Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Ethnic Blends

Early in the story of the Bible God focused His attention on one nation- the people of Israel. Though God was working with and through them, He still promised that they would be a blessing to all the peoples of the world. When Christ started the church He was very clear that His followers were to take His message of salvation to all the world- specifically to "all the ethnicities." The Christian church quickly expanded beyond it's Jewish origin and spread throughout the Roman empire. Throughout the centuries the gospel has continued to reach new groups of people.

God is very clear that His followers are to become one new group instead of remaining independent from each other. The night before Jesus went to the cross He instructed His disciples with these words: "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). Thus, we are not to huddle only with Christians who look like us or who were raised like us. Our love for other believers who are different from us is an example to the world that we have truly been transformed by Jesus' power.

It is understandable why many churches are segregated. In some places I have lived it would be impossible to have a church composed of people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds simply because the populations of those areas were not diverse. But in other parts of our country and the world, it is scandalous that our churches are segregated based on racial features. Here in the heart of New Jersey I see people that look different from me and from each other everywhere I go. A church that welcomes all of these different ethnic groups is a church that displays God's love to the world.

Here is how one pair of authors stated the matter:

"For in an increasingly diverse and cynical society, people will no longer find credible the message of God's love for all people when it's preached from segregated churches."

What can we do? Very simply, make friends with people from other cultures, share the gospel with people from other cultures, and worship with people from other cultures. It may not be easy, but it is a very necessary way to display Christ's love to our world.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Preaching to Myself

Sometimes the person who most needs to hear the sermon that the preacher is preaching is the preacher himself. That's what happened to me this past Sunday. I had been feeling a little bit discouraged last week. Maybe I wasn't having a full-fledged "pity party," but I was a bit down. I wished that we would be reaching more people for Jesus. I wished that we had a building that would accommodate our needs- (I'm not asking for much- just a meeting space with bathrooms and classrooms and a large enough area for a sanctuary. Ok, I'd also like for it to be able to be seen from the road). But I wasn't seeing those things happening.

In the book Humility- True Greatness, C.J. Mahaney quotes Martin Lloyd Jones as saying, "Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?" That was my problem. I was only listening to the discouraging things that were going on around me. I should have been reminding myself of God's greatness.

In fact, the message I needed to hear was the same one I was preparing for our people. That message was from Habakkuk 3. In this chapter the prophet Habakkuk had a lot of things that could have discouraged him- beginning with the captivity that his nation was about to experience. Instead of staying dejected, Habakkuk asked for God's help. He then reflected on the ways that God had helped in the past and remembered the great character of God. Those memories lead Him to declare his trust in God no matter how bad the circumstances around him would become. The memories lead him to praise God.

Once I preached that message to myself I was indeed happier and more content. I trust that we all can remember to remind ourselves of God's goodness. When we preach that message to ourselves we will be remembering why we can trust God no matter what is going on around us.

Friday, March 19, 2010

New Socks

Want to feel great? Go buy a package of new socks. Then open the package, take out the first pair, and put them on your feet. Doesn't that feel great? I had not had that experience in quite some time. My socks had become threadbare. In fact, some of my socks were so bare of thread, that my feet came right through them. Lately, at the encouragement of my lovely wife, I have been throwing away socks with holes. I had so few left that in order to have clean socks our laundry needed to be done quite often. My wife has often joked about shopping for new clothes being a better choice than doing laundry. She just followed up with that joke and brought me home some new socks last night. Putting them on this morning was almost a religious experience. They felt great on my feet- all of that warm and cushioning material.

The joy of my new footwear did not last long. One of my children clogged a toilet this morning (again). When I went to fix the problem, I ended up with an overflowed toilet. My nice warm socks quickly turned to dirty, cold, wet, disgusting socks. No way was I going to wear them all day. They came off my feet and went on the laundry pile.

Once I got the bathroom and myself cleaned up, it occurred to me that my sock mis-hap might be a small illustration of our spiritual lives. When God saves us, He makes us new creatures. He washes us clean from all the sin and filth that we had previously committed. We are like that brand new pair of socks. But it usually doesn't take us long to dive back into the filth of sin. We might not mean to, but old habits die hard. God doesn't throw us away and just get out a new pair. Instead, when we confess our sins, we are forgiven by God and cleaned up. In a sense, we are continually going through the washing machine of God's grace.

I intend to enjoy my new socks. But I hope that I will also remember to appreciate the new life that God gives me and the forgiveness that I receive from Him on a regular basis.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Where do the people come from?

I'm always interested in learning about churches that have been effective in reaching more people for Jesus. In the process of reading a biography of the 18th century preacher C.H. Spurgeon, I came across this quote of how he had built such a large congregation. Here's what he said:

"Somebody asked me how I got my congregation; I never got it at all. I did not think it was my duty to do so. I only had to preach the Gospel. Why, my congregation got my congregation. I had eighty, or scarcely a hundred when I preached first. the next time I had two hundred: every one who heard me was saying to his neighbour, 'You must go and hear this young man!' Next meeting we had four hundred, and in six weeks eight hundred. That was the way in which my people got my congregation. now the people are admitted by tickets. That does very well; a member can give his ticket to another person and say, 'I will stand in the aisle,' or 'I will get in with the crowd.' Some persons, you know, will not go if they can get in easily, but they will go if you tell them they cannot get in without a ticket. that is the way congregations ought to bring a congregation about a minister. A minister preaches all the better if he has a large congregation. it was once said by a gentleman that the forming of a congregation was like the beating up of game, the minister being the sportsman. But there are some of our ministers that can't shoot! I really think, however, that I could shoot a partridge if I fired into the midst of a covey, though I might not do so if there were only one or two."

It sounds to me that Spurgeon found that people would come if they were invited to something and found out that there was a good reason to continue to come. I doubt that it will work for us to have bouncers at the church door with an exclusive guest list, but that would certainly be cool to see.

What do you think? Whose job is it to bring more people to church? And does a pastor tend to preach better if there are more people there to hear him? I'd love to hear your comments.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

When Life is Hard

The message this past Sunday was from the first chapter of the book of Habakkuk and the first verse of chapter 2. In that message we considered that God's power is so great that He works through and in spite of the evil intentions of wicked people. God's total control, or sovereignty, should be an encouragement to us when we endure especially rough times in our lives. Habakkuk's conclusion was that even though he did not understand how God could use the bad things that bad people were doing, he himself was going to wait and see what God would do. Habakkuk came around to a place of trusting that God is in control, God is good, and God would accomplish what is good and best.

An example of God working in the midst of evil is found in the very first book of the Bible. Joseph's brothers lied about him and then sold him into slavery. Joseph ended up in jail for a crime that he had refused to commit. Yet Joseph met someone in jail who later put him in front of Pharaoh. Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph, that he put Joseph in control of his whole country- and Joseph saved that country from a famine. Joseph went on to tell his brothers that even though they intended to harm him, God was working to bring about what was good.

Perhaps the greatest example of God working in spite of the bad intentions of others is the example of Jesus going to the cross. The religious leaders at that time hated Jesus and literally had Him murdered. But while Jesus was on the cross, He bore the wrath of God against sin. His death was intended by His enemies to harm Him, but was used by God to bring about salvation for all who trust in Christ.

When you face situations that you don't think are fair, remember that God is greater than your situation. And remember that if you have received salvation from your sin through the work of Jesus on the cross, then you have already received more than you deserve. God is consistent. He will continue to bring good out of evil. Our responsibility is simply to rely on Him.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Building Update

The Building Program at Cottrell Corners Community Church continues to move forward. We are at a stage in which it is difficult to discern forward progress. Both the architect and builder mentioned to me in the past week that the stage we are currently "stuck" is the hardest and longest part of a building project. That stage is the acquiring of permits.

Our engineer thought that he would be ready for us us to submit our permit request to the Township of Old Bridge by the middle of March. Unfortunately, all of the snow that we have had this past month has kept the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection from visiting our site to give their approval. The engineer can't submit our requests to the Township until after the NJDEP has visited. In other words, we are waiting for snow to melt. Incidentally, this reminds me of a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Calvin was trying to use a hair dryer to melt the snow from his yard because he had lost a quarter. I'm not quite ready to get out the hair dryer, but I sure am praying for warm weather.

Other aspects of the building program are continuing to be investigated and planned. More research will go into the possibility of acquiring solar panels. We also learned recently that financing might be difficult, but there are still some things that can be done to receive it.

Please continue to pray for God's direction and His leading. We only want to build if/when/what/how/where/He leads. Our intention, as our slogan says, is that we really will be "Building To Serve."

The Secret to Success

Charles Spurgeon was one of the most successful pastors of all time. When asked the secret to his success, he simply replied, "My people pray for me."

Do you want to have success is following God? Pray for it. Do you want your church to have success in reaching people for Christ and helping them follow Him better? Pray for your church. And pray for your pastor.