Saturday, February 6, 2016

What Are We Supposed to Do?

What are We Supposed to Do?                                            2/7/16

Matthew 13:44-45, Ephesians 4:1-16

Tension is a stretching or pulling-apart force. 

Let’s do an experiment using an everyday object that speaks to the tension force in earth science, as well as our spiritual life together.   (Explanation of Janice VanCleave’s 201 Experiments)

The past few months have uncovered some feelings of tension among church members.  The ones that I hear of are related to financial anxiety, membership changes, declining attendance and the pastor’s handle on these dynamics.   But the simple truth of tension is helpful here.

Tension, when handled with care and skill, does not have to be harmful.  Let’s consider the three outcomes of the balloon experiment.
1.    The tension works negatively, and acts as a pulling apart force.  In this case, the balloon bursts and its life expired.

2.    The tension leaves negative effects…the original drawing is distorted.  You can still see what it was supposed to be, but it can never return to that shape.

3.    The tension works positively…God’s people are stretched and challenged, and out of that comes spiritual growth, as well as a return to the original design.

As I’ve heard of some of the feelings of tension by some members these past few weeks, none of the things sound to me, as something that should lead to the balloon bursting.  I do have concern or wonder about scenario two, that tension harming but not destroying can leave a mark, and distort the purpose for which we were intended.  But I also believe that if you really want to, you can choose to use tension redemptively.  But you need to look at it through the eyes of faith, and Scripture, and the Lord.

For example, tension doesn’t need to lead to anger.  The Scripture says,

“Anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19)

Tension does not need to lead to anxiety.  The Scripture says,

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”  (Philippians 4:6)

Tension does not need to lead to complaining.  The Scripture says,

“Do everything without grumbling and arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation” (Philippians 2:14)

Last week, we brought forth the question that all members must ask themselves:  Who is in charge?   The Book of Order (and Scripture, of course) answers this question:  Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church.  Jesus is in charge.

This week, the question is one church members must also engage:  What are we supposed to do?  The Book of Order, rooted in Scripture, provides the answer.

The Great Ends of the Church

The great ends of the church are

the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of


the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the

     children of God;

the maintenance of divine worship;

the preservation of the truth;

the promotion of social righteousness;

and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the


 Every single event, conversation, meeting, worship gathering, prayer should in some way fit into one of these great ends.  

So I look at Stockton’s Shrove Tuesday Pancake Dinner, and to me it is an exhibition to all who eat together that in the kingdom of heaven, we will eat together.  Brothers and sisters in the Lord can start an eternal celebration every time we gather to eat.  Inviting the community in is an invitation to each person to see a different way of life, beyond drudgery and isolation, into community and joy.   And as much as I joke, it isn’t about the pancakes.  And it isn’t about making people busy or worried.  It is about this event showcasing one of the great ends:  we exhibit the kingdom of God to our community.

It is about keeping these great ends on the forefront of our minds.  Why do you go to a meeting at church?  Why are you on a charity board in your neighborhood?  Why do you go to a group discussion or lecture about the dilemmas of our modern world?   All of it, everything done under our name “Christian” should promote one or more of these great ends.

Let us look a bit closer at each theme.

The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind
Sometimes people in churches have been in churches so long that they forget.  They forget who they are.  We are not in the church because of our will, or our efforts, or our family history.  We are not in the church to keep a congregation surviving, or in motion, or programs continuing.  None of that.  The church exists in congregational form to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ died on a cross.  He rose from the dead.  He forgives our sins, calls us children of God and grants, through faith in him, eternal life.   That is the gospel.  The gospel is so profound and true and good, that is why we gather.  Let us never forget that.  And let us correct ourselves if we have.  And if we don’t believe, may we repent and believe the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God;

When we come together, you are invited to see yourself as shelter for someone in their storm, part of the nurture of one another’s spiritual life, and part of a fellowship, a gathering of like minded folk who believe Jesus is Head of the Church, and that he has given us work as well as rest. 

the maintenance of divine worship;

We gather to offer our worth giving to God, the creator of life, to Jesus Christ, Redeemer of creation and the Holy Spirit, the sustainer.  We gather to keep what and who is most important to the cosmos on the forefront.  We gather to give praise and love to God.  Scripture’s view is that this worship should take place at least once a week, as it keeps God first and life in perspective.

the preservation of the truth;

we are also invited to preserve truth, for society and human life, to live and preserve the wisdom from God for a good life, to be people fascinated by the world and existence, by science and beauty and history and mathematics, geography, culture, engineering and invention, art and language.  We are to be people of the truth.

When tension is present, it is very easy to trip up and create a false narrative, whether done out of anxiety, or sloppiness, or trying to create distance…but the truth is, that which is false does not endure.  It can’t.  Truth endures.  So as your pastor, I counsel you to speak with an integrity, and a care that honors what is true, and does not promote that which isn’t accurate, or based on conjecture and not facts, on opinions but not conversation.  Jesus is full of grace and truth.  And we are to be like him.

the promotion of social righteousness;

The church throughout its history has contributed to hospitals, schools, abolition of slavery and racial equality.  It has pushed the question of economic justice and appropriate labor laws.  The church, when showing Jesus, should point to a good life, to goodness itself, to peace and justice.

and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.

We point people to Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the life.  He said he was these things to his disciples after a conversation that he was going to heaven to prepare a place for them.  You know the way to where I am going, he told his disciples.  Christ is the way, the way to good and everlasting life, to feasting and joy and fellowship with saints throughout the ages, and heavenly creatures yet to be known.

As we walk through the challenges of life, our job is, to the best of our ability, to keep our shape and design, so that when Stockton/Titusville and surrounding neighbors see this congregation, they don’t see a burst balloon, not a balloon stretched too far, and as a result, has lost its shape and design.  But rather, they sees a people who love God, who follow Jesus, and who experience the Holy Spirit, so that even during those times when tension comes, we are shaped for good by God through them.

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