Three Tasks and Some Applications

This past Sunday, the sermon focused on the theme of “working in God’s vineyard,” based on the parable in Matthew 21:23-32 about how two sons of a landowner responded to his request that they work in his vineyard.  I thought it might be helpful to summarize a few of the points from this message so you can have them in “hard copy” form.

What does “working in God’s vineyard” look like?  What tasks are involved?  To what do we need to attend?  I see three general tasks that we as the people of God face:

  1. Personal spiritual growth.  Each of us is responsible for our own growth and development in Christ.  We must choose to follow him, to repent of our sins, to be baptized, to give up sinful patterns of behavior, and to invest ourselves in the life-long process of becoming more like Christ.  Since this process is life-long, we must always work towards intentionality about spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible study, regular church attendance, and so forth.
  2. Corporate spiritual growth.  Each of us is responsible for the growth and development of our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially those in our own local congregation.  We do not live as “islands” of Christian faith; instead, we share life with each other, we support each other, we challenge each other, and we walk alongside each other through good times and difficult times.  The New Testament reveals that we in the church belong to each other and cannot live apart from each other.  Therefore, strengthening our corporate spiritual life is a high priority.
  3. Spreading the message of Christ.  Each of us is responsible to tend to the soil which has not yet produced a growing plant.  By this, I mean we are charged with the task of building relationships with people outside the Christian faith in order to share Christ with them, that they too might come to know the fullness of life which can be found in him.  We might till the soil, plant a seed, spread some fertilizer, water the ground – any of these agricultural activities can describe our work in sharing Christ’s love with those around us.

These three tasks are a beginning point to understanding what working in God’s vineyard looks like.  Certainly more tasks could be added to this list, such as working in society toward the goals of justice and fairness, striving to engender peace in our homes and cities and nations, and so on.  But I believe these three are a good starting point for us.

How, then, do we get to work on these tasks?  I see four applications at the present time for our congregation:

  1. Dealing with grief and hardship.  Many folks in our congregation are struggling right now; we have had more than our fair share of losses and crises in the past month.  Certainly the second task (corporate spiritual growth) is a high priority these days while we rally around those who are in distress.  However, there’s another level of application:  even though we grieve, mourn, and endure hardship, we are still called to work in God’s vineyard – we aren’t off the hook!  It might even be the case that our work will be more fruitful because of our reliance on the Lord in times of crisis.
  2. Sunday school curriculum.  We are experimenting with a standardized curriculum for our Sunday school classes this quarter.  I have heard mixed reviews at this early stage in our experiment; some people like the structure and content, but other people do not.  Remember that this is just an experiment, and the curriculum is only a tool to help us in our task of working in God’s vineyard.  Whether you like the curriculum or not, the tasks of personal and corporate spiritual growth are still on the table.  Let’s make the best of it!
  3. Youth group opportunities.  Pastor Jerry will soon be asking you (if he hasn’t already) to participate in our youth group ministry in more intentional ways.  For instance, he hopes to have adults in our church volunteer to bring in snacks for the youth group’s Sunday evening meetings.  He and Connie have several other ideas, as well – but I’ll let them reveal those to you!  Let’s become actively involved in ministering to our young people.  They really are an exciting bunch!
  4. Local Ministry of the Quarter.  I want this congregation to become more actively involved in partnering with local Christian ministries, of which there are many in our community.  Every three months, we will focus our energies on an individual ministry, which we will support with our finances, our resources, and/or our time and energy.  For instance, in the final three months of this year, we will support the Pregnancy Resource Center with a “baby bottle drive” – more info will come soon!

Let’s continue the process of learning how to work in God’s vineyard.  I’m looking forward to continuing this journey with you!

–Pastor David

The Truth About Who’s in Charge

In Jerusalem, the chief priests and elders questioned Jesus about where his authority came from – and he answered with some pretty strong words in Matthew 21:23-32.  God would rather have a people who repent and obey him than to have a people who inherit the faith and sit idly by.  What does this have to do with us – in practical terms?  Click the link below to listen to Pastor David’s message on this topic.

Listen now!

Strategic Planning Conference

As many of you know, I traveled to Nashville, TN last week for the Church of God’s “Strategic Planning Conference” (SPC), which is held every five years to help our movement relocate its identity, its vision, and its direction for the coming years.  I was honored to be invited to attend this series of meetings, and I’d like to report to you some of what took place in those days.

The conference was attended by pastors, administrators, missionaries, and educators (among others) from all around North America – and we even had a few from other continents as well.  About 140 people were in attendance, and as preparation for this event we were all asked to read Signals at the Crossroads, a new book by the late Dr. Gil Stafford which combines his two previous Crossroads books with new material he was writing in his final days.  This book raises many issues that the Church of God movement is facing, and it’s worth your time.  If you’d like to read it, you are welcome to borrow my copy!

We had several excellent speakers at the SPC who highlighted several concerns for our movement:  how we cast a vision for the movement as a whole, how we resolve conflicts inside and among churches, how we keep pastors from being isolated from each other, how we encourage women in ministry, how we balance religious enthusiasm with theological reflection, how we sustain our rich heritage while we engage our present culture.  We spent time in prayer and in worship as we brainstormed around these ideas.

For several years, the Church of God movement has lacked a strong, central, driving vision:  our reason for existence is not as strong as it has been in the past.  Granted, throughout our history, we have experimented with a number of different ideas for our purpose, mission, and vision.  Over the course of time, though, these ideas have faded, and where we are – in terms of a guiding purpose for the movement as a whole – is a little uncertain.

So, much of our time together, as a combined group and in our smaller break-out groups, was dedicated to recapturing a vision for the movement as a whole.  Through most of the conference – at least the two-thirds of the conference which I was able to attend – we saw evangelism move into the forefront of our collective vision for the Church of God.

On the positive side, it is surely part of our mission as people of God to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to individuals that are outside the kingdom of God.  After all, this was summarized by the Great Commission which Jesus gave his disciples at the end of Matthew.  We do well to emphasize this component of our Christian faith and mission.  However, I fear that we may become single-minded (for instance, ignoring the lifelong task of discipleship) if we focus too much on evangelism.  Also, we must remain faithful to our theological heritage while we press forward with evangelism.

One of my major concerns is with a recent trend in the Church of God to set numeric goals for our corporate success.  You may remember our Focus40 event this past spring; another is being planned for next year, and this time there is a stated goal of 25,000 new believers worldwide through the implementation of Focus40, and this was repeated at the SPC this past week.  Also, at the conference, one of the small break-out groups suggested that the Church of God set a goal of having 10,000 congregations on its roster by the year 2020.  This latter goal is simply mathematically impossible:  we would have to plant two or three churches every day for the next nine years to meet that goal.

The Church of God movement – and Mt. Haley Church of God in particular – must resist the urge to set numeric goals for their success.  If we as a congregation see fifty souls saved by Christ in the next year, we will have great reason to celebrate!  But if we set that goal ahead of time, then we are (at best) risking manipulation of God or (at worst) setting ourselves up to fail.  As one of our SPC speakers said, we need to balance religious enthusiasm with theological reflection.

Who are we?  What are we all about?  These are questions that we as a congregation are beginning to tackle once again; I hope it is beneficial for you to know that the Church of God movement is in a similar position.  May we all rely only on the Lord for the casting of our vision as we strive to carry out his will, until Christ returns and takes us home.

–Pastor David

Remembering September 11, 2001

In just a few days, our nation will pause to observe the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that affected all of us and changed our lives dramatically, some more than others.  If you’ve been watching the news on TV at all, you’ve surely seen a good bit of coverage on this event.  It seems that we all are corporately engaging in a bit of public remembrance, perhaps to soothe the wounds that still ache in our nation.  Ten years is a long time, and much ground has been covered in the past decade.  But moments like these seem as if they took place just yesterday.

I was a senior in college in the fall of 2001.  I remember that we held a special chapel service in the afternoon of September 11 for the purposes of prayer, worship, and catharsis.  The dean of the chapel was our worship leader, and I remember vividly how he led us from the piano in singing the hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”  He explained how we should rely on the Lord, who never changes or abandons us, when we experience tumultuous events.  One of the faculty members stood up from his seat among the students and called out for a song of lament instead of the dean’s selection.  A brief conversation between the two men ensued, but the dean’s choice eventually carried the day, and we sang of our faith in God.  (Laments – expressions of grief – surely followed in the rest of the service.)

In every circumstance, we face the same two choices:  either to reiterate our faith in God or to give voice to our emotions and desires.  Both are valuable, and each is appropriate in its own time.  However, I see one major difference between these two acts:  our emotions and desires fade over time, but our faith in God must remain consistent.

Ten years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, we do not experience the same emotions as we did on that day.  Some of us are young enough to not even remember that day.  But as I reflect on our cultural remembrances, I think those of us in the church – and remember, the church is not the same as our culture – those of us in the church would do well to reiterate our faith in God, who will remain God in good times and in bad.  No matter what happens, he will care for us.  Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.  And perhaps – just perhaps – at times like these, when people’s hearts are turned toward emotionally challenging memories, our message of salvation, wholeness, and hope in Christ might be able to take root in the lives of those around us.

Life is not about sorrow, anger, retribution, justice, prevention, or any of these things.  Life is about a living relationship with the creator of the universe, the one who died and conquered death that we might know him, be set free from sin, and live eternally with him.  On Christ the solid rock we stand; all other ground is sinking sand!

–Pastor David

The Truth About Christian Community

In David Kinnaman’s new book entitled unChristian, he gives some startling statistics from the Barna Group about how young people today view the church and Christian faith.  Why are teens and twenty-somethings turning away from the Lord?  Why do our attempts at Christian community turn them away?  Why don’t we heed the words of scripture, especially those in Romans 13:8-14, which call us to clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ?  Click the link below to hear Pastor David’s message to two congregations on this topic.

Listen now!