Unity is easier said than done, especially within a local congregation. Pastor David explains in his sermon on Matthew 18:15-20 that our concern for each other’s spiritual well-being is crucial to our unity as a church.
Last week, Pastor David attended the Church of God Convention in Wichita, Kansas. Listen in as he shares a few points of reflection from this gathering of our tribe!
Yesterday afternoon, a neighboring church celebrated the baptisms of eight people, each of whom has experienced salvation in Jesus and is dedicating his or her life to following him. Together with seven other people who were baptized in September, the Midland Missionary Church has now seen fifteen people go through the waters of baptism in the past few months. Praise the Lord for how he is moving in that congregation! Continue reading
One of the joys of walking, driving, or riding a motorcycle at this time of year is seeing all the tremendous, vivid colors of the changing leaves. I hope you are taking time in these weeks to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation!
Do you know why leaves change color just before they fall? Let me summarize, to the best of my limited understanding, why this happens. Leaves are green during the spring and summer because they contain chlorophyll. This green chemical allows plants to absorb the sun’s energy, which empowers the plants to grow and thrive and multiply. (Of course, this turns out to be a good thing for us humans, because plants take in carbon dioxide and expel oxygen, which is the reverse of our breathing process.) This chlorophyll must be constantly produced by plants in order to take full advantage of the boundless energy of the sun.
But when it comes time for trees to take a long Midwestern winter’s nap, they stop producing chlorophyll. They have stored up as much energy as they need to survive the winter, and they say farewell to their leaves, which cannot survive cold temperatures.
When the leaves stop receiving chlorophyll from the tree, their greenness disappears. It is then that we can see their true colors. The reds, yellows, and oranges we see in this season are actually the real colors of leaves all through the spring and summer, as well. Only when the leaves are connected to their branches, when they are filled with live-giving chlorophyll, do we see them in their healthy green state.
People are just like these leaves. We come in many different sizes, shapes, colors, and varieties. And it truly is a beautiful thing to observe the diversity and complexity of humankind. (Those of you who have gone to Guatemala on our recent mission trips will understand!) God has done marvelous work in forming us, each a unique creation loved deeply by our Creator.
“I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 NET)
And yet when we are connected to the true Source of Life, namely Jesus Christ, something amazing happens. The life given to us by Jesus Christ changes us in fundamental ways:
- Jesus makes us truly healthy. Just like leaves filled with chlorophyll, we are able to take in the life-giving Spirit of God and expel toxic, harmful behaviors and attitudes.
- Jesus unites us. Just as red, yellow, and orange leaves share the same greenness during the spring and summer, we all carry our own unique identities, but we are deeply united in our connection to Jesus Christ.
- Jesus gives us life. Just like leaves only stand a chance of surviving while connected to the tree, we are designed and built to be connected to the true Source of Life.
May God fill you with his Spirit each day, and may you remain connected to the Lord throughout the changing seasons of life!
After two weeks away from the pulpit, Pastor David returns to continue our study of 1 Corinthians. In the final section of this letter’s first chapter, Paul gives the fundamental reason for our unity and humility in the church, a reason that is summarized by the two words that we preach: Christ crucified.
In 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, Paul addresses the first major problem in the Corinthian church: favoritism. Could it be that modern-day churches face the same basic issues as our ancient predecessors? What relevance does this passage have for our church life today? And what does this all have to do with a basketball net? Listen in to Pastor David’s message on this topic:
What does the title of this article mean to you? Does it bring to mind any images, people, or customs? Does it evoke feelings in your heart, either positive or negative? Or is it a foreign term to you because of the vagueness of the term “institution”?
When I use the phrase “the institution of the church,” I am referring to the necessary structure that develops among Christians of similar theology, history, and practice. Let me unpack that a little bit:
- “Necessary structure”: Just as people gather to live in neighborhoods, villages, towns, cities, regions, and nations, so do all human organizations. Any organization, if it is going to maintain its identity and purpose, must develop some kind of structure to keep itself going into the future. Over the course of time, the earliest Christians developed a structure to keep themselves afloat in the world; today, we call this structure the Roman Catholic Church. Even our brand of Christian faith, the Church of God Reformation Movement, has developed structures and systems that support the identity and purpose of this movement. That development began back in the 1910s and really flourished during the mid-1900s.
- “Similar theology, history, and practice”: Christian groups vary widely in these three categories, and perhaps others. But when believers have these in common, they tend to stick together. They have campmeetings and conventions; they have unity services and missionaries; they trade pastors and, all too often, church people. They might even work together on joint projects, like we did in Guatemala with Meridian Church of God earlier this year, and like we did with two other Church of God congregations for the Global Gathering last month. The structures we develop support and protect our investments (material and spiritual) in our beliefs, our shared history, and our shared experiences.
This is all well and good. But many people today have been driven away from God because of the problems in the institution of the church – whatever its label. And this isn’t good. In our humanness, we create issues that cause people to turn away from God. We argue among each other; we criticize those who disagree with us on political issues. We discriminate against those who aren’t like us; we harbor jealousy of those who are successful. We distrust those in power; we fail to consider the needs of “the least of these.” And all these things can occur within one particular church group – I know, because I have seen them in the Church of God itself!
Yet I do not run away. I remain committed to the Church of God (and to the Mt. Haley congregation in particular) because I believe in the Church of God’s theology, history, and practices. I find the institution frustrating at times, but I also find it incredibly valuable because it connects me to something bigger than myself. And at the same time, I constantly work to remember that the Church of God is connected to something bigger than itself as well. We speak openly about salvation, unity, and holiness with Christians in our own fellowship and those in other backgrounds. We do so because we share “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:5-6 NIV) and we take seriously Jesus’s prayer that we might all be one (John 17:22-23).
With all this in mind, I invite you to read two more articles, these written by good friends of mine, Joe Watkins and Jael Tang. They are two of my “people” – the group I’ve mentioned to you before, my seminary friends who form for me a special community of support, inspiration, and challenge. Please take a few minutes to read what they have to say; I promise it’s worth your time.
Read Jael’s blog here: http://akandatang-luke5.blogspot.com/2013/07/where-we-come-from-institution-and.html
During the last week of June, the Church of God came together for a “Global Gathering” in which delegates from 63 countries came to Anderson, Indiana, for a week of worship, celebration, prayer, fellowship, and encouragement. I was blessed to attend the majority of this gathering, and I’d like to share with you some highlights from the week.
- The major theme of the Global Gathering was “Standing Together” – a testament to our convictions about Christian unity. Regardless of our nationalities, ethnicities, and languages, we practiced loving, accepting, and encouraging each other because of our common faith in Jesus Christ. This too was an important theme through the week: that Jesus Christ is at the center of who we are as the people of God. Perhaps the most moving experience of this truth was at the opening worship service, in which all the delegates from around the world entered the convention hall behind their respective nations’ flags, accompanied by a sustained standing ovation by everyone else.
- Each day, we all came together for three worship services – morning, afternoon, and evening – and each service had a preacher from a different part of the world. We heard the Word of God preached by individuals from Russia, Zambia, Brazil, Jamaica, Australia, Ghana, India, Paraguay, and the United States. The diversity of life experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives on life was amazing! And there are some fantastic preachers in our movement around the world! (Remember, you can watch the services online at www.chog.org/gg-media.)
- All week long, we gave offerings out of love and thankfulness to our Lord. Now, in the past, the offerings for the North American Convention have gone to cover the costs of the convention itself, or to support other components of the Church of God structure. Not so this year. All of the offerings – every dollar and penny – were given directly to an organization called Water4 (www.water4.org).
- This not-for-profit has the goal of eliminating the current world water crisis. (There are millions of people on the planet who cannot just turn the faucet and get clean drinking water; instead, many must drink from unsanitary, infested pools located sometimes miles from home.) Water4 exists to train, equip, and support local individuals as they learn to dig freshwater pressure wells in their own communities using simple, cost-effective materials. From beginning to end, one well costs just $1,000 through this organization.
- The goal at the Global Gathering was for us to raise $100,000 for Water4. An anonymous donor made a challenge: up to this amount, he or she would donate $4 for every $1 that we gave. This encouraged us to give even more, and by the end of the week, we had given over $106,000 – meaning that the total donation to Water4 from our group was over half a million dollars. This will sponsor 500 new freshwater wells throughout the world. Thanks be to God!
This Global Gathering was a tremendous experience. I am already looking forward to next year, even though it will be back to our regular North American Convention!
You know, you can come along too, even for just a weekend or for part of the week. This is our convention!