"The Church You've Always Longed For - (2) Captures the Heart of the Community"
Matthew 5:13-16 Guest Speaker Gary Lisle
Mother's Day, May 8, 2011
(Adapted from a message by Rev. Bob Rittenhouse)
Last Monday, or in advanced polls, we had the opportunity, as a free democratic nation, to go to the polls and vote for the party we felt would best lead our country. The results were in early Tuesday morning and the people of Canada gave the Conservatives 167 seats, the New Democratic Party 102 seats, the Liberals 34 seats, the Bloc 4 seats and the Green party 1 seat. Was this the government that you've always longed for? That depends on who you ask. The Conservatives had been asking for a majority government and they received it. The NDP are going to form the official opposition for the first time nationally, and the Green party has their first member elected. The supporters of these groups will be quite pleased and would probably respond positively to that question. On the other hand, the Liberals and Bloc had very poor showings and this is not the government they were longing for.
When it comes to our fellowship, is this the church that you've always longed for? As Ernest mentioned last week, we are taking part in a series as part of this year's 50-Day Adventure and it is called, "The Church You've Always Longed For," Our theme for today is "Capturing the Heart of the Community." Let's review how God uses us all to turn His church around and make it what it is today, so that we can see God's divine intervention in all of it.
How does our church begin the process of becoming the church that God has longed for us to be, one that will capture the heart of our community?
First, we need to become compassionate and forgiving people who love and respect each other. We need to be willing to forgive not from the mind, but from the heart. Jesus, when teaching about forgiveness, was asked by Peter in Matt. 18:21-22, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "Not seven times, but seventy-seven times". He meant forever and always. Didn't God, through the sacrifice of his Son Jesus on the cross at Calvary, forgive us forever and always?
Our bible study group has been studying the Parable of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15. The younger son was fed up with things around home and decided that he wanted his inheritance early so he could go and spend it as he pleased. In those times, that was considered a real slap in the face to the father. It was like wishing the father dead. Here we have a son who wanted the father's things, but didn't want the father. It would not have been out of place for the father to kick his son out and give him nothing, but in this story, told by Jesus, he was granted his wish and he left. His fortune didn't last long and soon he was literally eating with the pigs. He decided to go home and try to rectify the situation with his family. When the first son returned after blowing his entire inheritance, the father did not wait on the porch of his home, impatiently tapping his foot, murmuring, "Here comes that son of mine. After all he's done, there better be some real groveling." No, he ran out to meet him and forgave him completely. The father's love and compassion for this rebellious younger son were freely given.
If God is going to be able to ever do anything in the lives of his people or through his church, we must be people who model the very words of the Lord's Prayer when we pray, "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matt. 6:12).
We must first forgive those who may have hurt us, just as the almighty God forgave us. If we as Christians are unwilling to forgive others who have offended us within the church, not just outside it, then our witness, which we could say is like salt that preserves, becomes like salt that loses its saltiness, "no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men" (Matt. 5:13). We must learn what it means to have compassion and to forgive each other.
Mothers know this well: A mother's love is patient, compassionate and forgiving; when others are forsaking, her love never fails or falters, even though her heart may be breaking."
Mother Teresa says:
When we realize that we are sinners needing forgiveness, it will be very easy for us to forgive others. If I do not understand this, it will be very hard for me to say 'I forgive you, to anyone who comes to me.
Are there people in your life you need to forgive?
Second, we must become people of thanksgiving, for it is God who pours out his blessings upon us and gives so freely as we have need. As we become people of thanksgiving, we will respect the different gifts we all have been given through the Holy Spirit. We should be thankful that God has given us such a wonderful variety of people with different gifts.
Our congregation continues to learn what it means to be thankful in difficult times, and as we do this we follow the New Testament church example in Acts 4:32, becoming "one in heart and mind." We must learn to encourage and love each other, for we all make up the body of Christ we call the church; all the parts of the body are important. The apostle Paul wrote, "God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other" (1 Cor. 12:24-25).
In summary, to capture the heart of our community and become the church we've always longed for, we must be compassionate and forgiving people who respect and listen to the thoughts and suggestions of others within the body, serving one Christ and one Lord together in harmony and in love. We are instructed to "not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present [our] requests to God" (Phil. 4:6). We must strive to lift each other up, and we can do that through prayer, by letter, or by words of encouragement, in appreciation for what another person is doing to advance the gospel. Jesus said, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men [meaning Christian and non-Christian men and women alike] will know you are my disciples, if you love one another" (John 13:34-35). It was mentioned in our bible study group a couple of weeks ago, that we need to pray for one another. Starting this week, we have chosen one member of the group to pray for throughout the week. It is our plan to change that person each week. Can we do this as a church?
Being the church we've always longed for starts with ourselves and our attitudes toward each other and the church in which God has placed us. Upon first glance of our NCD survey results, Loving Relationships continues to be very high in our fellowship.( 71% which is 4 points higher than the last time) On the other hand, we fell a little short in the Gift-Based Ministry Characteristic, especially Question 16, ' I know what value my work has in the overall work of our church'. We must continue to love and pray for one another and address these shortcomings. As we have already learned in Action Step 1 of our 50-Day Adventure, we must "Learn to listen with the Ears of Jesus." Then, we can truly become aware of the needs of the church and others around us.
At our retreat in April we discussed the many strengths of our congregation and the one that stood out in all cases is the gift of service. It is good that we have the free breakfast, distribute flowers to shut-ins, help the needy when we can, support various missionaries and missions, and are visible in the community such as at the Threshers reunion. Do you feel that your gifts are being appropriately utilized in our church and the community? How can we continue this outreach but also avoid fatigue and burn-out when our numbers are few? It is also important that we don't seat ourselves on moralistic high-horses and look for praise and approval for what we do. This is the attitude of an Elder brother who is looking for something in return rather than just loving and doing something because it is the right thing to do.
Thirdly, we must become people of action. Today, more than at any other time in the church's history, we have every type of program, curriculum, and promotional material to attract people into the church. However, as we all sadly know, that is not the case. People aren't being attracted to the church in large numbers. Experts tell us that the church is in decline. The mass majority of people today in North America don't enter the doors of the church except to be baptized, married, and buried. We are also plagued by CONSUMERISM. Those that decide to go to church are tempted by the BIG church that has lots of programs/ministry options that are already running and will serve their family's needs without them having to become too involved. We have faced that in our church.
We all know church "supermarket shoppers." They are always looking for the perfect church or the perfect programs. They come and ask, "What can the church do for me?" They should exercise their spiritual gifts to help build the church, and instead ask, "What can I do for the church?"
Why do some community people stay away from the church and some Christians become "supermarket shoppers"? Maybe it's because they perceive the church as being self-serving and closed to anything outside of its walls. If the church is not following the mandate of Jesus to go out and make disciples, then why should we believe that God will continue to bless the church? Or, if we as individuals are not willing to be molded and used by our Lord, then why do we hope God will bless us? When a church loses its vision to reach the lost, God's blessings are withheld. But when the majority surrender themselves to Jesus to be used by him and to make him the real Lord of their lives, we begin to see marvelous things take place.
Jesus said in our passage today, "You [meaning we who make up the church] are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl" (Matt. 5:14-15).
One of the things I enjoy doing is going fishing, usually early in the morning, starting before dawn.. There, in the calmness of the morning, one is struck by the beauty all around. As I look at the darkness of the river on a moonless night, I am at peace in that darkness, because the light along the shore shines more brilliantly than all the others and I am at peace.
People who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Savior are also in darkness, but they're not at peace. They have not received the true Light of the World. They are looking for answers, but are looking at other false lights in the world, not at the light that should shine the brightest of all lights.
Jesus is saying in our passage that we must be a light that attracts humanity to him and him alone. And to be that light we must be people who put the love of Jesus for all people into action.
We must become people and churches that take our lights out from under our bowls and put them on a stand, where we can give light to everyone and draw men and women home safely into the Master's arms. The church must become that true lighthouse for people in the storms of life.
LWCF has tried to let our light shine for Jesus in Blyth by offering a free breakfast. Our purpose is to help those in the community who are suffering and who are barely getting by each month on fixed incomes.
As a result, we fed about 130 people at our Good Friday breakfast for Jesus. And we as a church, and as a body of believers, have grown closer to the Lord. It's seeing the light through our actions outside these church walls that attracts men and women to Christ.. Our attendance may not have increased dramatically, but we continue to serve our Lord with love and dedication.
We do have our ups and downs as a church. Peter warns us, "Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Pet. 5:8). If he can, our enemy will try his best to tear down what God has built up in us and to cause us to become negative in our thoughts about the church and the community.
How can we resist saying negative things about others and the church? We can begin by looking for the good in people and the church. Let's not allow ourselves to fall into the trap of dwelling on the negatives that happen; instead, let's be people who speak positively about our church.
(Have congregation refer to handout - page 2)Action Step 2 in our 50-Day Spiritual Adventure this year asks us to attract others to the church by saying good things about it. Each day, for 50 days, we are encouraged to write down something good about our church or church family. Then, at least twice every week, we should share some of these good things about our church with someone else. We shouldn't boast in anything but the Cross, but we do need to always hold forth the good qualities that our church already has. Is this something that we have done a good job with at LWCF?
And then, at least once during the Adventure, we are to ask someone to come to church or to a church activity. When is the last time you did this? For me, I can't remember but now is the time for me to put forth a better effort and make this more of a priority.
Can the church become the church you have always longed for? If it is God's plan it can, through love for one another and ears that are listening, through outreach events and programs that meet the needs of the community, showing them, "Jesus cares for you, and we care for you, too." It also happens through an attitude change within us that says only good things to the world about Christ's church. We must proclaim the greatest gift ever given with great boldness and joy.
Have we at LWCF become the church we have always longed for? Or is there still room for improvement? Jesus has always desired for us. With God's help, and with all of us being willing to be used and molded by God "his way," we can truly become the church God has longed for us to be.
May God continue to bless us and may we remain steadfast and faithful to him, with our focus on the lost in our community as we strive to be "The Church You've Always Longed For."