DISCIPLESHIP – TOGETHERNESS by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
Introduction: Thom Rainer, President of Lifeway Resources, did a Twitter survey sometime back on the really strange reasons people give for not attending church. Here are a few of my favorites:“We were out of peanut butter.” “My wife cooked bacon for breakfast, and our entire family smelled like bacon.” “The pastor stays in the Bible too much.” “The worship leader pulls up his pants too often. It’s distracting.” “The church is too close to drive, and too far to walk.” “We got burned out at church and have been taking a break for the past seven years.” I’ve been pastoring this church, my only church, for the past 20 years and I’ve met people who are always looking for reasons to skip church. Today’s message is on the importance of togetherness in discipleship. You can grow alone in a flower pot for only so long. True and ultimate discipleship is long term and it happens only in the soil of community. You need others to be a true disciple.
Acts 2 42And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers…44Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common,45and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. 46So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
Question: The early church understood the value of togetherness. Do you understand the importance of being together in the body of Christ? Are you a part of the body of Christ? Are you saved? What binds us together is the same Holy Spirit? Is he in you?
Context: In the first message in our series on discipleship, I introduced the goal of discipleship in the acronym W A T E R = WITNESSES + ACCOUNTABILITY + TOGETHERNESS + ESTABLISHED IN THE WORD + REPRODUCING. We’ve already looked at the first two letters W and A and, in this message, we will focus on the third letter T = Togetherness. 3 main things we need to understand about Togetherness:
I. THE EARLY CHURCH WAS TRAINED IN TOGETHERNESS BY JESUS.
Background:When people read in Acts about how the early church was together, loving and caring for one another, and putting each other first, they assume that it was some organic movement that just happened. Not true. For e.g.When you watch your favorite ball team play a great game, you know that it didn’t just happen. You know that the coach has been training them.So also, Coach Jesus had been training his disciples on the importance of being together and they were simply living it out.
I want us to look at a major training session that Jesus had with his disciples towards the close of his ministry. You remember in John 13, after the Last Supper, how Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. Itwas unthinkable for a master to wash his disciples’ feet.Peter even tried to stop Jesus but he warned him that this was a must if he was going to be his disciple. Why was this so important? Listen carefully to how Jesus explained to them the meaning of what he had done for them – 12 “…Do you know what I have done to you? 14If I then, yourLord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”Don’t misunderstand:This was much more than “Y’all get along when I’m gone. Wash each other’s feet until I return.” Listen carefully –34“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Loving one another was the mark of a disciple before the watching world. The key words here are “one another.” I can wash my own feet but that is not keeping this commandment, that is not proving my discipleship before the watching world. I can even try to wash the feet of the world (feed the hungry, house the homeless, take care of the needy) but that is still not keeping this commandment and proving my discipleship before the watching world. This commandment can only be obeyed in the context of “one another.” This is why the early church was doing what they were doing!
Application:If you are a disciple of Christ, the same commandment applies to you. Do you love others in the body of Christ? Do you care to prove your discipleship to the watching world?
II. IT IS NATURAL FOR DISCIPLES TO NEGLECT TOGETHERNESS.
Background:Very early on in the church’s life, the disciples began to drift away from each other. They forgot Jesus’ commandment of being together. A major evidence for this is found in the book of Hebrews. By the way, a key phrase in this book is “let us.”Listen to chapter 10verse 22–“let usdraw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.23Let ushold fast the confession of ourhope without wavering, for He who promisedisfaithful. 24And let usconsider one anotherin order to stir up love and good works, 25not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, asisthe manner of some, but exhortingone another,and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” Why did the writer of Hebrews have to exhort the early Christians to keep meeting? Or why did the early Christians stop meeting? I believe for the same reasons that Christians or disciples stop meeting even today. Here are a few that I’ve come across:
- I don’t have to be in church in order to be a Christian.If you say that, you do not understand what the church is. It is not a building. In fact, it is described in different ways. Paul gives several ways in his letter to the Ephesians. He calls it the body of Christ.Ephesians 1 22And He gave Him(Christ)to behead over allthingsto the church, 23which is His body…” What if I told you, “I love you very much but I hate your body”? Other times, he calls it the family of Jesus. Ephesians 2:19“…you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” What if I told you, “I love you but I hate your family”? Sometimes, he calls the church the bride/wife of Christ. Ephesians 5:25“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.”What if I told you, “I love you but I hate your wife”?
- I’m very busy and Sunday is my only day off.We always find time for things that are important. Time is not the problem. Understanding is. If you understanding the value of being with other believers, you will make time for it. Also, we have services several times on Sunday mornings and even on Saturday evenings.
- There are a lot of hypocrites in church.What’s your point? In fact, what better place for hypocrites to be than at church where they can hear the truth. By the way, be careful about pointing fingers at others. As a pastor once said to someone who said that – “Come on in. We have room for one more.”
- I did until something bad happened to me.I’m very sorry for what happened to you. This is one I do understand. When I first came here from India, I went to church. Little did I expect what was about to happen or not happen. This church was known as a good church and bible believing church but no one shook my hand. I was so hurt that I didn’t go to church for almost 2 years. God had to use circumstances and people to bring me back. Here’s my encouragement to you – When you stop going for one reason or another, no matter how legitimate your reason is, you are no longer able to demonstrate your discipleship.
Application:What is your reason for rejecting togetherness with other disciples? Are you willing to give that hurt to God and forgive that person or church and let God prove your discipleship before the watching world?
III. TOGETHERNESS IS A MEASURING STICK FOR DISCIPLESHIP.
In the first message in this series on discipleship, I explained to you how Jesus moved people through 3 concentric circles.Outside the circles was the CROWD, the vast majority who were not following Jesus. Then came the first circle, the CONGREGATION.These were the multitudes that followed Jesus, heard his teachings, and saw his miracles. Then came the second circle,theCOMMUNITY. These were the 12 disciples that Jesus handpicked. You could add the 70 from Luke 10as well. He talked with them and taught them things that he did not teach the multitude. Finally came the third circle, the CIRCLE.Out of the 12 disciples, Jesus picked 3 to be part of his inner circle – Peter, James, and John. From these, Jesus expected much more. What I want you to understand is that to each of this groups Jesus had a different call:
- To the crowd, it was “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
- To the multitudes, it was “Deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me.”
- To the disciples, it was “Love one another as I have loved you.”
- To the inner circle, it was “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”
This applies to us today:
- Crowd (people out in our neighborhood, workplaces, friends) – get saved
- Congregation (Saturday evening and Sunday morning) – commit yourself;
- Community (disciples – Sunday School and Wednesday Bible Studies) – love one another, learn to be together;
- Circle (Accountability groups) – help each other.
Invitation:Which group do you belong to? Do you understand the value of togetherness? What are you doing to move through these circles? Are you saved?
STEADFAST by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
Introduction: A little boy was trying to sell his horse at the county fair. The horse was no good except for eating oats. An old farmer came by. He could tell the horse was no good and he teased the boy saying, “Son, can that horse run fast?” The boy replied, “No sir, but he can sure stand fast.” In the message today, we’re going to learn how to stand fast or be steadfast as a Christian. But, more specifically we’re going to learn how to be steadfast along with other Christians. There’s a difference.
Philippians 1 27 “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”
Question: “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Before your conduct can be worthy of the gospel of Christ, you have to receive the gospel of Christ. The word “gospel” comes from the old Anglo-Saxon word “godspell” which was an abbreviation of “goodspell.” “Good” means good and “spell” means story or news. What’s the good news? “You and I are stuck in sin with God’s judgment of ultimate death waiting for us. But God sent his Son to take our sins upon himself and die in our place. All you and I have to do is ask him to be our Savior. He not only forgives us our sins but just as he came alive, we are also made spiritually alive in him.” Have you received this gospel?
Context: The passage we just read begins with the word “only” – 27 “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel.” It has a tone of warning in it. Think of this warning as a caution not a threat. So far Paul had nothing but good to say about the Philippians:
- 4 “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you…5 for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now” The Philippians were a faithful church.
- 6 “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” The Philippians were an inspiring church.
- 7 “…you all are partakers with me of grace.” The Philippians were a gospel supporting church.
- 9 “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more…” The Philippians were a loving church.
- 26 that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ…” The Philippians were a worshipping church. I can go on.
But, here’s a caution – 27 “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” Meaning: You have a lot of good but don’t neglect your conduct. To understand what Paul meant by conduct, we have to go the original Greek. He used a verb here that he did not use anywhere else in his letters. It is the verb “politeuesthai,” which literally means “conduct yourself as citizens” or “live out your citizenship.” It comes from the word “politeuma,” which refers to a group of citizens of the same country living in a foreign state together. Keep in mind that the Philippians were Roman colonists living in Philippi, Greece. They were still trying to live by their Roman standards. They would have understood very well what Paul was implying – “Just as you are Roman citizens living in Greece trying to maintain your Roman values, you are also Gospel citizens living in this world, don’t neglect to be a Gospelian.”
For e.g. When I became an American citizen, I had to take a test on American history. I read our foundational documents – the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Those became the values by which I was going to live. So also, when you became a Christian, there are certain values that go with that citizenship.
What are those standards? 27 “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ (live out your citizenship to the gospel), so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs…” Paul told them that he will check up on them, in person or through others, regarding their conduct. Then he lists 2 major ones, one positive and the other negative:
Positive – “that you stand fast…” We immediately think that this “standing fast” is my personal individual steadfastness. Not really. Here standing fast is “hoti stekete” which is a Roman military term that describes a unit forming a line together in the face of the enemy. “Come what may, stand fast. Don’t break rank.” “that you stand fast in one spirit…” People have debated if this is just the spirit of unity or is it the Holy Spirit. I believe that it is similar to what Paul said in I Corinthians 12:13 “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…” and Ephesians 2:18 “For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” It’s the same Holy Spirit in me and you that creates a bond between us that is much greater than any superficial likes or dislikes. Few verses down in Philippians 2 1 Paul says, “Therefore if there is…any fellowship of the Spirit…2 fulfill my joy by being like-minded…” Paul continues in verse 27 “…that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel…” “Striving together” is literally “striving side by side.” It is an athletic term that implies being of one soul. Paul was telling the Philippians to be “souls together for the gospel.” A mark of a Gospelian is that we strive for unity in the Holy Spirit and seek to be of one mind. If I may add, being a Gospelian is not an individual sport but a team sport.
Application: Do you understand how critical unity in the Holy Spirit and being of one mind is to the church family? There are 3 natural born killers of this unity – Lostness, Isolationism, and Divisiveness. Titus 3 10 “Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned.” Bottom line: If individually we are not right, it will affect our unity.
Negative – 28 “and not in any way terrified by your adversaries…” The word terrified here is the Greek word “pturomai,” which is again a verb that Paul does not use anywhere else. In Classical Greek it was used to describe a horse getting spooked in battle. It would get startled by loud noises or shrieks and it would bolt through the battlefield, stampeding anyone in his path. A mark of a Gospelian is not to spook or get spooked but stay calm and help each other stay calm and united in the Holy Spirit. Who are our adversaries who spook us? Anything or anyone who is opposed to the gospel. It may be people or policies. How should you respond other than stand fast? “which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.” Remember that it proves that they are headed for destruction and you are saved by God.
Somethings more Paul said here – 29 “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Don’t misunderstand. This is not individual personal suffering. Although, that is also true. In this context, it is collective group suffering. Not only that but we are to look upon suffering just as we look upon salvation. It is a gracious gift of God. Ultimately, suffering, and, more specifically, collective suffering is proof that we belong to God. 30 “having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.” Meaning: Even though we know this, it doesn’t make sense at times.
Be steadfast together in the Holy Spirit with one mind. Be steadfast together in the face of suffering, refusing to be intimidated. It is a mark of the greatest believers. Are you saved? Are you steadfast together?
IMPACT by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
Introduction: Have you been to restaurants where the food may be great or not so great but the service is wonderful and friendly? What emotions come to your mind when you think about that place? You want to go back. You even recommend it to friends and family. Now, how about restaurants where the service is horrible and unfriendly? What emotions come to your mind when you think about that place? You don’t want to go back. So also with churches, they can make a positive impact on you or a negative impact on you. Today we will see how the Philippian church made a very positive impact on Paul and this is the kind of church Clearview needs to be. The message is titled “IMPACT” in our series through Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
Philippians 1 1 Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, 5 for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;
Question: Paul says in verse 3 “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.” In other words, every time Paul thought of the Philippians, his heart was filled with gratefulness. What emotions come upon people when they think of you? What impact have you made on the lives of those around you? A major reason for the positive impact was that the Philippians were saved. Paul calls them “saints in Christ Jesus.” Are you “in” Christ Jesus? Are you saved?
Context: Unlike the Galatians and the Corinthians, the Philippians had made a very positive impact on Paul and his ministry. His heart was filled with joy when he thought of them. As he says, “every time I think of you, I thank God for you.” What a beautiful complement! In a few minutes, we will be celebrating the Communion, the Lord’s Supper, and the opening verses of Philippians are perfect to help us examine our hearts, individually and collectively. Are we Christians who make a positive impact on others? Are we a church that makes a positive impact on others? There are 3 things that stand out in the opening words of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. First is TRUST. Let’s begin in Philippians 1:1 “Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ…” Typically Paul would have referred to himself as an “apostle” of Jesus Christ, as he does in Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, and Colossians. He would do that to remind his readers of his authority. Let me give some examples – Galatians 1 1 “Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead)…6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel…3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified?” We find a similar tone in his letter to the Corinthians. 1 Corinthians 1 1 “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God…4:15 For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. 2 Corinthians 10:10 “For his letters,” they say, “are weighty and powerful, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” In other words, they were saying that Paul is ugly and he can’t preach!” But not with the Philippians. He knows that they respect him already. Paul trusts them and he doesn’t pull rank on them.
Listen also to how he addresses the Philippians – “…to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons…” First, he addresses them as being “in Christ.” It means that they are united with Christ in his death, resurrection, and their new life. He especially acknowledges the bishops and the deacons, the episkopos and the diakonos. Who are these two groups? The episkopos are the same as the presbuteros or the elders. They are the ones who oversee the work of the ministry, give it spiritual leadership, and serve as pastors, depending on the size of the church. The diakonos are the servants who serve by taking care of the needs of the congregation and any other need that might arise in doing the ministry. These are the 2 positions we have at Clearview. Then he says – 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The two words he focusses on are “grace” and “peace.” Grace is what you need to get saved. Peace is what happens when you get saved. Romans 3 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:17 And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near.
Application: Are you like the Galatians and the Corinthians or like the Philippians? Are you a trustworthy person? Are you full of grace and peace?
The second thing that stands out in Paul’s opening words is JOY. Listen to verse 3 “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.” When Paul wrote these words, he was sitting in a prison in Rome with Timothy his co-laborer, his student, and his son in the ministry. How do we know that? Philippians 1:7 “…both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace.” 13 “so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ.” 14 “most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” More than likely Paul was under house arrest in Rome since Acts 28 tells us that he was able to send letters and receive friends. But don’t misunderstand, this was every bit serious as he remarks in Philippians 1:20 “…as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.” Meaning: Paul knew that there was a strong possibility that he will not come out of this prison alive. In the midst of fear, doubts, anger, stress, frustrations, disappointments, when his mind turned to the Philippians, a smile came over his face. Charles Spurgeon once said, “I know several Christian people with whom I would sooner sit in heaven throughout all eternity than sit ten minutes with them on a sofa here below—distance—in their case, might add enhancement to the view.” 4 always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy. The words for joy are found over 50 times in Paul’s writings. In fact, he lists it as one of the fruit of the Spirit. Why does he have this feeling of joy? 5 “for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.” Paul remembers how they cooperated with him and helped him from the very beginning.
Application: Do you bring joy in the minds of others? Are you fellowshipping in the gospel at Clearview? Are you here to win others to Christ?
So far we have seen TRUST and JOY. Here comes the third thing – HOPE.
6 “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” We will look at this verse again but next week but what a complement! The word for confident is “pepoithos.” It is the perfect participle of “peitho.” He uses it several times in this letter. Philippians 1:25 “And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith.” 2:24 But I trust in the Lord that I myself shall also come shortly. Just the thought of the Philippians inspired hope in Paul as well.
Application: Are you a person that others can look at with hope? Are you a person who inspires hope in others?
What kind of an impact are you making? Are you in Christ? Are you saved?
WHEN THE BODY GROWS by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
Introduction: Back in 2009 our family decided to take a trip out west. We were all able to get in my truck with our luggage under the bed cover. We all had plenty of room. It was a trip of a lifetime! The other day I said to Nicole – “That was so much fun! Maybe we can do that again one day.” To which she replied – “If we all tried to get in your truck and ride 5000 miles, we would kill each other.” So also with our church body. There was a time when 20 people on a Sunday morning was a good Sunday. The children’s ministry had 2 kids, that’s Rebecca and Abigail. We would count anything that breathed. Things have changed since then. God has truly blessed us and our church body keeps growing. If were not careful, we would kill each other. With that said, let’s turn to the book of Ephesians for our message titled “WHEN THE BODY GROWS.” We will do a series through this book soon but for now just a few verses from chapter 4.
Ephesians 4 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
Question: How do you relate with others in the body? What is your role in this church body at Clearview? Are you helping to edify this body in love? To be a part of this church body, you have to be saved. Are you saved?
Context: Before we can understand the meaning and application of the passage we just read, we need to first ask “Why did Paul write this letter to the Ephesians?” Although there is no clear consensus, most scholars believe that Paul’s main purpose was to promote unity and love among the Ephesian Christians. He wanted them to love one another with the same deep love with which they love God and Christ. Those two are interconnected. Why did he feel that this was important? Maybe because he sensed that they were losing their grip on love. Was he right? Yes. Just a few years later, listen to what John wrote in Revelation 2 1 “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: (that’s Jesus) 2 “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” What will people say of our church a few years from now?
With that in mind, let’s return to the passage but let’s begin in Ephesians 4 verse 1 to truly understand what we read. 1 “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord…” Meaning: He is bound to Christ. He goes where Christ goes, does what Christ tells him to do, and says what Christ tells him to say. In other words, he is not writing on his own authority but Christ’s. What does Christ demand? 1 “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.” Paul begins this section by urging the Ephesians to remember the Christian graces. They are given in 2 Peter but some are here as well. Lowliness means humility. Nothing will destroy unity faster than pride. Gentleness means meekness. It is not weakness. Instead, it is knowing when to be angry and when not. Longsuffering means patience. It means don’t say what comes to your mind and your mouth. Bearing with one another in love means learn to tolerate each other and do it with “agape” love. Don’t resent the other person. What’s the goal? 3 “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” It makes a difference in how you treat and interact with each other.
Application: Are you marked by Christian graces?
Now, if I were to end the message here and tell you to remember the Christian graces and be nice, kind, and loving to each other, it probably won’t last 10 minutes. Our Christian graces are linked to our foundational beliefs. We stand upon a 7-layered foundation:
- One Universal Church – 4 “There is one body…” Paul was dealing with issue of Jews and Gentiles coming together. So also today, there are many churches and denominations but if you are willing to receive Jesus Christ as your only Savior and God, then we are part of that one body.
- One Spirit – 4 “There is one body and one Spirit…” The same Holy Spirit indwells you who indwells me.
- One Hope – 4 “…just as you were called in one hope of your calling…” We have the same expectation that God will work his plan out for us and this world and Christ will ultimately come for us (the blessed hope and glorious appearing).
- One Master – 5 “one Lord…” The same second person of the godhead who became man and died for me and rose again on the third day is your master as well.
- One Faith – 5 “…one faith…” There is one settled body of truth which Jude calls 3 “…faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”
- One Baptism – 5 “…one baptism…” This refers to the baptism Paul talks about in Romans 6 where we “were baptized into His death,” “buried with Him through baptism into death” and raised with him to “walk in newness of life.” The water baptism is the demonstration of this inward spiritual baptism.
- One God and Father – 6 “one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Through Christ we have the same God the Father and we belong to the same family. The Lord’s Prayer is not “my father” but “our father.”
If you are willing to stand on this 7-layered foundation, we can work out any other disagreements we may have. If we step off any of these layers, no amount of pretend niceness is going to hold us together.
Application: Do you know our foundational beliefs?
Remember our Christian graces. Remember our Foundational Beliefs.
Remember our role in the body. 7 “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift…11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, (established churches along with signs and wonders and miracles. Today we don’t have this gift but we do have missionaries) some prophets, (communicated the divine revelation of God. Today we don’t have this gift because we have the New Testament but we do have revivalists) some evangelists, (preach and explain the good news of salvation like Philip the evangelist to the Ethiopian eunuch but today Billy Graham) and some pastors and teachers 12 for the equipping (katartismos = “mending” restoring, putting things right) of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— (This is my goal as the pastor/shepherd of Clearview) 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” It’s like a spiral. The more it turns the deeper the unity grows.
Our church body is growing but we need to be aware of our Christian graces, our foundational beliefs, and our role in the body.
Are you doing your part in the body? Are you in the body? Are you saved?
WHY WE NEED COMMUNITY? – 2 by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
Introduction: Today we’re going to look at part 2 of the message titled – “Why We Need Community?” Sometimes people have a false impression about community. They think that getting into small groups means losing all your freedom and letting others control your life. That’s not true and today we will learn what is and is not community.
Acts 2 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. 46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
Overall Background: The Book of Acts gives us the history of the first church. It tells us how the church grew by leaps and bounds after Jesus ascended into heaven. There are things in this book that we are supposed to copy and then things that were not meant to be copied. For e.g. In chapter 2 we read that the Holy Spirit came as a rushing mighty wind and rested as tongues of fire over the disciples. We cannot replicate that today. It was a once-for-all event. Such things belong to what John Stott called the “honeymoon period” of the church. Then there are things from the early church that can be copied. For e.g. 46 “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.” Meaning: the first church not only met at the temple for worship but they also fellowshipped from house to house. And what was the result? 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. In other words, the lost world saw the love among these Christians and they were drawn to them.
Listen carefully – there’s a reason why Christianity is struggling in America. It’s not because there is less preaching or worship or the Holy Spirit. It’s because most Christians in America are living in isolation. Somehow they have the false idea that Christianity is only about coming to church on Sunday mornings and then – we’ll see you when we see you. Community is a non-essential. It’s a headache. It’s a burden.
Question: What do you think of community? Are you afraid of community? Do you realize how important it is for your own life and the growth of the church? Are you willing to connect with others in the body of Christ? Are you saved?
Unfortunately, many people have a lot of misunderstandings and fears about community. In this message we will understand what community is not and what true community is. Let the Holy Spirit open your eyes to the truth about the Body of Christ.
I. WHAT COMMUNITY IS NOT.
Here are the three things it’s not:
- TRUE BIBLICAL COMMUNITY IS NOT COMMUNISM.
Acts 2 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
Some people have misunderstood what this means. They think that it means we are to take from the rich and give to the poor. They think that it means we have to reduce everyone down to the same level, something like communism. That’s not true. Sure – in the early church, they had to resort to pulling their resources together to help each other. This was to help the new movement get on its feet. People had lost their homes and jobs because of their faith. Hence they had to sell “their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.” But nowhere is this prescribed for all Christians through the ages. God is not against people working hard and getting rich or creating a better world for their children. God loves the poor but He also loves the rich.
Illustration: In London’s Hyde Park, at the Speaker’s Corner, a communist stood up to make his speech. He went on and one and then pointed to an poor elderly man in the crowd and said – “When the communists are in charge, they will put a new suit on that old man.” To which a pastor in the audience shouted back – “When Jesus is in charge, He’ll put a new man inside that old suit.” Couple of years ago I was speaking at a retreat for Chinese scholars from a big university. They were sent here for their education. They were the cream of the crop. I spoke to them on “Why Jesus is the most popular person of all times?” After the second night, they challenged me saying communism was better. So I gave them that same line. They didn’t know what to say.
Community means we need to take care of each other. When we see someone in the body in need we are to come together and help them. Listen to Deuteronomy 15:11 “therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall open your hand wide to your brother, to your poor and your needy, in your land.’” Again, 1 John 3:17 “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”
But let me caution – this does not mean that you can sit on your blessed assurance, make bad decisions, and expect everyone to take care of you. That’s called taking advantage of the generosity of your church family. I’ve seen some of that too.
2. TRUE BIBLICAL COMMUNITY IS NOT A CAGE.
46 So continuing daily
Some people mistakenly think that being in a community means being stuck in a cage – you can no longer do what you want to do, where you want to go, and how you want to live. Now you are obligated to everyone else. That’s just not true. Sure – in the early church, they had to come together and stick to each other because they were all baby Christians. They needed each other 24/7. But nowhere is this prescribed for all Christians for all ages. God does not expect us to start a commune and build high fences and shun each other if we get out of line. God loves variety. He loves how we are different in the body of Christ.
What this does mean is that we are to come together and build relationships with others in the body of Christ. Listen to what Jesus said in John 13:34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” Again in 1 John 1:7 “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”
Community is not controlling each other’s lives. It’s coming together because we have the same blood running through us – the blood of Christ. It’s being family.
3. TRUE BIBLICAL COMMUNITY IS NOT A CLICK.
Some people have misunderstood what this means. They mistakenly think that community is some kind of an exclusive group of the chosen ones. They think that somehow they are better than others. That’s just not true. It is true that Christians have a whole new perspective on life. It’s true that now they live under the direction of the Holy Spirit, which is very hard for lost people to understand. Having said that, community is not a click. God wants us to connect with each other in such a way that the world would see us and want to join in.
Listen to John 13:35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” When the lost world sees our community, they should want to join us. When they see the way we care for each other, help each other, encourage each other, hold each other accountable, they should want to join us.
II. WHAT IS COMMUNITY?
Here are the three commonalities that hold a Christian Community together.
- TRUE BIBLICAL COMMUNITY MEANS HAVING A COMMON FAITH.
Acts 2 44 Now all who believed were together,
The basis for our community is what we believe. It is our common faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior. You take that away and we are no different than any worldly club. As long as we keep Christ at the center of our lives and seek to help each other draw closer to Christ, we are a true community of faith. This is why community is not about controlling each other. It is about leading each other to trust Christ more each and every day. When we are together in our faith, we grow in our faith. This is how it was always meant to be. Are you growing in your faith? If you noticed, I didn’t ask – “Are you growing in your knowledge?”
- TRUE BIBLICAL COMMUNITY MEANS HELPING EACH OTHER IN OUR COMMON STRUGGLE.
and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
Even though community is not communism. It is communal. We help each other out through our common struggles in life. All of us have physical struggles (we get sick or have unforeseen circumstances), emotional struggles (we feel sorrow, regrets, guilt, shame, loss, doubts, fears), financial struggles (money is not everything but it’s a very important thing), and spiritual struggles (past failures, present mistakes, future doubts). For this and more, God wants us to stick together. Listen to Galatians 6 1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
- TRUE BIBLICAL COMMUNITY MEANS HAVING COMMON GOALS.
46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people.
Community is not just about personal growth or the growth of those in the community but it is also about those who are outside the community. Christians began to have favor with their neighbors. Meaning: the world began to look at the church with a sense of admiration and longing. Won’t that be something if we could have that today?
And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
Meaning: The church kept on growing by leaps and bounds.
Are you saved? Are you connected?
WHY WE NEED COMMUNITY? – pt 1 by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson
Introduction: This weekend I am beginning a two-part message titled “Why We Need Community?” In our world of hyper-connectivity with Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, we’re still isolated. With isolation comes anxiety and anxiety brings bad decisions.
1 Samuel 21 10 Then David arose and fled that day from before Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath. 11 And the servants of Achish said to him, “Is this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing of him to one another in dances, saying: ‘Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands’?” 12 Now David took these words to heart, and was very much afraid of Achish the king of Gath. 13 So he changed his behavior before them, pretended madness in their hands, scratched on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva fall down on his beard.
Overall Background: I’m sure all of us are familiar with David in the Bible – the shepherd boy who rescued his father’s sheep from a lion and a bear, the young lad who defeated Goliath the Philistine giant, or the great warrior who subdued thousands of Israel’s enemies. But there’s one image of David that’s very hard to imagine. Listen to verse 13 So he changed his behavior before them, pretended madness in their hands, scratched on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva fall down on his beard. What in the world is David doing? He’s acting as if he’s lost his mind! The clue to his erratic behavior is found in the question that Ahimelech the priest asks David when he came to him: “Why are you alone, and no one is with you?” David is running from Saul and he is all alone. What happens when people are alone? They become afraid. What happens when people are afraid? They make bad decisions. Listen to verse 10 Then David arose and fled that day from before Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath (Philistines). In other words, he jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Talk about a bad decision!
It’s amazing what loneliness will cause a person to do. It will cause people to be afraid and when people are afraid, they will make decisions that they would never make in their right minds. In other words, loneliness leads to fear and fear leads to foolish choices.
Question: Are you filled with anxiety? Are you making bad decisions? Are you isolated? You say – “Oh no. I’ve got friends.” Are they the right kind of friends? When you get saved you become part of this body. Are you saved?
This morning we will learn why we need community from the life of David. Let the Holy Spirit speak to you.
I. NEED FOR TRUE FRIENDSHIPS
1 Samuel 20 41 “…And they (Jonathan and David) kissed one another; and they wept together, but David more so. 42 Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, since we have both sworn in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘May the LORD be between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants, forever.’ ”
Background: Who is Jonathan? He was the son of King Saul, king of Israel. Jonathan was David’s best friend but his father Saul hated David. It all began when David returned after defeating the Philistines and the women came out singing and dancing, saying – “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” This made Saul very angry and from that day forward he began to eye David. He tried every possible way to kill him. Jonathan was aware of his father’s hatred against David but he also knew that David was the rightful heir to the throne and he was willing to stand with David even though it would cost him the kingdom. He repeatedly tried to encourage him. Later in 1 Samuel 23 16 Then Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David in the woods and strengthened his hand in God. Even though David was a man after God’s own heart, he still needed a Jonathan to strengthen him. John Piper said – “Don’t ever think that a man is so strong that he does not need to be strengthened in God.” Listen to how Jonathan encouraged David – 17 “…Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that.” 18 So the two of them made a covenant before the LORD. Can you imagine the courage that came into David’s heart because of Jonathan’s words? That’s what true friends do.
All of us need a Jonathan in our lives. All of us need friends who will love us unconditionally and stand with us even if the whole world turns against us. David loved his friend Jonathan right to the end. In the famous battle on Mount Gilboa, the Philistines killed Saul and Jonathan and hung their bodies on the walls of Beth Shean. Nicole and I have been there. Valiant men came and took down their bodies and David rewarded those men. He even wrote a beautiful song in honor of Jonathan and Saul. David understood the value of a true friend.
Application: Do you have such a friend/friends? Do you have such Jonathans in your life? Many people are loners, especially when it comes to the Christian life. No wonder they fall apart. No wonder they make poor decisions. Are you making poor decisions? Could it be it’s because you are a spiritual loner? “I just don’t have no friends.” You have to be friendly to have friends.
II. DANGER OF ISOLATION
1 Samuel 20 42 “…So he (David) arose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city.”
Background: After Jonathan and David wept, it was time to part. Jonathan went back to the city of Gibeah, north of Jerusalem and David went 3 miles towards the city of Nob, southwest of Jerusalem. Listen to 1 Samuel 21:1 Now David came to Nob, to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech was afraid when he met David, and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one is with you?” For the first time David is all alone and Ahimelech could probably see that in his eyes. Fear is contagious. David’s fear transferred to Ahimelech. What happens when people are afraid? They make bad decisions:
Here’s bad decision #1 – verse 2 So David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has ordered me on some business, and said to me, ‘Do not let anyone know anything about the business on which I send you, or what I have commanded you.’ And I have directed my young men to such and such a place. That’s a lie. Out of fear, David is lying. By the way, this lie would cost Ahimelech his life as well as the life of 84 other men and women, children, nursing infants, and livestock.
Here’s bad decision #2 – verse 8 And David said to Ahimelech, “Is there not here on hand a spear or a sword? For I have brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s business required haste.” He keeps lying. Verse 9 So the priest said, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the Valley of Elah, there it is, wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod. If you will take that, take it. For there is no other except that one here.” And David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.” That should’ve been enough a wakeup call. God was reminding David to trust Him as he had done as a young lad against Goliath. David is too scared to think straight and he chooses to trust in Goliath’s old sword. Out of fear, David has lost his faith in God.
Here’s bad decision #3 – verse 7 Now a certain man of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the LORD. And his name was Doeg, an Edomite, the chief of the herdsmen who belonged to Saul. Uh oh…David must have noticed this Edomite servant of Saul near the tabernacle and he immediately got scared. What did he do? Verse 10 Then David arose and fled that day from before Saul, and went to Achish the king of Gath. This was a Philistine city 23 miles to the west. What is worse is that it was the hometown of Goliath! This is the guy who killed their hometown hero and he shows up with Goliath’s sword! David has lost all sense of wisdom.
The Philistines recognize David and they tell their king – “Isn’t he the one who has killed our thousands?” Listen to David’s response – 12 Now David took these words to heart, and was very much afraid of Achish the king of Gath. 13 So he changed his behavior before them, pretended madness in their hands, scratched on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva fall down on his beard. How tragic! This courageous man of God out of fear has been making one bad decision after another and now he is acting like a fool. Many of us make foolish decision and keep sliding down the slippery slope of despair when we are isolated from God’s people.
Application: Have you been making some bad decisions in your life? Have you gone from faith to fear? Where are the Jonathans in your life? Are you connected to God’s people? If you are honest, you would agree – this place has kept many of y’all from making some very foolish decisions in your life?
III. GOD’S PURPOSE IN COMMUNITY
David wrote Psalm 56 as a prayer during this time. Listen to it – 1 Be merciful to me, O God, for man would swallow me up; Fighting all day he oppresses me. 2 My enemies would hound me all day, For there are many who fight against me, O Most High…6 They gather together, They hide, they mark my steps, When they lie in wait for my life. He is asking God to come to His rescue. God answers His prayer. He doesn’t strike Saul. He doesn’t strike Doeg the Edomite. He doesn’t strike the Philistines. What does God do? 1 Samuel 22 1 David therefore departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. This was a well-known place in Judah. It was 10 miles from Gath and 15 miles from Bethlehem. Once again David prayed like he did back in Gath. One such prayer is Psalm 142. Listen to the words – 1 I cry out to the LORD with my voice…4 Look on my right hand and see, For there is no one who acknowledges me; Refuge has failed me; No one cares for my soul. 5 I cried out to You, O LORD: I said, “You are my refuge, My portion in the land of the living…7 Bring my soul out of prison, That I may praise Your name; The righteous shall surround me, For You shall deal bountifully with me.” What David is saying is “God – I need you and I need some righteous people to come alongside of me.”
Did God answer David’s prayer? 1 Samuel 22 1 “…So when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him.” God sent people to David. By the way, they are not perfect people. 2 “And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him. So he became captain over them. And there were about four hundred men with him.”
God’s plan for us hasn’t changed. If David needed community, you and I need community. The reason marriages fall apart is because there is no one there who is holding people accountable. The reason children go off the deep end is because there is no one holding our young people accountable. The reason men and women make foolish decision is because they are going about as Lone Rangers, trying to take on the enemy. It was never meant to be this way. God designed us to work in a community.
In this coming year our focus at Clearview is community. We want you to plug in through our Sunday School, Fish groups, and Clearview Circles into some kind of community that will give you the courage to face life and make wise choices. No amount of bible study and prayer can take the place of godly connection.
- Are you connected to Christ?
- Are you connected to the Body of Christ
A CHANGE OF PERSPECTIVE – Article by Abidan Paul Shah
(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on August 22, 2015)
After my last article – “Why we love our community?” – many of the readers thanked me for refuting a report floating on Facebook that we are one of the worst places to live in North Carolina. I explained that such town rankings do not factor “population dynamics, high crime areas, and latest annual crime reports” in their raw data analyses. Some of the readers asked me to clarify further, so here goes–
Neither the SBI nor the FBI ranks geographical areas (town, city, county) based on crime reports. In fact, the FBI webpage for Uniform Crime Reporting cautions that such “incomplete analyses have often created misleading perceptions which adversely affect geographical entities and their residents.” It also warns against using the report to evaluate the effectiveness of any law agency. There are numerous factors – clearance rates, part II offenses, arrest rates, etc. – which are not included in the report that should be taken into account.
So who comes up with these rankings? A quick search on Google reveals that it is online marketing sites promising to give objective analysis of places, products, and services. Here you will find articles such as, “Best Places to Live,” “Ten Cheapest Cities,” and “Most Dangerous Towns.” Their analysis is anything but objective. One actually declares, “We try to paint a picture of what’s happening in a region based on ‘FridayNight Science’ – how’d you argue at a bar.” And where do they get their information? From the latest FBI crime reports! By statistical gymnastics they create an “aggregated crime score,” weighting the violent crimes at 90% and property crimes at 10%, even though the property crimes are far more prevalent. Factors such as high crime zones, relationship of the assailant to the victim, and motive for the crime are never considered.
Recently, one such site ranked Elon as 1st among the top 100 safest cities in North Carolina while Henderson trailed in at 98. I’ve visited Elon and it’s a wonderful place but before you rent a U-Haul, here’s what a similar site reported: When Elon is compared to Henderson – Household income in Elon is 61% less than it is in Henderson and 67% below National Average; Elon had 39.6% fewer High School graduates than Henderson; Elon spends 10.4% less per student than Henderson. Furthermore, Elon is 33% more densely populated and 9.7% more expensive than Henderson. How about crime? Of course, by their pseudo-math, we appear to be a war zone! Bottom line: All such ranking is faulty and haphazard at best. Even the most ideal places have their share of problems. According to the SBI Crime Index, a safe community like Cary saw a 9% rise in overall crime in recent years.
I am by no means trying to gloss over our problems. All I am suggesting is that we are not as unredeemable as we are made out to be. What we need is a change in perspective. Instead of looking back with nostalgia or looking around with condemnation, we need to look inward with soul searching. What have we done to improve our community? Are we being the Salt and Light in our world? Ultimately, it’s not the courthouse or the jailhouse but the church house that has the answer. By the way, here’s one ranking that caught my eye – “People living in Henderson are 6.88% more likely to have a religious affiliation than people living in Elon.”
WHY WE LOVE OUR COMMUNITY? Newspaper Article by Abidan Paul Shah
(Published in the newspaper Daily Dispatch, Henderson on June 6, 2015)
“Embarrassed of my hometown…” “Not what it used to be…” “Not surprised…” “Wish I could move…” These were some of the reactions to a recent crime report analysis circulating on Facebook. Actually, these were some of the nicer comments. Others were too crude to be mentioned here. Why are some people so quick to trash their community? It seems that they get some strange pleasure in mocking it and talking down about it. Instead of coming to her aid, they join the assailants. They’re like that person who sees an arsonist dousing his home with kerosene and offers him a match! Such people live somewhere at the intersection of Nostalgia Avenue and Bad Experience.
Please don’t misunderstand me – I’m not naïve or oblivious to our problems. Nicole and I have raised our four children in this community for over 17 years and we have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. But, as the adage goes, “All that glitters is not gold,” we have come to realize that there is no perfect world. What are ranked as the ideal places to live have their fair share of problems as well. Unfortunately, the average person only looks for their town ranking. They don’t stop to consider population dynamics, high crime areas, and latest annual crime reports, which are not properly factored in many of the raw data analyses.
Our community definitely has its problems but it desperately needs our love. Here are some reasons why we love our community:
- Our children call it their home. They’ve had a positive experience growing up with wonderful friends and neighbors. At the same time, they haven’t been sheltered from the problems plaguing our sin-sick world. Our community has given them a balanced view of life and reality. No matter where God takes them, they will neither be shocked nor disappointed but will become productive and contributing members of their community.
- We have a wonderful unity in diversity. I’m sure there are plenty of stories of crime and bad experiences but I dare say that there are plenty more stories of friendships and positive experiences. When we make the effort to go beyond skin pigmentation and get to know one another, we find that we have the same needs and pains, hopes and dreams. As Americans we also have a common biblical culture and values. Our community can be a good model of living in true harmony.
- Our community has plenty of opportunities to show compassion. Like the parable of the Good Samaritan, we daily come across people in physical and moral suffering. We can either skirt around them like the self-righteous priest and Levite or we can bandage their wounds and demonstrate the selfless love of Christ. Could it be that God has placed hurting people in our community because He knows that we will do something to help them?
- We have some wonderful law enforcement officials. Daily they put themselves in harm’s way to ensure our security. To dis our community is to dishonor their sacrifice and dedication. When we acknowledge the positive difference they are making, we empower them to be God’s minster for good. Recently a friend shared with me that some of our men and women in uniform have the words “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God” etched somewhere on their belonging.
- God has His hand on our community. It has faced incredible odds (Yes – I have read the book and even have a copy of it) but it is still standing. It goes to show that if God is for our community, then no amount of ranking will be against us. Our best days are ahead!
RECLAIMING OUR COMMUNITY: RESPONDING TO THE RECENT CRIME SPREE
The recent string of crime in our community has left many in shock and fear. People are looking over their shoulders, women are afraid to step out after dark, and those from outside the area are even reluctant to drive through. This is truly shameful and heartbreaking, not to mention devastating for the economy and progress of our community.
What is the root of our problem? Some blame the society; others blame the system; and still others call it “the signs of the times.” While they all have a point, the real answer was given over a hundred years ago by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. He remarked “When God dies, cultures become weightless.” God’s glory brings radiance and substance to a culture. When God is asked to leave the premises, everything becomes dark and hollow. What we are seeing in our community is just the natural outcome of the godlessness in our culture. The only real answer to our problem today is for God’s glory to return to our culture as oxygen to our lungs.
The place to begin is not by withdrawing and hating our community but by seeing it from a biblical perspective. Social critic Os Guiness wisely noted, “Always and everywhere at once, society is two things: God’s gift to us, and the devil’s gauntlet thrown down before us.” Of the two, the second is much easier to see than the first. No one will argue that our community is under the control of the enemy. With every crime he is trying to bring fear, suspicion, and hate into our community. Every negative remark and every hate-filled post on Facebook plays right into his hands.
But can we see our community as “God’s gift to us”? This will require a radical change in the way we see people. Thanks to the teachings of evolution we tend to see people as hopeless and worthless. Instead, we should see every boy, girl, man, and woman as made in the image of God with a God-shaped vacuum in their heart. Sixteen centuries ago, Augustine the great African pastor wrote in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” Restless people do reckless things. They need Christ, who promised, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
This will also require a radical change in our local churches. Do you find it ironic that we have a church on every street corner and yet we have failed to change the community?! Churches have become holy hideouts rather than rescue stations. We have become a relic of the past, trying to keep the lights on and reminiscing over days gone by. It is time we return to our King’s command to be the “salt and light” to our community. Furthermore, we need male leadership in our churches. Thank God for the women who have carried the burden of spiritual leadership but the church will never be appealing to men (young and old) until they see men worth following. “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” (Proverbs 27:17) Let men take their rightful roles and they will be an incredible threat to the moral and spiritual darkness around us.
Remember – “No man is an island entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for you.” – John Donne