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Parts that do their part – beautiful

At the end of a movie do you linger and watch the credits? I usually don’t, but the few times that I have I was amazed at how many people it takes to make a movie. You need a lot more than just actors, directors, and writers. You need cameramen, makeup artists, bookkeepers, sound people, boom operators, special effects experts, stuntmen, wardrobe designers, set designers, logistics personnel, grunts, lot’s of grunts, electricians, carpenters, caterers, production people, and … No wonder movie making is expensive.

Take a look around, yup, right there wherever you are reading this, and think about all the things you see and how many people had to work together to make them and how many people it took for them to get to you. How many designers, engineers, entrepreneurs, craftsmen, workers, sales people, and … were involved?

Have you ever been wheeled into an operating room and managed to look around before the anesthesiologist told you to count backward from ten, and in my case knocked me out before I got to seven. From what I remember, it is a like beehive in there. Long before my doctor and his team ever got there someone had to get everything clean and ready. He wouldn’t do much operating if he had to do all the cleaning and prepping himself.

Every Christian is meant to serve on Christ’s ministry team from first the day s/he committed her/his life to Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” 1 Corinthians 12:13 (ESV); it doesn’t matter who you are, where you have come from, or how gifted, educated or skilled you are, from the day a person is born again (John 3:1-21) by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ s/he is a part of the body of Christ, and thus has a function. Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically” Romans 12:4-11 (NLT).

You won’t be in the movie credits, you won’t be part of any manufacturing team for long, and you won’t stay on the operating room staff if you don’t show up faithfully and if you don’t do what you are responsible for. You will be a mess if your body parts are mere volunteers and not committed members who delight in doing what they are supposed to do for the benefit of all the others. Serving in the body of Christ is much more than volunteering, it is about each part doing what the head, Jesus (Colossians 1:18), wants his body to do, and when Jesus’ body moves as one, doing what he wants, it is a beautiful thing.

So show up, be committed, be dependable, do your part.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

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Getting a room ready to observe the Passover, borrowing/renting an economy car/donkey, organizing a mass feeding, taking care of the money and the books, delivering letters, taking care of the needs of widows and orphans, using their homes for ministry, hosting guests, helping the needy, cleaning up and dressing a healed lunatic, instructing others in the word of God, help start a church, rowing Jesus around in a boat, participating in church leadership, helping with the worship services, greeting visitors, encouraging others, visiting the sick and imprisoned, organizing and engaging in relief ministries, organizing, music, prayer, … That’s what we find Christians, followers of Jesus doing in the New Testament.

Did you notice what I left out of that list? Yup, the spectacular, the miraculous, the extraordinary things Christians are recorded as doing as well, not that those are unimportant. My point is that all of the above is service and that service is central to the Christian life, the Christian community, the Church and its mission. In Acts 19:11 God was using the Apostle Paul in extraordinary ways (“extraordinary miracles” – I thought miracles were already extraordinary), but in Acts 18:1-4 the same Apostle Paul works for a tent making outfit to support himself for ministry on the weekend. Paul understood something that every believer needs to understand.

  • God had saved him and his life was no longer his own, 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” Galatians 2:20 (NIV).
  • We are saved from sin to serve, But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved… through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God– not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV).
  • Every believer is assigned and empowered for service by the Holy Spirit, The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.”
    1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (NLT)
    “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other. In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically”
    Romans 12:4-11 (NLT).

At some point, and hopefully sooner than later, every believer has to go from just showing up regularly (hopefully you have that down) to committing to service, going from consumer to contributor, from flapping your wings at the edge of the nest to jumping off and flying. So this week talk to your pastor and volunteer yourself to service of some kind, either for the first time or because you need to get back into it. There is no glorifying God, no being like Jesus without serving. “For even the Son of Man (Jesus) did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” Mark 10:45 (NIV, parenthesis mine).

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

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I don’t understand it, never have, Christians proclaiming the unimportance of the church, Christians thinking that somehow living in community with other Christians is optional, Christians proclaiming their love for Christ but not loving the things Jesus loves, “… Christ loved the church and gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean …” (Ephesians 5:25).

The level of scriptural ignorance and/or willful dismissal regarding the importance of the church, the body of Christ, the local manifestation of the family of God is both as staggering as it is sinful. Maybe you are already objecting, “Whoa preacher, that’s getting out big stick, the “sin” hammer, mighty quickly.” On the contrary, I challenge you to find anything in the New Testament that makes belonging to, being part of, attending, and serving in a church optional. All the excuses are just that, excuses. The words for putting yourself outside of what God has put you in are sin, disobedience, rebellion, living according to your own will. Swift and clear was the Apostle Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthians Christians regarding being factious, only being around those they liked, dismissing the fact that they were to be completely interdependent on each other and needed to have a deep appreciation for each other: “Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.” …  “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:13, 27, NLT).

You and I can never be the church on our own. We cannot be the church watching spiritual TV programming, listing to podcasts, reading stuff on the internet. The only way for us to be church is to live in community with each other, working together, growing together, praying together, worshipping together, serving together, doing the Christian life together. Anything that stays from all of that is simply a bad habit, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV, emphasis mine). Notice some of the implication for every believer.

  • Want to grow in and persevere with love and good deeds? You need the church.
  • Discouraged? You need the church.
  • Are all about theological issues like eschatology and the end times? It should drive you to deeper participation in the church.

When I first became a Christian a wise deacon gave me the following advice, “Hans, beginning today start reading and living the Bible every day. Secondly, wherever life takes you seek out fellowship and life together with other believers.” I could not have received better counsel. No Christian thrives without the Word of God and without participation in the body of Christ.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

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Next Sunday, December 4, we will have our annual business meeting. Our Agenda entails the usual items of approving the 2017 Church budget and the election of officers, but this year we are also considering permitting women to be deaconesses. That of course has the potential for conflict because opinions and interpretations of scripture vary widely on that subject. I think it is important for me as your pastor to remind us of some things.

The reasons for why we are looking at this matter this time is that the church leadership structure we adopted in 2013, which consisted of an Official Board made up of only ordained Deacons was not working due to deacons moving, dropping out, and prohibitive work schedules. The Board at most meetings had insufficient numbers to make official decisions, and no deacon trainees were in the pipeline; the polity was too ingrown and was not serving the church well. Thus, we as church charged the Board last year to recommend options and changes. This necessitated the discussion of who is eligible to serve on either a single Board model or a two Board model, and only the church body has the authority to make that decision.

This morning in our church Bible reading, God, through the Apostle Paul, reminded the Corinthians and us, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 (NASB, emphasis mine), and, “Let all that you do be done in love” 1 Corinthians 16:14 (NASB). Both scriptures remind me of what I teach at every Membership Seminar:

  • In Essentials (things of first importance) we have Unity.
  • In Non-essentials we have Liberty.
  • In All Things we have Charity.

I have studied the matter in some depth and over the past weeks have asked you to do the same, and invited you to ask questions, talk after the services, call or email me (although few have done so). You can also pick up a small sample of scholarly commentary of 1 Timothy 3:8-13 and Romans 16:1-2 illustrating the point that this is both a non-essential and an issue Christians and Christian scholars have come to differing interpretations and opposing conclusions. Permitting women to hold the office of deaconess is not stepping outside the bounds of scripture or heretical. It is an issue that is within the boundaries of Christian liberty, of our church determining church structure and polity. We already have varying opinions and preferences on this subject in our church family and it has not kept us from functioning in harmony and love. So regardless of what we decide, we need to determine to continue with that same harmony and love.

It is also important to remember that deacons are not elders, bishops/overseers, or shepherds/pastors. All three of these terms describe the same office (1Peter 5:1-4, Acts 20:17&28) and the qualifications for it are set forth in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9. The office of deacon or deaconess and its qualifications are a recognition that in a church, leadership besides pastoral leadership, is needed (Acts 6:1-7), both to aid the pastor/s and keep the church healthy and growing. All leadership in the church is servant leadership. The very word Deacon is translated servant. The entire church is based on a servanthood model, “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” Galatians 5:13 (NASB). Whatever authority the church entrusts to any member is servant authority, anyone who seeks office in the church simply for authority sake should automatically disqualify him/herself.

So, when meet on December 4th what you and I want, prefer, and are used to is not the issue, hopefully we will all the check that at the door and pray as we enter, “Father, fill my sisters and brothers and I with the Holy Spirit and bless us here and now with wisdom, unity, and peace.” When we cast our votes on this and any other matter let’s keep in mind it is not about winning and defeating but about seeking what is best for the church, discerning the will of God as best as we can, and doing so within the parameters of God’s Word and with the love for one another by which all people can see that we are Jesus’ disciples.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Making our way around Glasgow I couldn’t help but be reminded of Christianity’s powerful past influence, the effects of John Knox and the Reformation, and the wealth generated by the British empire and the industrial revolution. Large, imposing church structures still dot the skyline. An enormous statue of John Knox dominates the “Necropolis”, a Victorian era cemetery that is like nothing I had ever seen.

On Sunday morning we worshiped with a Baptist congregation around the corner from where we were staying. They had just finished their version of Vacation Bible School, and the place was packed. That afternoon we toured the Glasgow Cathedral. The sound of the mighty pipe organ and a small choir filled the place. They were practicing for the regular afternoon service about to start. We sat down to worship there as well.

Everything about a cathedral makes you feel small, the sheer size of the structure, the front doors, the pillars, the high ceilings, the booming sound of the organ demanding you to listen. The stained-glass windows are tall spectacles of color, telling stories, filling the room with light from above. They are placed high on the walls, keeping you from looking out, or even looking around, but drawing to look up.

I loved sitting there, listening, hearing the Scripture read, joining in the singing, feeling small, reminded of the majesty of God and that he dwells in a “Cathedral” (Temple) not made by human hand (Acts 17:24). It was also strange. Strange because only a few people present in the cathedral bothered to sit down, were interested in worship. All through the service tourists scuttled about, admiring what man had built, without thought for whom and what is built.

A number of these old church structures no longer house a congregation. One of them had been converted to a bar and restaurant, another housed a mosque, one was a visitor center, and some stood empty. This is not only true of Glasgow but all around Europe and the United States, and it saddens me. Yes, these structures are enormously expensive to maintain, the old pews or chairs are really uncomfortable, and they make you feel small, even insignificant. But they used to house congregations who met there to worship, to hear the word of God, to pray.

It is not only the buildings that are difficult to maintain. In fact, they still stand long after the congregations that inhabited them have died. The fellowship, the spiritual family, the people who constitute a church, who are a living expression of the body of Jesus Christ, are a much more fragile thing. Living things are generally more fragile than wood and stone. This is why the Gospels, every letter, and all the authors of the New Testament remind us to diligently maintain the faith and the community of faith, to strive and work together for the glory of God, to build up the body of Christ, to preserve the unity of the Spirit, to practice holiness, to engage in spiritual accountability, to encourage, care for, and love each other. Our experience of coming together, of being the church, should cause members and visitors alike to look up, to be humbled, to worship.

 “I (Paul), … beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all” Ephesians 4:1-6 (NLT, parenthesis mine).

 

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

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We not Me is what Jesus prayed for all those who would trust him for salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life, for those who would believe in him, follow him, and be identified with him, for all who claim to be Christian, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one…. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” John 17:9-11, 20-23 (ESV)

Following Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we see for the first time what the “we” the “one” Jesus prayed for looks like, “Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church that day—about 3,000 in all. All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to (the) fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had” Acts 2:41-44 (NLT, parenthesis mine).

A Christian who claims the “me” is enough ignores what Jesus prayed for all those who follow him. Someone who does not belong to local expression of the body of Christ, a local church and does not participate in its life practices the opposite of what Christians did from the very beginning. A believer who does not love the church does not love what Christ loves, “… Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” Ephesians 5:25 (ESV). God’s “intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord” Ephesians 3:10-11 (NIV). And Jesus made it plain that in living out the “we” we become properly identified as his disciples, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” John 13:35 (NIV).

Being a ‘spiritual house” and a “holy priesthood” is a “we” concept “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 2:4-5 (NKJV). A belief in Christ’s return and a coming judgment should cause us to an increasing embrace of the “we”, a greater connection to Christ’s fellowship, a growing desire to worship, pray, serve, and torbe together, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching” Hebrews 10:23-25 (NIV). Did you notice all of the “we”, “us”, and ”one another” in that last scripture? So what is your habit when comes to the “we” of being a Christian? Are you, a “living stone”, cemented together with other “living stones” in the community where God has placed you? Does your commitment to Christ and his fellowship encourage others? Does your involvement with Christ’s church make it stronger? O how I hope it does.

To God be all glory. Love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

Many claim to believe in Jesus. Many testify that they have asked Jesus into their heart (even though nowhere in the Bible are we compelled to do so). Many claim to have received some form of Christian baptism. And many testify to awesome spiritual experiences they have had as believers. But why is there so much turmoil, so much anxiety, so much heaviness, such a lack of souls at rest and of lightness among Jesus followers and in his church?

If the church is made up of those who have “come,” who have slipped into Jesus’ “yoke,” who are “learning from him” then this rest and lightness should be evident, not just in us individually but also in us collectively. We are not just the community of the saved (true as that is), but also the community of the delivered, and the community of those being changed by the power of God. The church is not just a self-help group, or recovery group, or social action group, or a charity, or a service club, or a patriotic organization, or a political action committee, or a community organization (although it/we might be engaged in any or all of these). The church is a community of once tired and weary people who have come to Jesus and found forgiveness without having to work for it, found redemption without paying for it, found reconciliation instead of condemnation, found justification though guilty. And that makes it, or should make it a super happy and grateful bunch. Amen!

Some are quick note, “What about repentance Hans?” Well, when Jesus says, “Come to me ..,” and someone turns to and comes to him with all of their baggage isn’t that an admission that life is not working out without him, that you need him, that he has what that person has not? But when do we celebrate? When do we butcher the fatted calf? When do we rejoice with someone who has come to Jesus and found rest, because rejoicing should follow repentance?

After pastoring our church for almost thirty years I still love being part of it, I still look forward to us coming together, I still imagine what it will be like if we who have come to Jesus learn even more from him – we’ll be more at rest, we’ll experience even more exquisite peace, we’ll walk even lighter in a world that remains heavy. What will it be like among us when we learn to love even more like Jesus, when we learn even more to serve others like Jesus, when we learn think and act ever more like Jesus? All I know is that I want to be part of it with you.

To God be all glory, love you, Pastor Hans

 

 

 

 

 

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