Letter from the Pastor

SIX SECRETS FOR BECOMING A LOVING CHURCH

I found an article by Pastor Rick warren entitled: “Six Secrets for Becoming a Loving Church.” This article is a good connection between what it means to “Forgive” and what it means to “Love.” I want to take two of the six points, over the next three weeks, and lift up some thoughts on what each of these mean to us as both a follower of Jesus and what they mean to us as a community of Believers.

Here are the Six Secrets for Becoming a Loving Church:

1)      The church is committed to building each other up.

2)      The church recognizes the value of every person.

3)      The church stays focused on what is really important.

4)      The stronger church members limit their liberty.

5)      The church does not insist everyone agree.

6)      The church accepts one another.

1) The church is committed to building each other up.

Can you imagine a small core of leaders in your church committed to building up everyone they came in contact with? What would that do to the morale of your church? What if just 5 people in your church began writing letters – one note a week – saying, “I appreciate you,” and they sent them to others in your congregation. What kind of impact would that have on the morale of your church? 

Paul instructs us to make this “building up” of others our goal. He wants us to become like Barnabas. The name Barnabas means, “son of encouragement.” How would you like to die and have that written on your tombstone? “She was an encourager.” “He was an encourager.” I can’t think of any finer thing to be said.

I believe Rick Warren offers some good advice, but I also think we can encourage one another when ever we meet together. When we see one another we must have a positive word for one another and not a negative word. If you have a problem with a brother or sister then you need to practice what it says in Matthew 18:15-17 as to how to handle disagreements. This will be part of our study this weekend in worship.

Bottom line: We are called to build up one another not tear down one another. In the early church the world said; “See how they love one another.”  

Life is tough, and there are enough discouraging people in the world. We need a whole band – an army – of encouragers! WILL YOU BE ONE?

2) The church recognizes the value of every person.

“Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.” (Romans 14:15b)

People may be obnoxious; they may be immature; they may be disagreeable, but Christ died for everyone. And we need to not forget that!

When you start to get upset with someone in your area of ministry or in the church, just remember: Christ died for that person. That shows how valuable and important they are to God.

So to me that means that whether I agree with or disagree with others, everyone has a place at the table. That means everyone has a voice, but that does not mean we can do what everyone wants to be done, because that would be impossible. What we can do is find “A Middle Way” as John Wesley said, and we can find a biblical way.  And we can find a way that will keep our primary purpose in focus: “To make disciples for Jesus Christ.” When we do that by inviting, loving and sending out, we will solve our problems. We will have more people than we will know what to do with, because they will know and feel the love of God.

So the next time you are irritated, lay down your stones, forgive and ask yourself; “What right do I have to hurt people Christ died for?” The answer is: I don’t have the right. Let us stay attuned to how God recognizes the value of every person.

3) The Church stays focused on what’s really important.

“Don’t allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and is approved of men.” (Romans 14:16)

Paul is saying that the essence of Christianity is not external but internal. By focusing on the things that are internal – eternally important – we can then put up with a lot of external quirks, faults and faux pas.

Let me give you an illustration: Back in 1917, as the Bolsheviks grabbed the reins of power through a revolution in Russia, the priests in the Orthodox Church were in a heated debate over how long the tassels should be on their robes. They ignored the Bolshevik revolution, and instead, split their church arguing over this trivial matter! Most churches don’t split over major issues. They split over trivial, foolish little things. And Paul is making the plea: Don’t be sidetracked by minor issues.

As a faith community, Crystal River UMC must decide what are the important things that should have our attention? I believe we must be a place of Hope, Love, Grace, and Mercy and those qualities begin with a heart that is focused on Jesus. Let us continuously turn our hearts toward Jesus who calls us to love one another.

4) The stronger Church members limit their liberty.

“Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It’s better not to eat meat, drink wine, or do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.”(Romans 14:20)

When my “liberty” limits the work of God, then I have a problem. I have to be sensitive to how my liberty potentially causes a weaker brother to stumble.

What this says is that my personal desires take second place to what is good for the whole body. So for example, if we believe as a church that lost people matter, then will we accept people that are different from us? If we like traditional music and someone else likes contemporary music, will we offer the other person their kind of music in worship as an act of love by placing our desires second?

We have the right to like what we like, but we should ask ourselves if our “likes, our liberties” are getting in the way of the mission of reaching people for Jesus

Paul’s point in Romans is, if I need to limit the way that I dress, fine, I’ll limit the way I dress. I’m not limiting myself out of legalism. I’m limiting myself because I want to minister to people who may not be mature enough to accept a different form of dress. Other people’s souls are far more important than my liberty.

5) The church does not insist everyone agree.

As your pastor, I do not believe there is a litmus test theologically for being a part of this fellowship. John Wesley would say, “If your heart is as my heart, give me your hand.” In other words, he felt the only thing that bound believers in common was a belief that Jesus Christ was Lord. Now I believe that is very important between Christians, but if you are not yet a follower of Jesus that understanding may not apply.

What does apply, over all, is that I do not expect you to “Believe as I believe, think as I think, drink as I drink, or do as I do". What is important is to have a desire to be in fellowship with one another. When we are in fellowship with one another we can learn from one another and we can hear one another’s perspective without having to agree.

Romans 14:22 – “So whatever you believe about these things, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.”

Paul says, “On disputable matters keep them between you and the Lord.” Go ahead and enjoy your freedom, but don’t flaunt it. Enjoy your freedom, but enjoy it in privacy. You can practice your freedom without parading it.

Romans 12:18 offers a good balance for this, suggesting that while you need to look out for people who might be offended by a legitimate “stumbling block” issue, there are some legalists who will be upset no matter what you do. You’ll never be able to please them.

In that event, Paul says, “As far as it depends on you, if it is possible, live at peace with all men.”

God even admits there are some people you can’t get along with! In that case, it’s not so much your problem as it is theirs. Their nitpicking says more about them than you. What you need to do is allow the Holy Spirit to help you determine when you are dealing with a legitimate stumbling block, and when you are dealing with another believer who is simply un-pleaseable. But DON’T jump to the conclusion that it is their problem. Take it to God and see what He has to say. You may have to agree to disagree but keeping fellowship with one another is a sign of your love for your neighbor.

 

6) The church accepts one another.

In Romans 15:7, Paul says, “Accept one another just as Christ has accepted you in order to bring praise to God.”

How did Christ accept us? Un-conditionally. Non-judgmentally. No one’s acceptance is based on performance!

Paul then goes on in verse 13, to say there are four marks of a unified church: joy, peace, hope and power. Now, THAT is the kind of church I want to be a part of, and I’m sure you do too!

No church will ever be perfect but it can become healthier. Crystal River certainly is not a perfect church, but it can strive to become healthier. My children are not perfect, but thankfully they are healthy. Let us strive to become more healthier in 2013 as we practice these Six Secrets for Becoming a Loving Church. May CRUMC grow in joy and peace and hope and power in the days and months and years to come!

Let me offer this prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank You for your people, whom You love, and whom You died for. Father, it is my prayer that Crystal River UMC will be so committed to building each other up that the world will take notice. I pray Father, that as a church we will be unified in love and that we will bring glory to You. Father, I pray that each of us will be filled with joy, peace, hope and power!

Teach us oh God, to recognize the value of every individual. Teach us to keep our focus on what is really important. Help us to limit our liberty willingly out of love for others. Help us refrain from forcing our opinions on each other, particularly in areas that aren’t clearly stated in Your Word. Help us to live by faith, and help us, like Christ, to be interested in doing what is good for others and not just to seek what is best for us.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Faith Confession

Brother and Sister in Christ:

Here is "The Faith Confession" we spoke about in worship yesterday. When you read these scriptures you are reading "How God Sees You." Use these scriptures to remind you how much God loves you and values you as his child. Remember these are His promises to you that you are never beyond God's love no matter how much you might mess up. May these scripture promises be a blessing to you each day. 

Blessings,

Pastor David  

My Faith Confessions

I believe Jesus Christ died for my sins and rose again from the dead on the third day.

(1 Corinthians 15:3-4)

I am crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. (Galatians 2:20)

I count myself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:1-14)

I am a new creation in Christ; the old life is gone, a new life has begun.

(2 Corinthians 5:17)

The Son has set me free. I am free indeed! (John 8:36)

The Word of God is at work in me. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)

My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:19)

I am being transformed into Christ’s likeness with ever increasing glory. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)

He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it. (Philippians 1:6)

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

Nothing can ever separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:38-39)

In all things God works for the good of those who love him. (Romans 8:28)

God is faithful. He will not let me be tempted beyond what I can bear. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

He is able to keep me from falling. (Jude 1:24)

Greater is he that is in me than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

God has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)

My light and momentary troubles are achieving for me an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

(2 Corinthians 4:17)

He is able to do immeasurably more than all I ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within me. (Ephesians 3:20)

If God is for me! Who can be against me? (Romans 8:31)



 

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