Archive | October, 2014

When Christians Aren’t Gracious – 1st Corinthians 16:5-24, Part 1

29 Oct

Paul closes the letter where he began it. Grace.

Back in 1 Corinthians 1:3-4 he said “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.”

And now in 16:23 he says “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.” This is a fairly typical closing for Paul, but it is well worth out attention.  Even our close attention.  Here’s why:

Do you feel the grace of the Lord Jesus is with you? In you. Flowing through you?  Many don’t.

vanishing gracePhilip Yancey just came out with a new book, Vanishing Grace. I’m looking forward to reading it. I thought about it this week at our Ministerium Bible study when the pastor leading discussion was talking about the salt of the earth passage from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”

So you and I are the salt of the earth. In our day and age, salt is primarily a flavoring. That is a good comparison to how Christians could be the flavor of Jesus in this world. But in Jesus’ day salt was also used for healing and preserving. It was very, very valuable. Soldiers in the Roman army were often paid in salt, and in Latin this practice was called salarium, which is where we get our English word salary. Salt could help heal wounds. It could preserve meat. So there we have some more parallel to how Christians in the name of Jesus can heal and preserve our world.

But how do we do this? One pastor at the Ministerium admitted that in his bi-vocation in the business world, his conversations about church, about sin, about Jesus, were not viewed as good salt. They were repulsive.

I wonder if that is because grace is missing. Is grace missing from your life? From your attitude? From your words?

Our world needs grace. We need grace. The message of Good News in Jesus is a wonderful message of grace. One way we are the Salt of the Earth is by being gracious!

Think about it: We live in a cutthroat world. A world where grace is oftentimes missing.

Our family has been watching old episodes of the reality TV Show Survivor. It is a game with lying, strategies of double-crossing, staying true to alliances only as long as they are self-serving. There is little grace.

About his book, Philip Yancey says something that might be hard for us to hear. I urge you now to prayerfully ask the Lord if you need to hear this. He says “One reason the broader world does not look to Christianity for guidance is that we Christians have not spoken with a credible voice. Churches in my childhood focused on lifestyle issues such as hair- and skirt-lengths, movies, dancing, smoking, and drinking. Meanwhile, conservative churches said little about poverty, racism, war, consumerism, immigration, the treatment of women, and the environment. With some significant exceptions, the church sat on the sidelines of movements that addressed these important causes.

He goes on: “Some further muddle the message of grace by piously casting judgment on society. I heard an all-too-typical example as I was writing this chapter. In the aftermath of historic floods in Colorado that damaged eighteen thousand houses, a Christian radio personality blamed the floods – and also our wildfires the same summer – on legislators who “encourage decadent homosexual activities, vote to kill as many babies as possible, and pass laws approving abominable idolatries such as marijuana.” Listening to those words as I watched water creep within inches of flooding my downstairs office, I easily understood how Christians alienate people. I could list scores of such moral pronouncements that foster an “us against the world” mentality rather than “us bringing grace to the world.”… How differently would the world view Christians if we focused on our own failings rather than on society’s?

Yancey asks the question: “Why does the church stir up such negative feelings?” As the promo material for the book says, “He has been asking this all his life as a journalist. His perennial question is more relevant now than ever: in a twenty-year span starting in the mid-nineties, research shows that favorable opinions of Christianity have plummeted drastically—and opinions of Evangelicals have taken even deeper dives.

“But people inside and outside the church are still thirsty for grace. What the church lacked in its heyday is now exactly what it needs to recover to thrive. Grace can bring together Christianity and our post-Christian culture, inviting outsiders as well as insiders to take a deep second look at why our faith matters and about what could reignite its appeal to future generations.

“How can Christians offer grace in a way that is compelling to a jaded society? And how can they make a difference in a world that cries out in need?”

When you’re appalled at the news coming out of Washington, out of the Supreme Court, will you ask God to fill you with grace?

When the results of the election next week come in, whether you are cheering or moaning, will you ask God to fill you with grace?

When your neighbor’s leaves blow onto your yard because he didn’t cover them, will you ask God to fill you with grace?

When that kid at school is acting like a jerk yet again, will you ask God to fill you with grace?

What does grace look like in a world without it?

Reach out to the person who is being bullied. Sit with them at lunch. Talk to the office gossip who everyone can’t stand.

As a church we show grace to our community especially by reaching out to those in need, even if they have made poor decisions, and it would be easy to say “Well they got themselves in this mess.”

We show grace by active and sustained involvement in Conestoga Valley Christian Community Services, where needy community people can come for food and clothing. Our CVCCS stand in the lobby can start to fade into the background and become part of the décor unless we actively seek to show grace.

We show grace by preaching the Gospel of grace in both word and deed.

  • If you know you are not filled with God’s grace, I encourage you to start doing gracious things: Forgive someone who doesn’t deserve it, remembering God forgave you.
  • Treat someone with kindness when they have treated you poorly, remembering that God treated you with amazing kindness though you have sinned against him.
  • Serve at CVCCS, a place oozing with grace for those who haven’t had a whole lot in their lives. Have you looked at all the opportunities to serve at CVCCS in the bulletin?
  • Help pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child on November 5th. Show grace to kids around that world that may have never experienced the grace of Christmas.
  • Fill Christmas stockings for the kids Joe Toy works with in Philly, and then join the group going to Philly on December 13 to interact with the kids.

Let us be a people that love God, love one another, filled with grace.

Feel free to listen to the whole sermon here.

Note, Christmas Cards – Monday Messy Office Report – 10/27/2014

27 Oct

After a few months off, it’s back!  The Monday Messy Office Report.  It’s not that my has been clean all this time.  I’ve been busy or lacked the motivation to write.  Part of me doesn’t want to start back up again, so I’m compromising with myself and keeping it short.  Here’s what I found in my office today:

1. Note…of encouragement!  It was great to receive this.  A person from the church just wanted to encourage me!  When is the last time you gave someone a note of encouragement?  Maybe you could send an encouraging note right now?  Handwritten notes are still supreme in my book, but a quick email, Facebook message or text could do the trick!  Years ago I read a great book called The Church of Facebook, and the author suggests that we use Facebook to encourage people. So, how ’bout it?

Love146_Cards_Front_Page_medium2. Christmas Cards…from halfway around the world.  I know it is not in vogue to talk about Christmas too early, but I ask you to give this a listen.  For the second year, Imagine Goods is selling Christmas cards hand-made by survivors of sex trafficking.  You can purchase them here.  Since the Imagine Goods Fulfillment Center is just down the hall from my office, someone from Faith Church had graciously worked on assembling card packs at home (thus getting them ready for sale) and then brought them here.  Check them out.  Not only are they hand-made on recycled paper, but proceeds benefit survivors of trafficking!

3. Bag of Bean Soup.  Admittedly this has been on my shelf for weeks.  A neighbor of the church graciously brought it over for me.  I am so thankful for that!  But I am not going to use it, so I’m now looking for a loving home for it.  Do you like bean soup?  Want it?  Let me know!  With the weather cooling down as we head deeper into fall, this soup looks like a wonderful lunch for someone.

4. Cards for Missionaries.  The children of Faith Church made cards for our missionaries a couple weeks ago!  Their artwork is awesome!  We’re going to send these cards to Spain and Kenya soon.  Whitakers and Stoltzfuses, if you are reading this, look for a package soon!  We love that our kids can make connections with our friends who are serving the Lord around the world. As I write this today, I’m also exchanging emails with our travel agent in preparation for a summer 2015 trip to Kenya!  It has been too long since Faith Church had a mission trip, and so we’re quite excited to travel to Africa next year.  keny-LMAP-md

Now it’s time to clean up this mess!

A 1st Corinthians Smorgasbord

25 Oct

Tomorrow we begin the end of our 1st Corinthians series.  We’ll be spending two Sundays finishing it up by looking at chapter 16 verses 5-24.  In these verses Paul talks about his itinerary, updates them about a bunch of people the Corinthian church knew well, and then gives them a bit of a smorgasbord of teaching.

In this final section, tomorrow we’ll look at the smorgasbord of teaching.  Then next week we’ll see what he has to say about his itinerary and the people he mentions.  SmorgBanner

So let’s get ready for the smorgasbord!  At least that’s what we call them in Lancaster County.  If you’re not familiar with that term, you may know them as a buffet.  At a buffet you don’t order off a menu, you get the chance to go up to the buffet tables and select from a variety of choices, and you can go back as often as you like, trying them all if you like.  Paul gives us a buffet of teaching this week.  It could seem random, but perhaps he has a method to his madness.  When you’ve just spent a lot of time and energy writing what is a very long letter, how do you conclude?  Paul chooses to review much of what he already taught, giving them little tidbits in areas he thinks they need just a little reminder.

As you look back over the last year, what parts of the 1st Corinthians series impacted you the most?

Oh Geez…Not another sermon about giving…

17 Oct

offering plate A few years ago my family attended my son’s middle school soccer team’s end-of-year pizza party in the school cafeteria.  We were brand new to the school district, and in fact had not even moved there yet.  But we had a sales agreement on our new house, enough to meet school board requirements to let kids start the year with their class rather than having to change schools a month after the new school year begins.  What that meant is we barely knew anyone.  You know that feeling of being alone in a crowd?  That was us.

We got our seats, and soon enough I began overhearing a conversation from a couple other dads at the end of our table.  It went something like this:

“What did you think of the sermon this past Sunday?” (That piqued my interest!)

“I hate sermons about giving.” (Uh-oh, I thought…I bet I see where this is going.)

“Yeah, give, give and give some more.  Doesn’t he know that life is tough for us?”

On and on the discussion went from there.  I remember thinking, if only those guys realized what it was like from the other side of the pulpit.

Maybe there are some pastors who love to talk about giving, but my guess is that most feel just as awkward about it as the people listening feel hearing it.  When a pastor preaches about giving, the pastor knows how self-serving the sermon can seem: “Give…because I need my salary checks to keep coming!”  At least that is what we can imagine you are thinking as you listen.  We know that in reality you are hearing this sermon wrestling with the tension between wanting to be faithful to the Lord, to be generous, and knowing how expensive life is.  We know that many of you are wondering how you’re going to pay off debt or how you’re going to pay the bills.  We know some of you are living paycheck to paycheck. We know that because some of us are wondering those same things, as we live paycheck to paycheck.

I guess it is one big awkward mess.

Why do we keep preaching about giving then?  Do we really need to talk about it?  Do pastors fear that people will stop giving if they, the pastors, stop preaching sermons about giving which leave people feeling guilty?  Is it possible to talk about giving without guilting people into giving? As we continue in the 1st Corinthians series, Phil Bartlet will be preaching on 1st Corinthians 16:1-4.  There you’ll notice that Paul talks about giving, and he does so pretty specifically.  I wonder if he felt awkward about it? Something tells me he didn’t.  He talked about giving a lot, actually.  If Paul talked about it, then we need to talk about it.  Perhaps there is something inherently beneficial about giving that we don’t realize?

So…yes, we’re having another sermon about giving on Sunday.  But don’t stay away.  Maybe even come with an expectant heart and mind!  Join us at Faith Church on Sunday!

How to grow as a disciple of Jesus in an already busy world – 1st Corinthians 15:58

15 Oct

WaldoJesusLast week I introduced Sunday’s sermon on 1st Corinthians 15:58 by asking what we do if we want to serve God more, but our lives are so busy.  Out of that question comes another one: isn’t okay to just believe in Jesus, or do we need to be radicals?

1st Corinthians 15:58 closes out a long discussion Paul is having about the resurrection.  Because the resurrection is true, he says, it is a world-changing event that begs us to give our lives in response. The problem is that we haven’t often heard what it means to be a disciple. Instead we have bought in to the idea of levels of commitment to God, as I mentioned before.

An article was published recently that describes in more detail how Christians in our country have looked at commitment to Jesus, and it is scary. The author, Ed Stetzer, says that Christians in our country can be divided nearly evenly into three groups, each making up about 25% of our nation’s population. As you hear me describe Stetzer’s three groups, I want you to think about which one you are in.

First, he says there are “Cultural Christians, [who] are simply those who, when asked, say they are a Christian rather than say they are an atheist or Jewish. They are “Christian” for no other reason than they are from America and don’t consider themselves something else.” Does that describe you? Not sure? Here’s the next group.

He calls them “Congregational Christian[s]. This person generally does not really have a deep commitment, but they will consider themselves as Christians because they have some loose connection to a church—through a family member, maybe an infant baptism, or some holiday attendance.” How about that group? Does describe you? Maybe you are in the…

The final group he calls “Convictional Christians, [and they] are those people who self-identify as Christian who orient their life around their faith in Christ. This includes a wide range of what Christian is—not just evangelicals, for example. It means someone says they are a Christian and it is meaningful to them.”

If we apply these three designations to what Paul has just taught us in 1st Corinthians, Paul is saying that we need to be last group, Convictional Christians.  Stetzer goes on to explain that the first two groups are what he calls nominal Christians, meaning they are Christians in name only. As we have been talking about for the last few weeks, people in those first two groups, the Cultural or Congregational Christians might have a semblance of belief in the content of the Gospel, but they do not have the commitment.

Stetzer predicts that “The nominals will increasingly become nones…They’re simply calling themselves Christians because that’s who they consider themselves to be, not because of any life change or ongoing commitment. Those types of Christians, about half of the population now, will become a minority in a few decades.”

So what we do about this? We do exactly what Paul says. If you feel you are in Group 1 or 2, Paul is saying that we need to be in Group 3, the group that stands firm, lets nothing move you, in your belief and commitment to the resurrection and mission of Jesus. He says that we should always give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord.

So what will that look like this afternoon, tomorrow at work, in the cafeteria of your school, or as you rake your leaves or watch TV?

Here are some practical steps that another writer suggests.

In a busy, busy world, it is possible to “always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord.”  So what does that mean for you?

Breaking the 80/20 Rule (or Is Radical Christianity really necessary?)

10 Oct

80-20-rule-buttonAt Faith Church I’m convinced we have broken the 80-20 rule.

You know the adage that “20% of the people do 80% of the work”?  It is a complaint that usually a small group of people take on the lion’s share of the responsibility in an organization, while the majority of people slack off.  Often the 80-20 rule comes up in volunteer organizations like the church.  It can leave the 20% in a frustrated fuming place because they’re tired of “doing it all”, while the 80% free-load into relaxation.

Not at Faith Church.  We break that rule.  And it is an awesome thing to see.  I think we have 80% of the people serving very actively.  Maybe it could be said that we follow the 80-90 rule.  80% of the people doing 90% of the work.  Sure there are some people that work more than others, but I am so impressed at how many people are giving of themselves on committees, volunteering for ministry, and serving others in personal ways.  There is also the hidden service that happens that I know nothing about, because people want to serve the Lord and want no recognition for themselves.

So I’m really encouraged by Faith Church!  And yet, in our next passage in 1st Corinthians, we could potentially hear Paul asking us to serve even more.  This week’s sermon is on one verse, and not a very long one at that.  After breaking down his teaching on the resurrection in four sections, this week we look at the final verse of that resurrection chapter, 1 Corinthians 15, verse 58:

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

It seems like Paul is saying we should use the 100-100 rule.  100% of the people do 100% of the work.  Everyone always giving themselves fully!

Sound impossible to anyone?  Sound unrealistic?

How many of you see all the stuff going on at church and think that you would love to help out, but your life is so busy there’s no time?  How many of you think 100% is ridiculous, and you just move on, maybe feeling guilty, maybe feeling pressure, and having conversations with yourself about why not serving more is okay?  How many of you think that when the kids grow up, then you’ll give more time to the Lord?

Why is Paul so fired up anyway?  It’s these kinds of verses that make Paul seem a bit too radical for our tastes, right?

So what do we do with radical teaching?  We normally call it “radical” and throw it away.  We’re looking for “balanced” teaching.  Teaching that fits with an already busy life.

But should we dismiss Paul?  Is it possible that he was right and we are wrong to caricature him as radical?  What could it possibly mean to “always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord”?  Didn’t the Corinthian Christians have jobs and families too?  They couldn’t all be hanging around teaching Sunday School all the time, right?  Or were they always on the street corner preaching the Gospel?  How did they keep food on the table?  What do we do with this one single, little, but intense verse???

Join us at Faith Church on Sunday as we take a look at this further.  We’ll look at what it means to serve God in the midst of crazy busy lives.


Following Jesus is supposed to be hard? – 1st Corinthians 15:51-57

8 Oct

hardtofollowAfter the sermon this past Sunday, our sermon discussion group had a lively conversation about how hard it is to experience Victory in Jesus.  Some even suggested that it is supposed to be hard!  What do you think about that?

Have you ever felt that it is difficult to be a follower of Jesus?  Why is that?

Jesus said “my yoke is easy, and my burden in light” but it can feel super hard to follow him, to do what he did, to have self-control, to fight temptation, to restrain our lusts, our anger, our indulgent hungers.  When we’re cursed, we want to lash back.  When we feel empty inside, we want to bully others.  We see friends succeed, and our eyes turn green with false injustice.

There are times when it doesn’t seem following Jesus is possible.  When Paul talks about victory in Jesus maybe he was just talking about life after death?

When we feel like this, we need to take into account what Paul has said in all of 1st Corinthians so far.   To do that, we must go back to the first verses of the chapter where he said that receiving the Good News of Jesus is to believe the content and make a lifelong commitment to the Gospel.  When we do that we have been saved, we are being saved, and we will be saved. Our bodies will die, yes, but the Lord will raise them again to new life.  That is victory! Jesus won that victory, and now we have hope of eternal life victory with new bodies in heaven! Praise the Lord.

But remember what we talked about last week? That victory isn’t just for heaven. We can experience victory in Jesus now. He wants us to experience what he called his abundant life now! We can experience God’s resurrection power in our lives now.

The question is, are you experiencing the victory of Jesus in your life now? Are you experiencing the life-changing power of God now, such that you are seeing him transform you, seeing him give you victory over sin?

I did a Google image search on the world victory, and what do you think came up the most? People on a mountaintop with their hands raised, Victory motorcycles, victory in sports, victory in war, victory in politics, and of course victory in Jesus.

Not a single picture of Nike shoes, or the Nike swoosh.

Nike? Yes, Nike. The Greek word for “Victory” as well as the name of the Greek goddess of victory. Nee-kay.

But here is victory:

That boy experienced victory because some other caring guys on his team wanted him to experience victory. And you know what? By giving him the chance to experience victory, they experienced it too.

You might be feeling like life is less than victorious for you lately. Perhaps you need to help some others experience a bit of that victorious life.

Or maybe you are struggling so deeply with the stuff of life, you feel like you just can’t overcome it.

I would encourage you to bring it up. Don’t hold it in. Get together with a trusted friend and talk about it.

Definitely pray about it. Tell God everything. And read through the Psalms. When is the last time you read in the Psalms? They are loaded with people who are struggling with life. King David (the guy who once had victory over Goliath) had lots of victory in his life. But he also struggled quite a bit, and in many of his Psalms, he puts his anguish out there. At times he takes me aback with how blunt he is with God. But, yes, you can be blunt with God. God can handle our pain. Learn from David in the Psalms how to talk with God, how to let it all out, how to hope for victory in the midst of suffering.

Maybe there is a sin in your life that is so difficult you don’t know what to do. Then go to professional counseling. When Michelle and I came home after only a year of church-planting in Jamaica (we planned on a lifetime in missions), feeling less than victorious, actually feeling like failures, we needed help. Admittedly skeptical, we went to professional counseling, which I thought up to that time was never something that I would need. I was wrong. It changed my life.  Through counseling I found victory in Jesus.

If you live near Lancaster or Lebanon Counties in south-central Pennsylvania, and you need professional counseling, even if you are unsure about it, I urge you to check out The Marriage and Family Centers.  They are incredible people who have many others experience victory.

Even at your lowest point, there is hope! Because Jesus won the victory over sin and death and he wants you to experience that victory with him!