Sunday, January 31, 2010

This Week's Schedule 1/31/10

Wednesday February 3rd- Women's Book Study:
"What's So Amazing About Grace?" 6:30 pm

Saturday February 6th- Chili Supper Planning Meeting 9:30 am

Sunday February 7th-
Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship 10:30 am
Congregational Worship 10:45 am

This week's sermon: Testimony

1 John 1:1-4; 5:13-21.

When we think of giving a testimony or witnessing, many of us think of certain methods for sharing the gospel that we learned in a class. There are the four spiritual laws, the wordless books, and other methods for giving people the facts about salvation. But those are not necessarily witnessing and testimony. When we look at those words, we find a definition of witness: an individual who, being present, personally sees or perceives a thing; a beholder, spectator, or eyewitness; and testimony: evidence, statement of a witness. These are primarily legal words. A witness is someone who has seen or experienced something, and testimony is what they give at a trial stating what they have seen or experienced. So those so-called witnessing tools and techniques only work when they are tied to what an individual has seen or experienced themselves.

This is John’s testimony to the believers about what he had seen and heard. He tells us the purpose for his testimony in two places, the beginning and the end. Every person who ever took speech class knows when you tell people something you should: tell them what you are going to say, say it, then tell them what you said. John in essence does that in this letter. He has a very clear beginning and ending section, that is what we are going to look at today: John’s testimony and the purpose for his testimony.

In the first verses of chapter 1, John gives us the very definition of witness and testimony. He is writing and testifying to what his own eyes have seen, what his ears have heard, and what he has touched with his hands. He is giving evidence and making a statement as to what he has witnessed. And he tells us in verses three and four the reason he gives this testimony: so that those who hear can be added to the fellowship. Some versions say “to make our joy complete,” and others ‘to make your joy complete.” I like the message version which says, “Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!” The purpose of giving testimony to what we have witnessed is to add people to the fellowship so that they can have joy and so that our joy will be multiplied.

For those who have not heard the gospel, we give testimony to what we have seen or heard so that they can become part of the fellowship of believers. For those who already believe, John says in chapter five, he gives his testimony so that they will be encouraged and strengthened. “So that you may know that you have eternal life.” And to give them confidence to pray, knowing that God hears and answers those prayers. John further encourages them to pray for each other, for believers who are tempted and sin. He distinguishes here between sin that leads to death and sin that does not. I am not sure anyone knows quite what the distinction is, other than as John indicates here “anyone born of God does not continue to sin,” or keep on sinning, living a lifestyle of sin, without repentance. John is summing up what he says throughout the rest of his letter that new life in Christ comes with transformation of our lifestyles. There is no flow chart given here as to when we cross over from sin that does not lead to death into sin that does, so safe rule of thumb is: if you know you are in sin, stop, repent, and seek the Lord’s will for your life. If you see a brother or sister in Christ struggling with sin, pray for them, even if you think what they are doing has gone past the line. We don’t know where the line is, so the best thing is to pray for God to get a hold of their hearts and bring them to repentance.

John finishes his summary by referring back to his discussion of the world and we will study that in a few weeks. The world, John says, is under the control of the evil one. As children of God, we need to recognize that our goals are in opposition to the world’s goals, our hearts should be set on God and not earthly pleasures, and we are not to be confused as to how we gain true, fulfilling, everlasting life. It comes from God, not from imitations.

So when we think about testimony, when we think about being witnesses—and Jesus himself gave us an imperative that we are to be his witnesses—we need to remember that our job is not to give people cold facts about salvation, but to share what we ourselves have seen, heard and experienced. This is something we do all the time when we experience or see something beneficial, we tell people about it. We tell our friends if we have found a gadget to make our lives easier or a cream that erases every wrinkle. This is how it should be with sharing what God has done for us. We do this so that others can join in the fellowship we have with God through his Son, Jesus Christ.

We also need to be about the business of sharing with each other where God is holding us up, how he is at work in our lives, and also where we have fallen short in seeking those imitations. If you purchased a computer that died within two days, you would be telling your friends to stay away from that computer or brand or software. We need to do the same with our brothers and sisters in Christ. As we find things in this world to be unfulfilling, or when we are taken in by false promises, we warn one another against falling into the same trap. We share with each other to strengthen and encourage one another to pray, to find ourselves and our satisfaction in God, and to be on alert for the world and its imitations.

Just think if we would put this into practice, how natural it would become to share our faith; how much stronger the body of Christ would be working together to love God, love people, and serve the world! What a witness and testimony that would be, an outward showing of evidence that God is at work in our lives, our families, and our churches.

Monday, January 18, 2010

This Week's Schedule 1/17/2010

Monday January 18th Community Martin Luther King Jr. Service
Hosted by the Congregational Church
Community supper 6:00pm
Service 7:00pm
Tuesday January 19th Worship Planing Meeting 5:30pm

Wednesday January 20th Elder's Meeting 6:30 pm

Sunday January 24th Business Meeting Following Worship

Sunday January 24th-
Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship 10:30 am
Congregational Worship 10:45 am

Women's Book Study: What's So Amazing About Grace, Coming Wednesday January 27th!

This week's message: Transformation

2 Corinthians 5:14-21
"14 For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

The gospel—Good News—we preach is that God is at work transforming us to be like his son. In the beginning, God created man and woman in his image. When we sinned, that image was badly marred—sometimes to the point of being unrecognizable. But in Christ, God has made a way for us to be restored, reborn. He has made a way for us to once more bear his image in all that we say and do. He has recreated us, and we are being recreated at this very moment, if we will allow his Holy Spirit to work in us.

When I think of transformation, I think of the butterfly. This is a picture and image I want us to keep with us this week. No creature in nature undergoes the striking transformation that the caterpillar does. It begins as a worm-like creature, crawls on it’s belly on the ground. The closest it gets to the heavens is if it finds a particularly high plant and inches it’s way to the top. The caterpillar was not created to stay on the ground, it was made to fly. But no one would ever believe its destination seeing it in its beginning stages of life.

Then something happens, some cue of chemistry that the caterpillar makes a cocoon or chrysalis and disappears. We don’t know what is happening in that shell. We may not understand all of the processes involved, but this is the moment of transformation. Just like the scriptures today tell us we have been made a new creation. Sometimes we can’t see it. What we know of ourselves is what we were before we entered into salvation, before we were wrapped in that cocoon. But something begins to happen in us and slowly we see changes. Sometimes those changes are on the inside, hidden for the most part from the outside world like the newly forming butterfly is hidden away in the cocoon.

Then, all at once something changes again. The chrysalis rocks back and forth, we see a small opening. There are legs where once there were none. There are antennae where once there was a smooth head. Then out pops a creature totally unrecognizable to it’s former self. It is a butterfly. Now it can reach its potential, now it can touch the sky. This is the transformation God wants to produce in the life of everyone you know.

If you have accepted Christ as your savior and you are allowing his Holy Spirit to work in your life, this transformation—believe it or not—is already taking place in your life. God wants to do the same in the lives of every person in the whole world. This is why it is so important that we are God’s ambassadors to the world crying out, “Be reconciled to God.” No matter what condition their life is in, God sent his son to die for them so that they could be restored and reborn and refashioned into the thing he has always planned for them to be.

God did not create us to crawl the earth, miserable and never getting off the ground. He made us to fly and to touch the heavens even as we live out our lives on the earth. So let him transform you. Let him remake you through the renewing of your mind. Let him purify your heart and your motives. Let him do the work in you that he is longing to complete. If you have accepted Christ, the process has begun, let him finish it so that you can soar on beautiful wings and touch the lives of others.

Monday, January 11, 2010

This Week's Sermon: Consecration

Matthew 3.

In this chapter we read about John the Baptist and his preparation for the coming Messiah and we read about Jesus coming to the river to be consecrated at the start of his ministry. From our Western, gentile perspective we see John holding his penitents and dunking them in the river to wash away their sins. It is what we have seen and our experience becomes our vision of events in the New Testament. Unfortunately, when this happens we miss out on a rich understanding of what is really occurring at this moment in the story.

If we lay aside our contemporary experience and return to the first century we find that "baptism" is not what we picture. John was a Jew, Jesus was a Jew. Their viewpoints and expression of their faith would have uniquely Jewish. Many are surprised to learn that baptism simply means immersion. It is a Greek word for something that doesn't translate well from the Hebrew--Mikvah.

Mikvah was a common ritual at the time of Christ, and for many Orthodox Jews remains so today. There is a daily mikvah practiced by some before morning prayers, a weekly mikvah before the sabbath, and a monthly mikvah for women following their time of separation. Apart from these calendar-based mikvahs were special times of consecration for individuals as well as objects. In the context of this chapter, John was calling people to repent of their sins and undergo a mikvah for consecration following repentance. According to common practice, John would never have touched those coming to the waters, but simply stood as a witness to their self-immersion as an act of renewed commitment to hear and obey God's word.

In the tradition of mikvah washing, an individual will remove everything, even dead skin and extra fingernail and toenail length so that the water will touch every part of their body. The individual is not coming for physical cleansing, in fact that is done prior to entering the mikvah. Instead it is an invitation to the divine to touch every part of a person's life. It is a surrender to the divine will and a laying down of self. It is a renewed commitment and consecration to be set apart for the purposes of God.

As Jesus comes, John naturally protests, knowing that Jesus is not in need of repentance and so says that in reality, Jesus should be the one witnessing John's mikvah, not the other way around. Jesus responds that it is necessary to fulfill all righteousness. There is another mikvah, that of priests before they serve in the temple. Jesus, by observing this tradition and consecrating himself, prepares for his earthly and eternal ministry as our High Priest. And something wonderful happens as Jesus observes this earthly ritual, God sends his Spirit as a dove and surrounds him with his presence and utters "This is my son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased." As Jesus completes his earthly mikvah, God pours out his Spirit in a heavenly mikvah.

As Friends we do not have an earthly baptism tradition to uphold. Instead we focus on the internal, spiritual washing of a person's soul. I encourage you to seek this internal mikvah. Surrender yourself to the divine will and allow him to wash over you with his Spirit. But know that those who came for physical mikvah without having first repented were called out by John to be a "brood of vipers." God is not fooled by outward signs and rituals. He sees our hearts. Come to him as a penitent, having repented of your weakness and inability to attain perfection on your own. Then you may be washed and consecrated for his purpose.

**For more information on the tradition of Mikvah, follow the link.

Weekly Schedule 1/10/10

Sunday January 17th-
Regular Schedule
Sunday School 9:30 am
Fellowship 10:30 am
Congregational Worship 10:45 am

Looking Ahead--
Wednesday January 20th Elder's Meeting

Sunday January 24th Business Meeting Following Worship

Women's Book Study: What's So Amazing About Grace, Coming Wednesday January 27th!