthy relationship with Christ when you’re in grade school, junior high and high school, especially if your parents are actively involved in the life of the church.  However, the more serious anyone gets about their faith, the more they find that it’s not always an easy or convenient relationship.  God leads his children into some pretty sticky and messy situations.  Sometimes it can be more difficult to “get to know” God than it might be to get to know the new kid at school.  And I think that the time that many students really begin to make this realization is their junior and senior years of high school.  By the time college rolls around, many students seem to abandon this “relationship” because it is no longer convenient.  It takes discipline.

So this changes the way a youth pastor views ministry.  We have to somehow move our students away from a superficial, shallow, convenient relationship with God and into an growing, deepening and loving intimacy with our Savior.  Once a student realizes the value of such a relationship, they may find it quite difficult to leave behind once they are out on their own.

-The Pastor

Follow Me

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We have made it to the end of this five week series on John 21:15-19.  As always, please allow me to give just a short recap of where we have been over the past few weeks.

1. Though Peter had messed up miserably in his betrayal and rejection of Christ, Jesus again calls him into the ministry of taking care of His Church.

2. If we ever hope to effectively minister to those in or out of the Church, we must first find ourselves abiding and remaining in fellowship with Christ.

3. While we are called to love others, both in and out of the Church, our love for Christ is of the utmost and primary importance.

4. Our shared calling to minister to one another will be defined by genuine love and humble hearts.

We now turn to the last couple words that Jesus speaks to Peter.  After asking Peter three times if he loves him and hearing Peter’s positive response, Jesus instructs Peter to take care of His sheep.  Following this command, Jesus gives Peter one more bit of instruction.  He tells Peter to follow him.  We have this same bit of instruction given to us as well.  Honestly, isn’t this the aim of our entire relationship with Christ?  Jesus is more than simply a Savior; He is a role model.  We are seeking to become more like Him in every aspect of our lives.  And it’s not simply a command to live a certain way.  Instead, we find that we are following, that Jesus has set the path and we follow in pursuit of His character and holiness.  When we find that we are called to minister to those in the Church (as we have been studying throughout this series), we must understand that Jesus is not calling us to do something that He has not already displayed in His own life.

So we are left with the basic question: what does it look like to follow Christ.  To better understand this, let’s look at three sections of text that are all found in Ephesians 4:1-16.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Let’s start backwards, with verses 4-6.  Paul emphasizes one word in these few verses: one.  By using this word over and over, Paul is directing our attention once again to the idea of unity.  We are called to be a Church that is united.  We have one hope, one Lord, one Spirit, one body, one faith, one baptism, one God.  All of these things are meant to show that division is unacceptable.  Again, will we be a group of people who are in harmony or a group of people who find ourselves in discord?

In verses 2-3, we find the attitude which we must have in order to accomplish the goal of unity.  This goes back to our text from last week that focused on our attitude and what ministry within the Church might look like.  Love, peace, humility, gentleness, patience.  These are the mindsets that will bring about the unity that God desires for His Church.  If our congregations were filled with people who were defined by these qualities, then we might find an abundance of unity in our local churches.

Finally, verse 1 reminds us that this is a calling to ALL Christians.  This letter was written to the saints, meaning those who have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior.  It’s not only written to the pastors, elders, overseers, missionaries and mature Christians.  As soon as one finds himself in a relationship with Christ, then these attitudes listed in verses 2 and 3 should be goals for that person’s life.  Unity should already become a priority.  We must live our lives according to our calling in Christ Jesus.

So here’s a quick recap: Every one of us is called to unity within the Church, made possible through a life of humility, peacefulness and love.  Now onto verses 7-12:

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
    and he gave gifts to men.”

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teacher, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…

 Now, if unity is our goal and we understand the attitude that we must have in order to attain unity, we now find ourselves needing to find that which enables us to have such an attitude.  Notice the main actor in these verses.  It’s not us.  Instead, we find that Christ is the one who is giving out gifts.  In fact, in verse 12 we find that these gifts and abilities are given in order that the saints (you and me) might be equipped to minister.  So unity is the goal, we know the attitude, and now we find the source.

It’s hard to consider the idea that we are not all that able to equip ourselves.  Our gifts and abilities to minister come from Christ and our responsibility is to recognize our gifts and find where they could be used accordingly.  How has your attitude changed since coming to know Christ?  Do you find yourself to be more patient?  More loving?  More hospitable?  How is Christ enabling you to better minister to those around you?  Find those gifts and begin putting them into practice.

Finally, the last few verses:

13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Notice that there is a contrast listed here.  Paul speaks of Christians first as children and we find ourselves growing and maturing into something better.  Children here are defined as those who are gullible.  They are convinced by anything.  Doctrine that isn’t rooted will convince children.  Human craftiness and scheming will convince children.  However, Paul tells us that we ought to grow out of such a childlikeness.  So what is it that we are growing up into?

Christ.  This is the goal.  Following Christ.  Becoming more like Christ.  He is the head of our church, not a pastor, not a leadership board, but Christ.  So as a church makes Him the head, we find ourselves growing more and more to become like Him, ultimately knowing and applying the Truth that we constantly find ourselves learning.  Unity happens as we find ourselves growing into His character.  It has to happen.  There really is no way around it.  A church that is filled with people who are becoming more and more like Christ will find unity as the result.

So as we come to the close of this series, it all comes down to the basic command to follow Christ.  Minister to one another as a result of following Christ’s example.  Feed the sheep as a result of following Christ’s example.  Love God as a result of following Christ’s example.  There is no other goal in this life than to simply follow Jesus.

-The Pastor

Feed My Sheep

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Sheep

 

So we finally come to the portion of the sermon series in which we move past our two prerequisites to ministry (fellowship with Christ and love of God) and on to the actual describing of what ministry in the church could look like.  It’s important to note in the text of John 21:15-19 that following Jesus’ questions to Peter and Peter’s responses, Jesus always gives instruction.  All three of his instructions deal with Peter’s care for Christ’s flock, meaning His Church.  Peter is called into the ministry of taking care of the needs of other Christians.  I believe that Scripture makes it clear that all Christians are called into this same sort of ministry, as we will soon see.

So what does it look like to actually minister to those within the Church?  In order to explore this a bit more, we will be turning to Romans 12:9-16.  However, before we read it, a quick note about it is necessary.  This passage in Scripture is what is known as a paraenesis.  This is a method of writing that has three basic characteristics.  First of all, it includes exhortation, or calling it’s readers to live and act in a particular way.  Romans 12 is filled with this sort of language.  Secondly, it depends heavily upon tradition and other sources.  As you read this portion of Romans 12, you may begin to find yourself asking where you have read this before.  This is because Paul is writing things that can be found in Jewish tradition as well as in the Old Testament, sayings of Jesus and even in some of his own writings to other churches.  Finally, the third characteristic is that it tends to be more random and unstructured, deliberately moving from one topic to another without a definite line of development.  All three of these characteristics will be quickly seen in our text:

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation,be constant in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

-Romans 12:9-16

Notice the three characteristics of the paraenesis writing style?  Paul writes to the Christians in Rome and in this particular text, he calls them to live in a certain way concerning their relationships.  For the purpose of this sermon, we will be focusing on the texts that specifically deal with our relationships within the Church, how we are called to treat one another.  For that reason, let’s take a look at verses 9, 10, 13 and 16!

1. Verse 9 opens this portion of the text with the command to let our love be genuine.  In the Greek, there is no verb in this sentence so it would literally be rendered, “the genuine love.”  Many scholars believe that it is more of a heading for this whole section.  So Paul would have written the heading and then used the rest of this portion of Scripture to hash out what it means to have a genuine love toward other people.

The Greek word translated as genuine or sincere in verse 9 is anypokritos, which is a word that refers to stage acting.  When actors would play a part or a role, they would put on masks and act out a character.  However, anypokritos would be when the actors would take off their mask and be genuine.  It was no longer a role but they were just being themselves.  This is how Paul was calling Christians to love.  Don’t let our acts of love toward others be hypocritical or acting, but they should be genuine and sincere.  They should reflect the heart that we have towards one another.

C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, brings attention to the fact that we are called as Christians to love other people.  He notes that this is not always the easiest thing to do.  So he gives his readers the challenge of figuring out what our attitude would be toward a person if we did in fact love them.  He then says to live that way in our relationship with those who are difficult to love and soon we will find our attitude toward them changing.  This is incredibly helpful in our pursuit of genuine and sincere love toward others, even our enemies!

Romans 12:9 also calls us to cling to that which is good and abhor that which is evil.  The word translated as “cling to” is a word that Paul uses elsewhere to describe a sexual relationship between two people.  We are called to basically be intimate with that which is good in our lives.  We tend to do this instead with our guilty pleasures, but Paul is calling us to reject that which is evil and instead cling to the good.

2.  In verse 10, we find two Greek words with the same root, philo-.  The first is philostorgoi, which is translated as “love one another” and the second is philadelphia, which is translated as “brotherly affection.”  Our relationships within the context of the Church (one another) is to be a family-like relationship.  Cling to what is good, reject what is evil.  Think of that which is good in your own family and understand that these are the qualities that should be evident in our relationships in the Church.  Reject that which is evil or bad in your family relationships.  The Church is called to be the very best of our earthly families.

Paul also calls us into competition with one another.  We are called to outdo one another in showing each other honor.  Literally Paul is calling us to surpass one another.  Rather than competing with one another about things that don’t matter (highest paying job, nicest car, most well-behaved kids), we should be competing with one another in putting the needs of others above our own.  Serving each other.  Honoring one another.

3. In verse 13, we have two commands.  The first is to contribute to the needs of each other.  Literally rendered, this would say, “enter into fellowship with the needs of the saints.”  Two quick thoughts on that idea.  First, we should be involved in the lives of each other, actively pursuing the knowledge of one anothers’ needs.  So often we tend to wait around for people to come to us with their needs, but we are called to be in active fellowship with the needs of others.  This is a pretty drastic change in attitude!

Also, we should find ourselves seeking to show hospitality.  In the early church this would have made a lot of sense.  There would be traveling evangelists as well as people who were completely unable to take care of their own basic needs.  The need for hospitality would most likely have been huge in the 1st Century.  We are called to have this same perspective, and again, notice the action that we are to take.  Seek to show hospitality.  We are to be active in our pursuit of helping others out.

4. Finally, verse 16.  This simple statement summarizes everything that we have learned thus far in these verses.  Live in harmony with one another.  Two quick thoughts.  First of all, what do people see when they look at the interaction and community of your own church?  Do they find something that is beautiful, harmonious, filled with unity?  Or do they instead find dissonance, something that would cause them to turn away and not want anything more to do with your community?  A harmonious church will be something that others will want to seek out, so we must pay attention to the ways in which we love and serve one another.

Secondly, it’s important to notice that pride is a killer of harmony in the life of a church.  We are called to associate with the lowly, most likely the lowly folks and the lowly opportunities to minister.  We are called to never think too highly of our own wisdom.  Both of these challenges lead us into a place of humility rather than pride.  If we could be a congregation of folks who are humble, we would see harmony in the life of our church.

 

2 closing questions.  How might you serve in your own local church?  And who might you serve in your own local church?

 

-The Pastor