These are turbulent times in which we live. Many of us are looking for some degree of certainty, predictability, something we can depend on. We know, by faith, that the promises God makes to us, He will keep. But we sometimes forget the importance for each of us of a promise kept. For my article this month I would like to reprint an article I came across back in 2009 by Lewis Smedes that talks about the power of promises and how we become more like God when we keep ours.
Somewhere a father is telling himself, "I wish my daughter would pack up, leave home, and never come back; God knows she has driven us crazy." But he remembers a promise he made when she was baptized, and he sticks with her in hurting love.
Somewhere a woman is telling herself, "I want to get out of this marriage and start over with someone who really loves me; God knows the clod I married has given me reason for cashing him in." But she remembers a promise she made when she married him, and she sticks with him in hopeful love.
Somewhere a minister is telling himself, "I want to chuck this job and get into something with a better payoff; God knows my congregation has given me second-degree burnout." But he remembers the promise he made when he was ordained, and he sticks with the church in pastoral love.
Some people still make promises and keep those they make. When they do, they help make life around them more stably human. Promise keeping is a powerful means of grace in a time when people hardly depend on each other to remember and live by their word.
Yes, somewhere people still make and keep promises. They choose not to quit when the going gets rough because they promised once to see it through. They stick to lost causes. They hold on to a love grown cold. They stay with people who have become pains in the neck. They still dare to make promises and care enough to keep the promises they make. I want to say to you that if you have a ship you will not desert, if you have people you will not forsake, if you have causes you will not abandon, then you are like God.
What a marvelous thing a promise is! When a person makes a promise, she reaches out into an unpredictable future and makes one thing predictable: she will be there even when being there costs her more than she wants to pay. When a person makes a promise, he stretches himself out into circumstances that no one can control and controls at least one thing: he will be there no matter what the circumstances turn out to be. With one simple word of promise, a person creates an island of certainty in a sea of uncertainty.
When a person makes a promise, she stakes a claim on her personal freedom and power.
When you make a promise, you take a hand in creating your own future.
(Citation: Lewis Smedes, "The Power of Promises," A Chorus of Witnesses, edited by Long and Plantinga (Eerdmans, 1994))
May we each grow in our knowledge of the promises of God and their certainty. And may we each commit to be like the Psalmist’s description of the person who fears the Lord, “He takes an oath to his own detriment, and does not change” (Psalm 15:4 nasb).
In Christ our living hope,
FROM THE PASTOR'S DESK
My high school graduating class is planning another reunion. In preparation, they sent out a questionnaire for all of us to fill out. I found one of the questions quite intriguing and thought it a good subject for this newsletter article. The question, “How do you want to be remembered?” So, I’ll ask you, “How do you want to be remembered?” Most of us think of how much we hope people like us. We hope that our family and friends in particular, think of us with great fondness. Some entertain the idea that they might leave a lasting impression on the world. Most of us just quietly hope that we leave this world a better place than we found it.
Of course, I wanted to think of this with a spiritual perspective, so I started with a more general answer. I want to be remembered as a faithful follower of the Lord Jesus the Messiah. I was taught early in my Christian experience to invest my life in things that would last, eternal things. And that there are only three things that are eternal: Jesus, the word of God (the Bible), and people. Thus, these three should be included as my first priorities.
That moved me to wonder who might actually remember me. I realized that what people remember about me is not nearly as important as what God remembers about me. So, if I am to be remembered as a faithful follower of Jesus then that has to be more than just in my words. These priorities have to be true in my motivation and my behavior as well. It would be lovely if people remembered me that way.
But how people remember you means very little from the perspective of eternity. It’s God’s assessment of my life that counts for eternity. The Holy Spirit says as much through the Apostle Paul.
But to me it is an insignificant matter that I would be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself; however I am not vindicated by this, but the one who examines me is the Lord.
(1 Corinthians 4:3-4 nasb20)
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21 nasb20)
It seems like a good starting point in creating my legacy (how I will be remembered) would be to align my priorities with the values of heaven. I conclude with this. When Jesus was teaching His disciples about the end times and not only what we are to look for as indicators that His return is near, but also (maybe more importantly) how we are to live and act as we anticipate His Second Coming. He taught them using a parable, the Parable of the Talents.
For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. (Matthew 25:14-15 nasb20)
Jesus, like the man who went on a journey, when He left, He entrusted us with His possessions and expects us to invest them for His benefit. He goes on to say,
Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have earned five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter the joy of your master.’ (Matthew 25:19-21 nasb20)
There’s the punchline to how I want to be remembered. When I get to heaven, it is my earnest desire that I will hear those words from my Savior, “Well done, good and faithful slave.” Ultimately it is the assessment of Heaven that matters. And the only lasting legacy I can leave here on this earth is that I invested my life in things that are eternal. May God grant us all a passion for Jesus, His word, and for people.
In Christ our living hope,
We have been looking for the past couple of months at the theme of discipleship. Remember that our church mission statement is that we exist to make disciples of Jesus Christ. In October I proposed the idea that discipleship is risky business. Of course, it is a risk-reward situation, and the rewards far outweigh the risks, but it is risky nonetheless. Last month we explored the key feature of being a disciple, that we are becoming like Jesus. This month, I’d like to take a ‘deeper dive’ on what it means to be a disciple-maker.
The following list includes some of the characteristics of a person who is a disciple-maker.
The disciple-maker is a servant.
Jesus came to serve, not be served. Among other things, He was a foot washer, a truth-teller, a time-giver (expended His discretionary time on others rather than on Himself). So, a disciple-maker willingly gives of themselves for the benefit and building up of others, even if they have to give up personal recreational activities to do so.
The disciple-maker is growing spiritually.
The d-m’s walk with God is increasing. Their relationship with Jesus is not in the past tense, it’s a present reality that is vibrant and evident to others.
The disciple-maker is spiritually mature.
Not to be confused with sinlessly perfect. The d-m has come to the place in her/his life that they react to the unexpected with biblical wisdom and biblical faith. They have an understanding of deeper truths from the Bible. Their faith is not shaken by tough questions; indeed, they know how to find the answers to tough questions. And their life is able to withstand the storms that come because it is founded on the rock of obedience to Christ.
The disciple-maker handles the Bible accurately.
She/he is a student of the Scriptures. The Bible is a vital part of their behavior and conversation. They read it, they study it, they hide it in their hearts. They understand the difference between essentials and distinctives. And they don’t argue or quibble over non-essential doctrines.
The disciple-maker is teachable.
They are open to God’s direction and redirection, His training and His discipline. They understand that they have something to offer to every person they meet, and that God has something to teach them from every person they meet.
The disciple-maker is a faithful witness for Christ.
The Great Commission as given by Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 is that we make disciples of every nation. In Acts 1:8 and Mark 16:15, Jesus told us to be His witnesses and preach the gospel to all creation. The d-m recognizes the importance of always being ready to share this good news with everyone. They also recognize the importance of serving those who respond to the gospel by nurturing their new-found faith.
This is not an exhaustive list. And, these character traits don’t line up in any particular order of priority. Every one of them is an absolute must if a person is to be effective in making disciples. Of course, also a disciple-maker is himself/herself a faithful growing disciple of Jesus. Make it your aim this month to fully cooperate with the Holy Spirit in His work of conforming you to the image of Jesus.
May your December be filled with the joy of the Lord as we celebrate His first advent and look forward to His second!
In Christ our living hope,
I ask what God wants me to do for the church.
As promised in last month’s article, I want to continue with the theme of discipleship. The key feature of the process of being a disciple of Jesus is that the disciple (you and me) is becoming like Jesus. And that process is not complete this side of heaven. Romans says we are being conformed to His image (Rom. 8:29). Colossians says that we are being made complete in Christ (Col. 1:28). Peter indicates that we are to be growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus (2Pet. 3:18). John, that when we see Him, we will be as He is, but we are not there yet (1Jn. 3:2). We are in the throes of an amazing process that is moving us toward Christlikeness. In Second Corinthians, Paul describes it this way,
But we all, with unveiled faces, looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. 2 Cor. 3:18 NAS20
How do we, as a church, make that happen? I have gone through some first-rate discipleship programs, but I have observed over the years that it’s not the quality of the program that determines success. What determines whether a person will mature, becoming more and more like Jesus in this growth process rests entirely with the person who wants to be a disciple of Jesus.
Remember last month I said that discipleship is risky business? Let me elaborate. To embark on that process of becoming like Jesus, I must let go of myself. I exchange my identity, my mind, my heart, my will for the person of Christ. Up to this point, I have been making my own decisions, now I submit all of them to the will of God. Somebody else is making the decisions for my life and that “somebody” is Jesus! What I risk is that Jesus might lead me to go places and do things that I don’t want to or that I don’t understand. But that is precisely the risk of becoming a disciple. Jesus said it this way,
And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, this is the one who will save it. For what good does it do a person if he gains the whole world, but loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and the holy angels. (Luke 9:23-26 NASB 2020)
Deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus. This takes me out of the realm of being a spectator of God’s work to being a full-on participant. Or to slightly modify the words of John F. Kennedy, I do not ask what the church can do for me, I ask what God wants me to do for the church.
Now, the truth is that when I make that commitment, I gain so much more than I give up! But what we gain is the subject of another article. In fact, what we gain in this discipleship process is pretty much the subject of every sermon and Bible study we do here at the church. Suffice it to say, to become a follower (disciple) of Jesus, I have everything to gain and nothing to lose.
We need to have discipleship programs that are user friendly and transferrable. And we already do have a couple of them. What we’re looking for are people who want to be like Jesus and are willing to commit their lives to be His disciple no matter what the cost. Next month I want to look more closely at the work of the disciple-maker.
In Christ our living hope,
Discipleship is risky business: deny yourself, take up your cross, lose your life to gain it, leave (hate, Lk. 14:26) father & mother etc. Yet this is precisely the mission given to the universal church, and to our church by the Lord Jesus! Discipleship begins with some “easy” stuff: open the door, believe in and receive Jesus, take the water of life without cost, saved by the grace gift of God not of works. But once a person is born-again, she/he will never be the same. So, yes, discipleship is risky business, but in this case the statement is true, no risk, no reward.
Ideal discipleship takes place in the context of a loving fellowship of Believers with learners committed to learning and teachers committed to teaching. For the learners, they need to be teachable and obedient. For the teachers, they also need to be teachable, have a servant’s heart, and remain obedient. And when learning-teaching is taking place, there will be fruit bearing, both character fruit (Gal. 5:22-23) and ministry fruit (Jn. 15:16).
Discipleship training happens in both structured and unstructured environments. The structured environment includes accountability relationships between the teacher and learner. These accountability relationships seem to work best one-on-one or in a small group. The unstructured environment involves less direct accountability among the people to each other, but more accountability between the individual and the Lord. These unstructured events include our Sunday and Thursday worship services, the weekly Bible studies, and virtually every time “two or more” are gathered in Jesus’ name.
My appeal in this article is to get us thinking about discipleship and where each of us is in our discipleship process. Since our ultimate goal is to become like Jesus (1Jn. 3:2), then our primary identity here and now is to be a growing disciple of Jesus. Some have stopped with the easy stuff and never taken the next step. Some have taken that next step of life dedication but have become complacent in their walk with God and witness for Jesus. And some have truly embraced the call to deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow Jesus.
Next month I want to “dive a little deeper” and “stay down a little longer” on this process of being and making disciples. For now, I urge you to make it your goal today to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus. Take that next step in this work of becoming complete in Christ. And may God bless you richly as you follow our risen Lord!
In Christ our living hope,
I have had some interesting discussions recently about the state of the church. One person commented, “Hey Pastor, the church seems to be growing.” Another whipped back, “Yeah but it’s nothing like it used to be.” One family expressed their appreciation for the good worship and feeding from God’s word that takes place each Sunday morning and Thursday evening. While another bemoaned that the services were too long for their comfort level. Many see the church rebounding from past struggles as others think we’re in the same old rut. So just how are we doing anyway? Is the church half-empty? Or half full? More importantly, “Are we doing what God has called us as a congregation to do?”
With that challenging question in mind, I began looking for some objective criteria for determining church health that was more than mere opinion. And I came across something very interesting. It was a flyer published by our denomination entitled The Ten Leading Indicators of a HEALTHY CHURCH. It included things like: Centrality of God’s Word, Passionate Spirituality, Fruitful Evangelism, High-Impact Worship among others. But what really got my attention as I read was that in a healthy church there is a common thread that connects all ten. That thread is a deep commitment on the part of the people in the church to build and not tear down, to edify and not dismantle, to help and not harm. In short, it is to approach the ministry of the church with a positive attitude, and to speak blessing to and about the members of our church family. Oh, I’m not talking about a sort of “Pollyanna” mentality that ignores problems and the sometimes painful realities of life and church ministry. I am talking about a basic heart disposition that recognizes and affirms we are on the winning side, that God has already secured the victory, and that He wants to bring about that victory in our lives individually and in our church family corporately.
Each one of the ten leading indicators is a wonderful goal on which we can set our sights. We need to be a healthy church. And I believe that is (or at least ought to be) the goal of every member of this fellowship. So I urge you to find ways to encourage and strengthen your sisters and brothers. Seize opportunities to bless and build up. Shun the temptation to entertain a critical spirit about our church family. I would remind you to recognize the incredibly positive message of God’s overflowing and everlasting love for each one of us! And, when it comes to our relationships with the other members of the family of God, keep in mind this passage in the book of Colossians.
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved,
Opportunities abound for useful service in the Master’s kingdom. God has blessed us richly here at Living Hope Church. Let us not be weak and tentative in serving our precious Lord. And let us heed the admonition of Scripture to “…Encourage one another every day, as long as it is still called “today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Heb. 3:13 NAS20) May we each one know the joy of His fullness as we seek to do what He has called us to do.
In Christ our living hope,
FROM PASTOR'S DESK
How are those New Year’s resolutions coming along? Some of you will reply, “Quite well, thanks for asking.” For others, “I’m doing well with a couple of them, but that exercise program has really been an uphill climb.” And for most of the rest of us, “What resolutions?” As we roll into August, we approach what I like to think of as a second ‘New Year’. In the church for many years, we have approached the beginning of the school year as a new beginning in our calendar. A time to retool and start fresh with ministry. And our local school district is starting classes on August 23rd. So, this seemed like a good time for a newsletter article about new beginnings in our church ministry.
We are all aware that with the lifting of the Covid restrictions, it’s almost like we are coming out of hibernation. And for our church, I have had a strong sense from the Lord that He is beginning a special work among us and in our community. But I’ve also had to admit that from a ministry standpoint, we need to get our ministries up and running. While it is important that we make every effort to regrow our church, the spiritual health of our body of Believers is my greatest concern. Church growth has a direct correlation to church health. A church is healthy when her members are walking in the Spirit as a way of life. This would be reflected in the individual’s personal life by a growing relationship with the Lord Jesus, a deepening love for His Word, and ongoing evidence of the fruit of the Spirit, and the fruit of faithful ministry (church growth).
New beginnings and new ministries do not happen without prayer. So as we look at starting again, I want to devote this final part of my article to the church prayer needs. They include but are not limited to:
· Sewer hookup will cost upwards of $50,000.
· Staff needs in the church office
Education and training ministries
· Children’s ministries restart – Children’s Church needs more workers. Nursery needs workers. Mid-week club ministry needs workers.
· Youth ministries restart – workers for Junior High and Senior High ministries.
· Small group ministries restart– we need a coordinator.
· Discipleship training – both one-on-one discipleship as well as small group discipleship groups.
· Evangelism training
· Outreach events – men’s events, women’s events, holiday-themed outreaches, and just general events that welcome the community to meet Jesus.
· Hospitality team – workers.
Facilities maintenance, repair, and improvement
· Media team – livestream, computer display techs, sound techs.
· Music – worship team vocals, musicians.
· Greeting and Usher teams.
This is not an exhaustive list. In fact, my prayer is that we will see innovation and new ideas add to and even replace items on the list as we seek to make disciples of Jesus and develop a multigenerational community of His followers. So let us embrace this new beginning for our church. And let us resolve to obey what the Holy Spirit tells us in First Peter,
“The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins (1Pet. 4:7-NAS20).”
May He find us walking in the Spirit, diligent in prayer, and fervent in our love for one another when He comes.
In Christ our living hope,