Pastor Jerry preached today on the topic of the “360 Revolution” – a technique for evangelism that focuses on prayer. Three passages of scripture form the basis of this message: Mark 5:1-20, Luke 15:1-32, and Mark 2:1-12. Listen to this message – and take Pastor Jerry’s challenge seriously!
Last Sunday, twenty-one adults (including two teenagers) gathered in our fellowship hall to learn about, discuss, and discover their spiritual giftedness. This was the culmination of a sermon series on that topic, and my pastor’s heart was very glad by the strong turnout and even stronger discussion we had at this “Spiritual Gifts Workshop.” I’d like to share a few thoughts with you about the general make-up of our congregation. (As a reminder, if you were not able to attend the workshop, please see me sometime, and we can work on discovering your spiritual gifts together!)
Our survey identified two kinds of spiritual gifts: “working gifts,” which are gifts that we are currently using in active ministry, and “waiting gifts,” which are gifts that may need more development – or the right opportunity – before we put them into use as well.
Among the 21 people at the workshop, our top three “working gifts” were service, giving, and faith. Service has to do with tending to practical needs that help build up the body of Christ. Giving involves supporting the Lord’s work through generous and joyful contributions of material goods – financial and otherwise. Faith is a gift which allows us to see what God wants and to be certain that he will accomplish it in response to prayer.
Does that sound like the Mt. Haley congregation you know? It does to me! I believe we are, indeed, very strong in these three areas. The next question, then, is this: “So what?” How do we put these gifts to work as a congregation? Our frequent love offerings for various ministry groups is a start; our support of different local Christian ministries each quarter is another good thing. Let’s be thinking about how we can continue to develop our strengths as a congregation, even as we do the same individually.
On the other side of the coin, our three strongest “waiting gifts” – again, among the 21 people present at the workshop – are discernment, encouragement, and hospitality. Discernment means the ability to distinguish between truth and error, especially when it comes to matters of faith. Encouragement is the gift that enables us to motivate others to live practical Christian lives. Hospitality has to do with welcoming and graciously serving guests or strangers.
Many individuals in our congregation are “waiting” to put these gifts into action. How can we be more actively discerning, encouraging, and hospitable in our church and in our local community? What would it look like if we were to grow in discipleship and outreach, intentionally paying attention to a development of these three “waiting gifts”? Let’s discuss these things together as we serve in the kingdom of God in this particular place, at this particular time.
Jesus fed an enormous crowd – over 5000 people – with just a few loaves and a couple of fish. A familiar story if you’ve been around the church for a while, right? What does this passage have to do with our quest to discover and use our spiritual gifts? Click below to hear Pastor David’s message based on Mark 6:30-44.
Yesterday, I finished reading Mockingjay, the final book in The Hunger Games trilogy. These are new fiction books that have become very popular in the past few years. In fact, the first book has already been made into a movie. The series portrays a distopian society in which violence and bloodshed are used by the government to keep the population controlled and obedient. The books tend to be fairly graphic, especially later in the series, so I suggest that you use sensitivity and discernment when choosing to read The Hunger Games.
What I find fascinating is a theme that persists throughout all three books. The main character, a teenage girl named Katniss Everdeen, frequently faces situations in which she must observe, confront, or even participate in violence – often directed against innocent people like herself. Yet from beginning to end, she is never comfortable with the violence that runs rampant in her society. She always desires peace and considers it a virtue worth pursuing as long as possible. Here is a quote that illustrates this theme, taken from the end of the final book:
…something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children’s lives to settle its differences. You can spin it any way you like. [One government leader] thought the Hunger Games were an efficient means of control. [Another] thought [a bombing campaign] would expedite the war. But in the end, who does it benefit? No one. The truth is, it benefits no one to live in a world where these things happen. (Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins, p. 377)
The above image is part of a photograph of the old “tabernacle” meeting house on the Church of God campgrounds in Anderson, Indiana. The building hosted multiple worship services every day at the Church of God’s annual week-long campmeeting. Over 5,000 people packed into the tabernacle to worship together and to hear preachers from around the movement. And where everyone could see them, banners printed with various scriptural phrases were hung around the building. One of these, which you see here, was printed with a quote from 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (KJV): “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly.” Notice how the words “God of peace” are much more prominent than the other words on the banner.
As followers of Christ, we are to be in the business of bringing about peace in our world. We serve the God of peace – even Jesus the Messiah, who is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). We strive for peace between God and us, a peace that comes from the God who forgives our sins. We strive for peace between human beings, among family members, and in neighborhoods, because we value human life and understand that God (who is love) calls us to love him wholeheartedly and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We strive for peace among people groups and nations so that the kingdom of God, which the angels heralded as “peace on earth” at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:14), might grow throughout the world.
What The Hunger Games lacks is an understanding that peace is only available through reconciliation with God. Katniss Everdeen ultimately desires peace but must live in a world of violence. If you are interested, check out a copy of The Hunger Games (that’s the title of the first book) and listen carefully for its cry for peace in the real world.
Yesterday, we had the privilege of hearing testimonies, songs, and scripture verses from several guests from Mid-Michigan Teen Challenge, a Christ-centered organization in which men and women – many of whom have struggled with addictions to drugs and alcohol and are at the end of their ropes – can find spiritual healing, forgiveness, and a relationship with Christ. About ten of the young women enrolled in this 14-month residential program came to our church to share their stories with us. Pastor David’s abbreviated message, taken from Mark 6:1-13, summarizes this full day of worship by focusing God’s two-fold call on our lives: to become more like Christ and to share our stories with the world around us. Click the link below to hear this sermonette!
Last week, I had the privilege of attending the 126th annual North American Convention of the Church of God. This week spent with friends, family, and colleagues reminded me of an important truth: we need to be connected to each other to fulfill God’s plan for the church.
As Church of God people, we place a high premium on a theological principle called “unity.” This doesn’t mean “hanging out with people who are like us” or even “accepting people who are different from us.” It doesn’t have to do with worship styles, Bible translations, labels on church buildings, or anything of that sort. Instead, unity has a great deal to do with our need to be connected to each other in order to accomplish God’s will for us.
In John 17:20-21, Jesus prayed for those who would believe in him in the future – even including us. He specifically prayed that we might all be one to illustrate the unity between Jesus and God the Father. And the purpose of that unity is so that the world might believe in the entire sweep of salvation history, culminating in the redemption made possible through Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Our unity – or lack thereof – has tremendous implications!
Last week’s convention in Anderson reminded me that we at Mt. Haley are not lone rangers; we are not isolated; we do not carry alone the torch of Christianity in general (or of the Church of God in particular). What’s more, I was reminded through a series of meaningful conversations that God calls not just individuals but also groups into his service. For instance, Abram was called to follow God into unknown territory in Genesis 12:1-3 – but his call extended to include his yet-unborn descendants, the Israelites. The boy Samuel was called by God (in 1 Samuel 3) to be a prophet, but he would also anoint the first two kings of Israel, namely, Saul and David. Even the early disciples were called individually to follow Jesus as a group, and these twelve disciples were the kernel through which the early church began to grow in the book of Acts.
I am still processing the concept of God calling groups of people into his service, but I believe there is something useful to be gained by studying this idea. We as a congregation, we as Mt. Haley Church of God have been called together by God – for what purpose? to what end? for whose glory? How can we encourage one another and spur each other on to become more like Christ? What difference will we, as a group, make for the kingdom of God in our local community and around the world? How does God desire to make himself known to the world through our expressions of unity with each other and other believers?
I know at least one thing is true: we need to be connected to each other to fulfill God’s plan for the church. Let’s practice this Christ-centered unity together!
Pastor David participated in last week’s North American Convention (NAC2012) of the Church of God, which was held in Anderson, Indiana. In this message, he gives a summary of events that took place there, including a concern about the identity of the Church of God. Click below as he reflects on Judges 11:29-40 – a rather difficult passage to read! – and offers a word of hope from scripture to our situation.