Dear Church Family,
This is the third in a series of year end reflections. I meant to get this out by the 1st. Oh well.
When I pause to think ahead into a new year about Covenant Fellowship, I do “wish” to see the things that I spoke about before in the first reflection, all of which amount to a thriving and fruitful small church ministry. OK, so I liked EF Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful,” I confess).
But when I stop to ponder the “why” question, the reason I would wish to see these things, it is the idea of giving “gifts” that comes to my mind mostly. We have, both individually and corporately, an opportunity to give many very important things to our community and our world. I think of these things as gifts. What are some of these “gifts”?
First and foremost I think we have the opportunity to give the gift of truth. I know it is culturally uncouth to suggest that one adheres to the truth, since that implies something about what others are adhering to, but if we are Christians we do by necessity believe that. We believe it humbly. We do not deserve to be “in the truth” or guardians of it. It is a calling we perhaps did not fully understand when we signed on so to speak. But in fact there is only one reason to be a Christian, and that is because Christianity, or the word of Christ, is true, that the Bible and the Scripture speak real truth from God to us and to the world. God has given us a great gift, this gift of truth, and he wants us to cherish it, to revel in it, to love it, and to share it.
Of course many of our dear friends, neighbors, workmates, and even family members bristle (or roll their eyes) at our claim to have access to true truth. Many believe that it is the height of hubris to make any philosophical or theological truth claim. I wonder if their deeply held agnosticism is held under the same scrutiny. It should be.
When I speak of the gift of truth I personally speak of the truth of the historic orthodox Christian faith as we have received it from the apostles in the word of our New Testament Scriptures, in the great historic ecumenical creeds which we share with our conservative Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox brethren, and in the corrections and adjustments gained in the period of the reformation. There is the basic biblical story of Creation, Fall, and Redemption. There is the ordered presentation of the person and work and nature of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. There is the invitation to seek the kingdom, the life of discipleship, justification, sanctification, and glorification, and so forth.
My dear brothers and sisters, with much sadness I have to say that even in the evangelical community itself, adherence to the truth of the word of God is slipping quickly, and even in our very own community there are deep threads of seriously bad stuff going around. Church growth schemes, prosperity gospels, Gnostic tendencies, and puny views of sanctification abound. I say none of that with any spirit of superiority or competition. I wish it weren’t so. But it is so, and thus we have a responsibility to be ambassadors of the biblical gospel all the more. We must be committed to be good and faithful stewards of what we have been given and to bear witness to the truth in our individual and corporate life. It is a gift we must give.
The second gift which we have to give is the gift of time. God has established the structures of creation by which we measure and think about time, and He has given to us insights as to how to redeem, or buy back from futility, the time we are given. Covenant Fellowship has a simple structure and fewer activities so that we may be free to give the gift of time to others.
Of course we want to see you use this opportunity to spend time with God. We want you to take time to rest. Of course we want you to spend time with your families. All this is part of life lived under the Lordship of Christ day to day. We also want to see you spend time with your friends, your workmates, and your neighbors. Being a “really serious” Christian does not equal never-ending busyness and frenetic lives on the treadmill of “Christian” activities. How can we be salt and light if we are not in the world, and if we do not give others the gift of our time? We have a longer gathering on Sundays, and fewer gatherings generally, for a reason, and that is, so we can – BOTH AT THE SAME TIME – have the ability to love and to minister to one another, and still have enough time and energy left over for our families and neighbors. This time is a gift we have to give.
The third gift is related to the second. It is the gift of love and service. How do we redeem back time from futility? We love. We serve. Love and service in Christ’s name or motivated out of love for Him and reverence for the image of God in others. Live lived for Christ in love and service is life purchased back from the futility of the fall and the curse. It follows us forward into our future with Christ. And the difference it makes in the present, in the lives of others, is a real and truly substantial difference.
You know, when we came to name this new church the name with the second most “votes” was “Salt and Light” church. Now I am glad we didn’t adopt that name but the idea behind it is central. And I have to say, it is way easier to talk about than to do. Really reaching out to and loving and serving others, and in that is included the poor and needy in our community, is always easier to dream about than to do in real time. As has been said, it is easier to love the idea of humanity, or to daydream about some wonderful act of service, than it is to do it in reality. In reality it is work, day in and day out, necessary, crucial, and significant work. We are meant to have and to take the time for this work. We do this work day to day in our families, in and through our relationships with our neighbors, and in and through our vocations, and in and through our avocations and serve in the community, and even in and through the time we give to help and love those far away.
The fourth gift which we have to give to the watching world is the gift of our own community life. That is, we as a community following after our Master as He taught us to do. This gift is given through our love, mutual service, and forbearance and forgiveness one-to-another. Jesus said “love one another as I have loved you and by this the world may know that you are my disciples.” Related to that he prayed for us that “we would be one” and that in our oneness the world would see that Jesus is from the Father. This is serious business. In our mutual love and unity we show our community in a very real and tangible way the reality of our own profession as disciples, but more importantly, the reality of the person of Jesus as being from the Father. In giving this gift we are involved in calling the world back to its real humanity. That is what we are seeking to exemplify in our life together. We are seeking to reflect redeemed human life (which can only be reflected in community) and in and through that the person and nature of our Master, the true image of God. Because of the manner in which our culture now processes ideas or propositions (not very well), for many people it is only the tangible example of a different way of being human persons that gets through. And this is really the point. We are meant in our community as we follow Jesus together to be also showing to ourselves and others what it means to be a human being. Wow.
Even when we fail, and we hurt one another, we are given the chance to show others what difference life in Christ can make. We repent. We forgive. We have to stand against the tide of self oriented consumerist living, and we do this in our service to others outside the church as well as in our love to one another inside. We don’t walk out on other people because they are difficult or because they inconvenience us. We don’t market Christ to a small specially selected subgroup of people. We love and respect people of all ages, and honor their contributions, and their spiritual temperaments and gifts. I would mention our intergenerational emphasis here. It is not some gimmick we created to try to be different. We cannot imagine real Christian community apart from it. It is profoundly counter cultural even within the culture of the church these days. It is part and parcel of loving one another as Jesus first loved us. Being intergenerational means that everybody has to give a little and no one gets everything their way. It is the way of Jesus I believe, and the watching world needs to see it in action.
The fifth gift we can give is the gift of our worship. The apostle Paul speaks about what non believers see and experience when they worship in our midst. Interestingly his comments are “seeker sensitive” and yet about as opposite to the seeker sensitive approach to worship these days as one could possibly imagine. He wants the church in Corinth in their gathering together to have such a transparent sense of seriousness and adoration of God and willingness to confess and repent of their sins, such a deep commitment to speaking and sharing the truth, that the watching unbeliever will be struck deep in his conscience by the truth of the gospel, brought to conviction, and caused to bow and give glory to God.
We never ever know who may show up when we gather. We are to be deeply honoring and appreciative of any who join us. We are to love them. We are not to put on a show for them. We are to do what is right to do when we gather, to do it with joy and seriousness, not to show off but to be what we are called to be. We are to worship with earnestness. People sense if we really mean it or not.
I would add that our Open Time offers unique opportunity for us to model the kind of dynamic we see in 1st Corinthians 14. I continue to pray and hope that we could see that time as being as significant as the rest of our time together, not just for sharing needs, though that is important, but also for giving thanks, making testimony of God’s work in our lives, sharing insights from Scripture, confessing our sins, seeking forgiveness, and all sorts of other things. We should never forget that people are watching and listening. It is right that they do. We do not live our lives before Christ off in a corner. We want people to come and worship with us and see that we really mean business before our great and wonderful God.
I know, I could name other gifts. But these are the five that come to my mind as I look ahead to the opportunity that God has given to us by giving us another year of life and service together. We are not given another year before Him just to kill time until He returns. Our lives, and our lives together, are filled with purpose. Let us redeem the time together, buying it back from futility, and go into this new year of life bearing gifts.