Tag Archives: serve

Why is church a place to belong?

given on Sunday, September 17, 2017

SCRIPTURE CONNECTIONS

Opening: Ephesians 1:3-8, NLT

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.[a] He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

 

Sermon scripture:

  1. Ephesians 2:14-16, NLT

14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

 

B: Ephesians 2:19-22

19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family.20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

 

  1. Ephesians 4:11-12, 31-32, NLT

11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

 

  1. Ephesians 5:18b-20, NLT

Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Closing: Ephesians 3:20-21, NLT

20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21 Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

 

Reflection: Why is church a place to belong?

Our neighbors keep changing. When we bought the house almost 20 years ago, we did not know the neighbors; and we did not buy it based on who was living next door. The house was what we chose.

Fortunately for us the decision was positive because we feel like we live where we belong. The neighborhood has been filled with people we ended up knowing and enjoying as neighbors. Yet over these past 18 years, the neighbors keep changing.

Today is designated as “Back to Church Sunday” as a national outreach campaign. The churches in our communities, especially the smaller ones, are struggling to fit into their neighborhoods because the mobile society keeps the areas around the churches ever changing. The churches no longer seem to belong where they are.

In reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, I do not think he was concerned about whether or not the church fit into the community around it. This letter’s purpose was to encourage the church. The opening scripture greets the church with an appealing reason to be part of God’s church:

God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.

The decision on where to live is based on the reasons why a location is chosen. Reasons for the location range from family proximity, jobs, schools, city services, and even personal preferences as to historical districts, shopping preferences, and the list just keeps growing. The choice of location also is related to the basic needs of the family: food, clothing and shelter must be accessible.

Then the decision is tied to the next tier of needs—a sense of belonging. Once an individual’s needs for food, shelter and clothing are met, the next need is to feel a sense of belonging. Today’s mobile society makes finding a place to belong difficult.

The “Back to Church” campaign created a flier that helps explain this need:

As primal as our need for food and shelter, our need to belong is part of what makes us human. Yet belonging easily escapes us. We are often disappointed by the very people we thought we were most strongly connected to.

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was shared with the other churches, much like an email we might forward to others we know. The letter identified many reasons that the church was a place people were unified and equal, and that was why church was a place to belong.

Paul opens his letter with words of encouragement, writing how God

. . . is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

This is the foundation for the church. We are loved and God so loved us that he gave his only son Jesus Christ for our salvation. All who are baptized, who profess Jesus Christ as their savior, belong in the Christian family.

Paul’s letter explains the church unifies all who believe:

15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

The church is a place for everybody to belong. Paul goes on throughout his letter to explain how the church is unified, how it is Holy Spirit driven, and how it uses each person’s individual talents to serve God.

His letter encourages the church on the very behaviors that are necessary to create an environment where everybody belongs and works in unity. The church is a place for everybody to belong.

Today’s national campaign, Back to Church Sunday, challenges each of us to consider whether or not our church(es) are a place where people have a sense of belonging. If it is not, then work is needed.

The flier, A Place to Belong, identifies the different attitudes people have towards churches:

The word “Church” means different things to different people. For some, it awakens warm feelings of childhood potlucks and singing. For others, it might trigger a more sour feeling, a subtle tensing of the shoulders. People’s reactions to the Church are as varied as their individual histories.

Paul’s letter encourages churches by including a list of qualities the church should develop to create a place all are welcome and can have a sense of belonging. The list also includes behaviors to avoid:

  • 4:2-3 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.
  • 4:7 However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ.
  • 4:11-12 11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.
  • 4:30-32 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Today we may not have joined in the nationwide campaign to get Back to Church, but it is never too late to invite those who have been or have never been to church to come to church. The key, though, is the church must be a place where people do belong and want to belong. Paul said,  “10 God’s purpose . . . was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety . . . “

Our responsibility is to be the church family that works together to do all that we can for all we can in any way we can. We must do what we can to open the doors to those who seek a place to belong. The church “is not a building. It’s a community of people brought together to experience God’s love and purpose. . . . God wants each of us to find a place of belonging in His family.” Is our church a place others want to belong or do we need to work on the behaviors that Paul outlined to the Ephesians? Let’s work to be a place where anybody can experience God’s love and purpose. This is where we want to belong and we want to make sure others transformed by God’s love also want to belong here.

Closing prayer:

Dear God Almighty,

 

Guide us in this time of resting and renewal

So we can hear what you ask us to do.

As we join together in worship and study,

Speak to us how to shape our church into a place to belong.

 

Guide us in hearing Paul’s message to ancient churches

So we can learn what we can do in our church.

Let us find the wisdom of unity and of inclusiveness

That creates a space of equality filled with your love.

 

Guide us to use your words to teach others

So they too may know your grace and salvation.

As we read and study your scriptures,

May we commit to doing life together

so others find a place to belong in your church.

 

In the name of you the Father, the son Jesus Christ,

And through the Holy Spirit, amen.

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

How does God’s law fit into our American community?

given on Sunday, July 3, 2026

Scripture references:

According to the Gospel: John 15:11-15, MSG

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

 

Guiding scriptures: (esp. when talking freedom)

 

  • Galatians 3: 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile,[a] slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 

  • Galatians 5: 13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.

 

Guiding scripture: Galatians 6:7-10, NLT

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. 10 Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

 

Reflection:

 

Americans are celebrating this weekend—at least as much as the weather will allow—but the celebration marks the country’s 240th year since its declaration of independence from the British. Consider that time span. What has this country experienced? Why has it survived? What will the future be—another 240 years?

These questions cannot be answered, but reviewing history we can trace the changes that the nation has experienced. Not all the stories are happy, not all turned out as citizens expected, yet the country has existed for 240 years and that is worthy of a celebration.

The question for today’s Christians, though, is challenging: How does God’s law fit into our American community? Certainly this is not a unique or even novel question to ask, but for this 2016 year, the question seems to spring up in the midst of mudslinging, verbal attacks, and sometimes even worse behaviors as the country braces for the election season this fall.

God has seen it all before, I am sure. We have the stories of the Old Testament that share similar human behaviors just not on the global video screens we have sharing every bit of it in real time in full color right in our own homes. There seems no escape from the unethical, un-Christian behaviors playing out before us.

The negative behaviors are exhausting. We add to that the continual news feeds of the horrible atrocities whether nature inflicted or human inflicted. The world needs God as much, if not more, than it ever has needed him, especially since God is love.

God’s creation is losing the battle with evil and Christians cannot give up. God created the Old Law in order to assure that humanity could live in harmony with each other but also with the rest of God’s creation. A set of ten laws was all God thought was needed. He gave them to Moses to implement and the ancient Israelites were to follow them.

For thousands of years, regardless of the geographical location of the Israelites or the political powers that were ruling the lands, the Israelites were held accountable to the Ten Commandments. Still more laws were added to the original ten; judgments were made, punishments metered out, and the Old Law became unmanageable.

To shorten the recap of God’s faithful and the complications that developed during those ancient times, 21st century Christians can jump ahead knowing that God decided to make a change. Out with the Old Law and in with the New Law.

Certainly the Old Law could have worked, but God could not get the message to the faithful that the application of the Old Law became overly complicated. Action was needed and God did act. The answer to the 21st century question was answered over 2000 years ago when God arrived in the form of man, Jesus Christ.

There was no cataclysmic event destroying all the life on earth, rather there was the simple birth of a baby and a span of 33 years as that child grew up, became an adult, and began his ministry that ended in his death and miraculous resurrection. The simple New Law replaced the Old Law—Love one another, as you want to be loved.

How simple. One law. One rule to learn and to follow. One, not ten and not a thousand or more that had been created by the Pharisees trying to make sure the ten were followed.   One law is all God said we needed then and all we still need today.

The question that seems to confuse us is how do we live with just one law today, in the 21st century, in our community, in our nation, in our continent within the global community. The answer seems overly simple and that might be the problem. That one law should evaluate each action of each person. The rubric or the answer key is just one question: Does that action/word/behavior show that you love others as you love yourself?

For instance, driving down the highway and needing to move into another lane does the action show that you have put the others safety first or does the action put self first at the cost of others safety and comfort? Does calling up a friend with the latest scuttlebutt about a neighbor share love for that person or does it hurt that person? When God checks you on how well you are carrying out his law, do you pass the test or do your fail?

The New Law, the Golden Rule, is now over 2000 years old and the news reports are filled with the very behaviors God does not want to see. We are God’s hands on this earth, and we are responsible to apply the New Law in the best way we can. That is how we use God’s law in the 21st century.

Use God’s law daily. Find ways to treat family, friends, and neighbors, even strangers the same way you want to be treated. The more we use the New Law, the more we internalize God’s love.

Paul knew first handed the power of God’s love. It was strong enough to blind the Pharisee Saul persecuting the earliest Christians. God used that same love to heal Saul and to send him as a missionary sharing the message beyond Jesus’ own world.

As the Christian missionary, Paul used any means he could to share the story and he refused to let even the Galatians corrupt the New Law by scolding them and reminding them how to live under the new law. In his letter, he explained how to focus on living the law:

  • Galatians 3: 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile,[a] slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 

  • Galatians 5: 13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.

 

These verses, as well as the entire letter, apply to us right now. The new Christians in Galalea were no different than we Christians here in our own American community nor any other global community.

God’s law frees us from all worldly restraints. Applying God’s law supersedes all laws. Living by the Golden Rule eliminates any risk of breaking any human rule. God’s law answers our question “How does God’s law fit into our American community?”

Live God’s law and we are free. Just remember that with that freedom comes a responsibility to love one another. Love is the method we use to operate in the home, in the neighborhood, in our country and even around this globe. The freedom we experience living God’s law also calls us to serve one another in love (Galatians 5:13).

You are called to love one another. You are called to serve one another in love. You are commissioned by God to share his love in any way that you can. Use Paul’s words to check yourself.

  • Are you serving one another in love as you want to be served?
  • Are you willing to give up a few minutes or even hours to serve others in some way you might not typically do?
  • Are you able to open a door to someone new?
  • Are you sure that you reflect God’s love to all you meet?

This Independence Day is special for us as American Christians, but it is also a time to review what freedom is. Following God’s law truly frees us from all the worldly restraints and that gives us such joy that it explodes inside us like the fireworks sparkling above us as we celebrate our national American heritage. Let others find God sparkling in your life, lighting others up in love, too.

Closing prayer

Dear Loving Father,

Thank you for the freedom your New Law

gives each and every one of your faithful.

 

We acknowledge that we all too often

fail to serve one another in love.

 

We ask your forgiveness for our flaws,

our closed hearts, doors, and minds.

 

Thank you for the strength of Paul’s words

teaching us how to live by the Golden Rule.

 

We ask you to fill us with the Holy Spirit

so we may share your freedom with others.

 

We ask you to open the hearts, doors and minds

to others in our community so they are free, too.

 

And when our days seem gloomy and dreary,

let your Son shine in our lives so others find the way.

 

In the name of you, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

grant us peace, now and forever. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Whose Church Is This?

given on Sunday, May 17, 2015

We are the church,

You are the church,

We are the church together. . . .

 

The refrain from “We Are the Church” is reminder of just who the church is. Not just the Norris or Community United Methodist Church, but THE CHURCH.

The Church began as Jesus’ twelve disciples accepted their new role as apostolic leaders of the earliest church. The events that began with the crucifixion and continued through Pentecost established The Church.

Today, The Church is under a great deal of pressure, but I cannot imagine that the pressure today is any greater than the pressure those very first Christians experienced. We, here in the freedom of the United States, do not worry about persecution. We do not have to defend our Christian faith before a crowd at the Coliseum as the lions are released.

And, neither do we have to defend our beliefs within our denomination as the Catholics did during the Inquisitions. Nor do we have to explain why we joined one denomination over another during the trials of reformation.

Still, the question remains: Whose church is this?

The first Christians were Jewish faithful who believed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah sent to save their people. The first Christians were the Gentiles who were drawn to Jesus’ teachings and discovered they too were welcomed. The first Christians were sometimes pagans who discovered that there is one God and only one law—to love one another.

Today The Church could list the same membership. Yet, with the long-established churches following decades, even centuries, of tradition, the membership of The Church is unstable. Long-time members who have preserved the individual churches no longer are able to do so.

The generations of the faithful are not attending the church of their youth. The un-churched, or maybe a better term, the un-served see no value in checking out neighborhood churches. The secular world of business and entertainment is winning time slots that used to be preserved for the churches.

Who, then is left in the churches? For whom do the churches open doors? Does the church welcome anybody and everybody through the doors at any time? Or is the church just a building?

The very first Psalm is the opening scripture today for a couple of reasons. First, it is from the Old Testament hymnal, and even before Jesus was born, lived and died, this Psalm was used by the Israelites as part of their worship:

Oh, the joys of those who do not
follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.

The first words immediately provide the reason for living a God-centered life—JOY.

Joy is also defined in the gospel of John 17: 13:

13 “Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy.

There is that word again—joy! Jesus was praying to God in what is sometimes referred to as his “Farewell Discourse.” This was the last opportunity to serve as that direct link of God and humanity. Joy is God’s gift to those who maintain “an intimate contact with Christ” (as referenced in the study notes of the Life Application Study Bible).

Again the question: Whose church is this? Have the generations of Christians kept the church open and working to make disciples of Christ or have the churches been open just for those who already profess their faith?

The Church from its inception had a charge to keep. In the scripture from the gospel John, the prayer continues:

18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. 19 And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.

The prayer, at this point, is for the disciples. With these two verses, Jesus appointed them to be apostles. They were the first organized officials of The Church and it was up to them to continue spreading the word of God’s glory, defined in verse 9-11a:

“My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. 10 All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory. 11 Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world,

Reading the scripture, the keys to one’s faith can be found. The words of Jesus’ prayer provide insight into terms that are used. God’s glory in verse 10 is tied to joy, even more it is directly linked to belief in Jesus.

This “Farewell Discourse” also connects back to the Psalm 1, especially in the second stanza:

But they delight in the law of the Lord,
meditating on it day and night.
They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
and they prosper in all they do.

The references to one’s delight links to God’s glory. Jesus sent the disciples into the world to share the message. He gave them the authority to grow The Church, to share the message, to help others find God’s glory.

Does The Church continue to do this? Is The Church really God’s church? Can the churches here and around the globe honestly answer that they are God’s church, doing God’s work, sharing the joy, making new disciples, healing the sick, helping the poor. . . and the list continues.

Today, churches are facing tough decisions. They need to be accountable to the very commandment that God delivered to us through the life, the death, and the resurrection of his son. Today’s churches must find the best way to spread the word in their own ways remembering God’s glory is found through reading the scripture, worshiping together, and serving one another in all the ways The Church can figure out to do.

Whose church is this? The answer should roll off the tongues—God’s church. The church where we stop to worship is not just a sanctuary, it is the people who come to worship and step out to serve. If the church is just a location that does not serve, then it is time for serious work to begin.

During the summer, the task before us is to meet and to define the role of this church in God’s work. What is the best way to share God’s word? What resources are needed? What can change? What can each of us honestly offer to see God’s word is spread?

I face a change and must answer to that, too. For seven years, I have served as a pastor, but I sometimes feel I am only a bandage. I shared my ministry between two passions—education of at-risk students and God’s message. My May transition is to graduate just like all the students who move from one class to the next. Let’s all graduate to the next class of disciples in God’s church.

When you are asked, Whose church is this?, you should be able to answer with confidence that it is God’s church. This church must be God’s church in which we worship and serve. If we cannot say that, then we must look for the best way to fix the problem. We want to say that this church is God’s church which is filled with his glory that pours out to others whoever they may be.

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

Nerves may cause us to shake

As we graduate from one level to the next.

We fear the changes that are ahead

And feel inadequate to do what you call us to do.

We struggle to know the best way

To serve as your church.

We hate to change what we know

Unsure of the outcome it may bring.

Still, we ask for your guidance

As we prepare to move forward.

We ask for the freedom to serve

In new and different ways

We ask for you to fill us with the Holy Spirit

As we reach out to others with your story.

We anticipate the future of this church

As the faithful find ways to serve you better.

May our joy as members of your church

Radiate from this church to reach others.

May we answer the question: Whose church is this?

With confidence that it is your church.–Amen

2 Comments

Filed under Religion