I have been looking forward to this day for quite a while now. After the last number of months when we often felt rejected because we could not find a church, your acceptance and welcome has restored our spirits. Your help in moving us here and cleaning the house and your words to us have made us feel so encouraged and we are very glad to be in a new church and a new community and a new home. I am so thankful that I have a new job and am looking forward to doing it.
We are also glad to be specifically here in Rosenort, in this church. This is not something to be taken for granted. I was very involved in the Mennonite Brethren church and was very comfortable there. Leaving the MB conference was not easy. You have never had a pastor from outside the church never mind outside the denomination and I believe you were comfortable with that. This is a change for both us and you, but the whole process which has brought us here was one which was directed by God. This is where God wants me and I rejoice to be where He has called me.
As I begin ministry in this church, I want to begin by pointing in a direction. What I want to talk about today is some of the basic ideas of what our work together will involve. I want to point in a direction and let you know that it will be my intention to lead in this direction. Whatever I do will fit with these ideas. They are not new ideas, and I want to say right up front that I appreciate the legacy of this church. I have read a little of the history of the EMC and also have read a little of the history of this church. I appreciate that God has led you in the past. I have met some of you who were leaders in the past and those who are leaders today and I appreciate the spiritual concerns and the genuine Christ like spirit of your leaders. The direction I will point in will not be a radically new direction, but will have continuity with the past and with the direction which your current leaders already affirm. Having said that, I do not intend to say that we will keep on in the same way. I hope that together we will grow and become more and more faithful in doing the work of God in this community through this church. How will we do that?
I have been watching with some interest the “Great Comeback” campaign of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. It has become very evident that the essential thing for them is to field a football team that will win so that they can stop being a team that loses on the field and at the box office. That is their primary understanding.
Several times over the last few weeks I have been working at a company called “Naylor Communications.” As I have worked in various areas of their three building plant, I have seen posted all over the place, from the cubicle walls to the storeroom walls a poster which declares the mission of Naylor Communications. I assume that all aspects of the business revolves around that basic mission statement.
In many areas, we hear about the bottom line or the mission of an organization or the primary understanding of a group. These concepts form the basic perspective from which these organizations function.
When we think of Rosenort EMC, what is the bottom line? What is the basic perspective from which we function?
Sometimes when pastors get together they will say something like, “At my church we…” They will go on to brag about all the good things that are happening at their church. We all do this sort of thing. We may not be quite as bad as pastors, but all of us have probably said, “at our church.” I know that it is not our intention to communicate that it is our personal church or that we have built the church or that we own the church. It is just an expression and in our hearts we understand that what we are really saying is something like, “at God’s church, which we attend…” or “at God’s church in the location which we are a part of…” And yet, our words are sometimes more true than we mean. The degree to which we communicate that it is our church has less to do with what we say and more to do with how we act and unfortunately, too often, we communicate by our actions that we mean that it is our church. Have you ever felt jealous when someone went to a program in another church? Have you ever been upset when someone stopped attending your church and went to another? Have you ever felt that your church or denomination was superior to another? Have you ever been angry because a program you felt strongly about was not accepted by the church? Have you ever stopped giving because the church decided to build or remodel and you did not agree with the plans being made? If you have ever felt any of these feelings, you have affirmed that you believe that it is indeed your church. If we are honest, we have to admit that we have all done these things.
The problem with this kind of thinking is that through it we get a small view of God’s kingdom, we are in danger of competing with other churches to the detriment of God’s work and we start building our kingdom instead of God’s kingdom.
So as we begin our work together, let us reinforce from Scripture what we know to be the case and that is that this is God’s church. I want to look at just a few passages which remind us of what we already know and I hope that we can heartily affirm this perspective, not just in words, but in how we minister at Rosenort EMC.
In Matthew 16:18 when Jesus asked his disciples “who do people say that I am” Peter affirmed that they recognized that he was the Christ. To this Jesus replied, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” This is a wonderful promise that encourages us to do God’s work no matter what because it will stand. In the midst of this promise, we see the phrase, “I will build my church.” Whose church is it? Jesus says that it is His church! Even though Peter was important and would be significantly involved in starting the church, there was no doubt that it was not his church, but Christ’s church. The statement, “I will build” affirms that Jesus continues to do the work of building His church to this day.
In the church in Corinth, there was some confusion about whose church it was because of the divisions which arose among them. Paul asks them what they think they are doing by saying that “I follow Paul” or “I follow Apollos.” He goes on in I Corinthians 3:7, 9 to state this fundamental perspective that it is God’s church. In verse 7 he says, “God causes the growth.” In verse 9, he links all, the workers and the church members as belonging to God. The only legitimate slogan is “we all belong to God.” No individual in the church no matter what importance or leadership role he or she has, has an independent importance. Our importance is in the light of being servants of Christ.
There are many other passages we could look at, but let me point to just one more. I Corinthians 1:2 is representative of a number of greetings which occur at the beginning of letters. In the letter opening the church is referred to as the “church of God.”
As I begin ministry with you, I want to affirm that it will be my intention to try to function from the point of view that this is God’s church. I trust that we will share this as our basic perspective.
But what will it mean in the life of this church that we are God’s church? When we peruse the history of the church, we see far too many times when the church has not acted like God’s church.
When the church in Corinth was at war because of its divisions, it was not acting like God’s church. When the churches in Revelation received their warning, they were not acting like the church of God. When the Catholic and Lutheran churches persecuted the early Anabaptists, they were not behaving like the church of God. When the Anabaptists in Russia cared more about who was in and who was out than about reaching out to their neighbors, they were not acting like the church of God. When churches have split and criticized each other and competed, in our day and age, they have not been like the church of God. What are the implications of recognizing that we are God’s church?
In answering this question we must recognize that it is not what we do that comes first, but who we are. If we want to affirm in the life of this church that it is God’s church, we will have to first of all be the people of God. Being comes before doing. We as Mennonites are good at getting to work, but that is the wrong order. Being God’s church means that we are characterized by certain things in the life of the church when it is gathered and in the life of the church when it is scattered.
Our boys are not really great game players. Whenever we would suggest to the family, “let’s play a game” our daughter was always ready to do that, but our boys sometimes had to be dragged into it. Imagine our surprise when we heard that they had gone to the home of their girlfriend and played games with her and her family. What made the difference? They were in love.
As Christians, we are often duty bound. We will do the right things, but our heart isn’t in it. That is why the starting point for being God’s church is beginning with love for God. As God’s church, we must be a people who are in love with our Redeemer. Not that that is a hard thing. We have so much reason to love God with all our heart. Above all is that He has loved us first. Our love for Him is simply a response to His love for us. He has expressed that love by creating us and sustaining us every day. He has forgiven our sins, He has given us eternal life and daily he guides us. If we think about that, we will easily and quickly fall in love with God.
When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, in Matthew 22:37, he said, ”‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind….” We often have a negative view of laws. They seem restrictive to us and they create boundaries we are not sure we want. But laws are expressions of relationship. They define how a relationship will remain healthy. In marriage, the boundaries of faithfulness, unity and love define how that relationship will work best. Love for God is the defining boundary of our relationship with God. What a wonderful boundary.
My hope and prayer as we are God’s church together is that we will always keep in mind the call to love God. That our being the church of God will be enveloped with a deep, profound and growing love for the one who is our God and Saviour. I want to be a person who loves God. Is that the direction you want to go?
But the other half of the greatest commandment is that we as God’s church are to be a people who love others. In Matthew 22:39 Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We could expand on this greatly by reminding ourselves that this love must be for one another first of all. It must extend to all others including our enemies. The church must be a place of love. I found this Ken Medema song which expresses this well.
If this is not a place where tears are understood,
Then where shall I go to cry?
And if this is not a place where my spirit can take wings,
Then where shall I go to fly?
I don't need another place for tryin' to impress you
With just how good and virtuous I am, no, no, no
I don't need another place for always being on top of things.
Everybody knows that it's a sham, it's a sham.
I don't need another place for always wearin' smiles
Even when it's not the way I feel.
I don't need another place to mouth the same old platitudes
Everybody knows that it's not real.
So if this is not a place where my questions can be asked,
Then where shall I go to seek?
And if this is not a place where my heart cry can be heard,
Where, tell me where, shall I go to speak?
So if this is not a place where tears are understood,
Where shall I go, where shall I go to fly?
I have already found out that this is a place of love. I want to make a commitment to grow to love you. Can we commit ourselves to letting God’s spirit teach us more and more about what it means to love?
I heard recently about someone who was surprised that someone she knew had been asked to stop teaching Sunday School because she was pregnant outside of marriage. I heard about someone who claimed that they had found a new and exciting relationship with God, but they were going to divorce their wife.
Loving is not the only aspect of being God’s church. We have also been called to be a holy people. When God chose Israel out of all the nations of the world to be his people and redeemed them out of Egypt, he gave them the law and Leviticus in particular is about a call to be holy because they were the people of God. Being God’s church means that we also must be a holy church. This is what we have been called for. Ephesians 1:4 says, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” Notice that this is the purpose of our choosing. God did not only chose us so that we would be happy. He did not choose us so he would win a little game with Satan. He chose us in order to create a people who were holy and blameless.
Many years ago, Mennonites sought to maintain holiness by living apart from the world. This did not work because they simply became unholy in their colonies. How very different our world is today. We are very much a part of the world. The challenge to holiness is great. What sets us apart from the rest of the world? What sets us apart from your non-believing neighbors and co-workers? It is my intention to seek to be holy and to learn together with you how we can live a gracious holiness.
Being God’s church begins with being. I trust that together we can continue to work at this agenda of being people who love God, love others and live in holiness. If we do that, then God will be able to use us to build His church in Rosenort and beyond. But that does not mean that we can ignore the work agenda of being God’s church. God has not only called us to be, but also to do. What is the work of being God’s church? I would suggest to you that it is doing God’s work in God’s way with God’s power.
The work of God was very clearly defined for us when Jesus left this world. He said in Matthew 28:19,20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The word disciple means “learner.” The work of the church is to make “Jesus learners.” This task involves two aspects.
The first aspect is to bring people to a knowledge of Christ. I have often struggled with what it means to do the work of evangelism. I found out early that I did not have the gift of evangelism, but I also knew I had to do the work of an evangelist. I am looking forward to discovering, together with you, what that means in this community.
The second aspect is that of teaching people to know the way of Jesus. This is the work of Christian education. You can’t have one without the other. It is sad that often people get hooked on one or the other, but they are complementary tasks. As Mennonites, we have sometimes been too interested in teaching what it means to be a disciple and have not given enough attention to reaching out beyond our walls to bring other people to Christ. On the other hand, we see churches today which are so focused on bringing people in that there are whole churches of very immature Christians who are not being adequately taught.
God’s work is a work that includes both evangelism and Christian education. Preferably seen as one whole in the matter of making disciples.
It is my intention to call us to the work of making disciples and to involve myself in that work.
But in making such a commitment, we need to be aware that we need to do this work in God’s way. I once asked a couple how they had come to Christ. The woman told me that she had been a Christian first and that she had invited her future husband, to a Christian youth outing. She did not tell him that it was a Christian outing. At the meeting, he became a believer, but he never quite forgave her for deceiving him. They both agreed that in spite of the result, this was not the way to do evangelism.
In 2 Corinthians 4:2, Paul says, “… we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”
It is very important to me that in all the efforts, in our own lives, in our relationships, in our plans that we live and work with integrity. Sometimes it may seem like the long way to accomplish the urgent task of building God’s church, but it will always yield a much healthier and stronger harvest.
Those of you who farm know that you can get some pretty amazing results with the heavy use of fertilizer, but you also know that too much fertilizer harms the crops. They may come up quickly, but then when the heads are full the stalks lodge and the yield is compromised. The same is true in the spiritual harvest. If it is not grown with integrity, in God’s way, it may come up quickly and seem to produce great results, but later it will be shown to be weak and ineffective.
Let us commit ourselves to building God’s church in God’s way. I Corinthians 3:10-13 reminds us that we will be judged for how we build and challenges us to build with gold, silver and precious stones.
If you ever catch me suggesting something which is incompatible with God’s way, please keep me accountable. I will do the same for you. I trust that we can agree to work in this way.
When I grew up, we had a very small lawn and so a push mower, no motor, was plenty. One summer, I went to visit some relatives who had a large yard and they had a gas push mower and the wheels had power assist so all you had to do was follow the mower around and steer it. I had never heard of such a thing and was not shown how to engage the wheels and so I ended up pushing this mower around in my own strength, when I didn’t have to.
How often do we push the work of God in our own power and strength when we have the promise that God will build His church and we have the Holy Spirit in whose power we do the work? I like the words of Paul in Colossians 1:28,29, “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Notice that the work is not without struggle, but notice that it is also not without power. May we learn to build in His power.
There are many other passages which promise us the power of God in doing the work of God. I also like Zechariah 4:6, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.”
The implications of that are that we will need to listen to what God has to say. We will need to discern what we can do and what God must do. The other day I experienced a time when we were at our wits end and I could do nothing but turn to God for help because I knew that I couldn’t. It felt good, may we learn to do so more.
It is my intention to make prayer and listening to God a primary aspect of our work.
I am excited about what God will continue to do in this church. We count it a great and humbling privilege to be a part of this congregation.
What is your perspective? Mine is that this is God’s church. Can we together affirm that perspective and work from it?
As God’s church, we need to be a people who love Him, love each other, are holy. Will you join me in seeking to be His people?
Furthermore, we must be about His work, doing it in His way and in His power. This is the direction I intend to go. Will you go with me?