Discovering Spiritual Truths & Celebrating God's Grace in the Every Day Happenings of Life.
What a Gift!
During our final Wednesday evening “I Am a Church Member” conversation, we talked about two great topics. The first was the role we have to unite our own families in love and activity for the church. Yet for today, I will only focus on the second topic—the “gift” of being a church member. Have you ever thought about that before? Whether it be here at King of Kings or other congregations of the past, have you ever considered being a member of a local church as a GIFT—something to be treasured? Too many times, we see participation in the church as just one more thing to do, one more organization to be a part of. Far too many nominal believers are at content by keeping their name on a church membership role, thinking that by doing this, they do right by God and appease their conscience. They rarely show up. They seldom volunteer. Investment in the congregation is not something they have interest in or make time for. God wants more for us than that! There is something unique and special about what takes place within the walls of a church’s sanctuary. After all, the church is really the only place where the scriptures are extended and God’s grace is personally given. It is the only place where the teachings and sacrificial work of Jesus predominate all other things. Throughout the Bible, we see verse after verse that speaks of the gift of salvation, the gift of Christ’s work for us, and the truth that we cannot earn salvation or peace on our own. And finally, the gift of becoming a part of the body of Christ… the church. The message you hear from the pews within a church is not like anything else you’ll hear on TV or radio. The church is where God unequivocally and uniquely delivers these Gospel gifts to you.
Church membership is a gift. A gift must be treasured. It should not be taken for granted or considered lightly. Because it is a gift, we live a thankful life for it. We celebrate it. We embrace it. We use it. How? We do this, not by sending thank you notes, but by living and engaging in the life of the congregation, and by sharing the joy of this gift with others. As we are a week away from the official “back-to-school” start of fall, it is my hope that you will come back to church and celebrate the gift of our church together!
“Church participation is as vital to a disciple as a transfusion of rich, healthy blood to a sick man.” (Dwight L. Moody)
“A church that looks and sounds just like the world, has nothing to offer the world.” (John MacArthur)
Last Wednesday night, part of our “I Am a Church Member” conversation focused on the potentially divisive nature of personal preferences or desires. Do you remember the last time your children or grandchildren were caught in a tussle, fighting over who would get their way? We have all seen toddlers throwing temper tantrums when they don’t get what they want, kicking and screaming on the floor. Fortunately, that doesn’t happen within the church; although sometimes it may come close. 😉 Sadly, over the years, many churches have split in two over arguments such as the color of carpet to use in the narthex or the placement of the baptismal font inside the sanctuary.
To be sure, there is nothing wrong with preferring one style of worship over another. There is nothing sinful about having a personal fondness for one hymn over another. But as members of a church (local church and God's greater church), our motivation should never be about getting our way. In this community, we shed the selfish desires of the “me first” monster that lives within us. Instead, we look for ways to be a servant to others. The Apostle Paul sets before us the example of this attitude displayed profoundly by Jesus, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4) Become a servant for the sake of, for the good of the whole. Put others first. Jesus empties Himself, to the point of death, to serve you and me. Such humble sacrifice is not easy; the cross is clear evidence of this unavoidable truth. But such is the call and expectations that God has for His followers. Did you know the word servant occurs 57 times in the New Testament? Did you know the verb serve occurs 58 times in the New Testament? What are we to learn from this? Quite simply, serving is important! And if we are too busy making sure our needs are met and our own desires satisfied, then this often comes at the expense of those around us. If we are so turned inward, it is impossible to see the needs of those around us and serve them.
In the last days of August, we often try to squeeze in one more trip to the beach or one last venture to the mountains. As we savor the final stretch of this summer, think about ways you and your family can give and serve. How can you put others first? Reach out to a lonely neighbor. Volunteer at a local food pantry. Offer to babysit free of charge. Invite some friends going through a tough time over for dinner. Inside the walls of our church should be people that are actively on the lookout for ways to serve—doing as Jesus did. Let us all look for ways to bring a smile to the faces of those around us and be a blessing to others.
“Whenever you serve others in any way, you are actually serving God.” (Rick Warren)
“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” (1 Peter 4:10 NLT)
A Place of Doing
Last Wednesday night, in our book study on "I Am a Church Member" by Thom Rainer, we started talking about what it means to be an engaged and functioning church member. We started our study here in an effort to consider how our church can be healthier and how we might make more of a difference in the community. It was a great conversation, and for many it provided a shift in our thinking. Too often, people view the church as yet one more club to join, one more organization to be a part of, one more joyless thing to do. Sadly, the great American sin of entitlement has crept in and infiltrated the church. It has cheapened what it means to be part of the church. We no longer view church membership as an honor or joy. No doubt this grieves the heart of God. At an alarming rate, churches are in decline. Fringe and casual church goers are slipping further away from active engagement. Too many people view church membership as simply having a name on a roster; and sadly this is enough to appease their conscience. More and more people think, “If the church doesn’t meet my need or tell me what I want to hear, than I’m not going to waste my time.” The general premise of the author is that far too many people see the church from the lens of a “you exist to serve me” organization. They ask questions like… what are the perks? What is benefit? What is the church going to do for me? How will it entertain me?
God did not give us local churches to become country clubs where membership means we have privileges and perks. Yes, of course, the primary purpose of the church is to put us in the Gospel Reception spot. It is where God delivers, unequivocally and clearly, His grace through the Word and sacraments. But, the second and nearly as important purpose of the church, is to activate His people. Our Sunday more gatherings serve as our base of operations, where our Mighty King preps and equips us before He pushes us out into the world to bring Jesus where we live, work, and play. God has placed us in churches to serve, to care for others, to pray for leaders, to learn, to teach, to give. A Biblical understanding of the church is to see that we exist for the good of others, not the other way around! The beautiful picture of the Church outlined by scripture, is that the we are created to proclaim the truths of God and eagerly look for ways to care for and serve others. The church is a place of doing; it is where each one of us, uniquely designed and equipped, uses our God-given talents and abilities in service to Him and the growth of His Kingdom.
As we gear up for the fall, I do hope to see you all back in church. And with the return of our membership, I pray we find a renewed desire to make King of Kings a welcoming place of inspiration and community. I hope that we’ll ask our families to come with us. I hope that we will invite old friends and new neighbors to join us. I hope and pray that we will see new families and faces from our preschool or community in our pews. Our church is healthier and better when all our people are together—growing and learning, praying and playing. After all, the church is God’s only plan to reach the world!
Part of His Team
This past Monday night we received an email… “Congratulations! After a successful tryout, your daughter has made the traveling softball team…” Yay!
When was the last time you received something similar? A college acceptance letter. An approval to a nearby country club. A casting email from the school theatre director. A winning letter from Publishers Clearing House.
Good news like these things are rightly to be celebrated. It is an awesome feeling to make the team. To belong to something. To be part of a group or a squad. It is a wonderful thing indeed to know you’re not alone, to know that you have others who are cheering for you and fighting with you. To have peers to share in the challenges and in the victories. To be a small, yet essential, part of a larger community.
The Church is no different. It is here, surrounded by our brothers and sisters in Christ, where God invites us into a community where love and forgiveness abound. And thankfully there are no essays to write, no tryouts to be held. In and through Jesus, the invitation is free and open to us all. To be a church member puts us in a place where God immediately delivers the Gospel and directs our lives. To be a church member carries far more eternal benefits than to be accepted into an exclusive, worldly social club. To be a church member is to put ourselves in a position to be used by God—individually and together—in service to the world for the sake of His Gospel. Sure, the church is not perfect. Our church is not perfect. After all, we are a place filled with broken and sinful people—chief among them though I be! However, this is a community that should bring us great joy to be a part of. As part of the church, we are a prized and chosen people to God. As part of this church, we are His primary (and only) plan to reach the community in which our church was planted 65 years ago.
I recently read a story about a 100-year-old man who was celebrating his birthday at the church where he had attended since he was a boy. His family threw a big party for him with cake, ice cream, and lots of birthday cards. Then his great-grandson walked up to the microphone to say a few words. Turning to his grandfather he said, “Great-Grandpa, we know you can barely hear or see, but tell us, why do you still go to church every Sunday?” The man replied, “Because I love Jesus with all my heart, and He commanded me to be here.” Then he paused for a moment and added, “And I just want to show everybody whose side I’m on.”
Does your family know whose side you’re on? What about your friends and neighbors? It is a wonderful gift to be a church member, part of the bride of Christ and a recipient of His many grace-filled, righteousness-giving promises. We get to be a part of His church, part of His team. This is something to rejoice about. We celebrate because it is where we hear the Word of God. It is where we worship the Lord. It is where we receive untold spiritual benefits. It is where we encounter God.
“Church attendance is as vital to a disciple as a transfusion of rich, healthy blood to a sick man.” (Dwight L. Moody)
“A good church is a Bible-centered church. Nothing is as important as this--not a large congregation, a witty pastor, or tangible experiences of the Holy Spirit.” (Alistair Begg)
Jesus > The Beach
Last week our family was finally able to sneak away. We were able to spend 5 days down in Ocean City, MD. God blessed us with beautiful weather and the ocean water was just warm enough to be refreshing. In my opinion, there is nothing better than spending a day with your toes in the sand. Especially when that day also ends with a delicious meal and a cold margarita! I’m very grateful for the opportunity to get away--to recharge and relax and spend time with family. In our country, our rhythms of work and rest are broken. Hard work and independence are among the greatest virtues in many of our cultures. Rest is reduced to laziness. Laziness and dependence are seen as failures. We are encouraged to hustle and hurry, to keep pushing and driving until our hard work is rewarded with what we want. Yet resting is an important part of our lives. Unfortunately, we seldom do it. We live in a culture that is always on the go—running from one appointment to another. We are overcommitted and trying to squeeze things into our already saturated calendars. Even when we are at home, we seldom sit as there are rooms to be cleaned, closets to be organized, and meals to be made. However, it is essential to take time to recharge. In fact, it is a scriptural mandate from God founded in creation and decreed in creation and in the 3rd commandment. What does it say? “Remember the Sabbath day.” Literally a day of rest… but what does this mean?
This rest day served several purposes for the children of Israel back in the Old Testament. Since the fall of Adam and Eve into sin in the Garden of Eden, obtaining daily bread was toilsome; it required sweat and labor. For physical reasons a rest day was necessary. Physical rest was intended to rejuvenate all workers and the beasts of burden as well, for God said as much regarding the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10). But it wasn’t just about taking an extra long nap in the shade or giving the animals an extra heaping of feed. This day of “sabbath rest” also served as a means of setting God’s people apart from the heathen Gentiles around them. It served as a reminder that their God had sanctified them—set them apart, made them holy—just as He had set apart a holy day of rest. It was a day for thanksgiving, that God had delivered them and blessed them. This is why worship, prayer, and devotion is an essential part of “sabbath rest” also. It grounds us in our relationship with God and His providence in our lives. It is as if the Lord says, “While all your friends hit the golf course, shopping malls, fishing holes, and ballfields, you come find lasting “rest” in me. Come to me first, that you might receive blessings this world cannot give. You can go and have your fun later, but start your day with me. Receive my blessings. Stand out among your friends and family by taking time to spend with me spiritually. Give witness to who you are in me ”
Herein lies the most beautiful part of the Sabbath rest—receiving from God the good things He promises us. A couple of Sunday mornings ago, we heard the story of Mary and Martha in church. The 3rd commandment is an encouragement to listen, as Mary did, to the “one thing needful” by sitting at the feet of Jesus to hear His Word (Luke 10:38-42). When we go to the Word and worship the Lord in His house, we are reminded again of God’s care and grace that He so freely distributes; the deliverance of the past and His nonstop rescue from sin, death, and the devil. Believe me, as nice as it is to feel the sun and hear the crashing waves, we cannot find lasting strength and peace on the beach. Only in Jesus. The Sabbath rest is God’s way of saying, “I’m in charge. I’ll take care of you. Trust me.”
In today’s contemporary society, keeping the Sabbath may seem downright old-fashioned and countercultural. As Christians, we shouldn’t claim busyness, family pressures or fatigue as good excuses to forsake time spent with the Lord in prayer, devotion, and church attendance. Despite what catchy social media posts and phrases may tell you, being involved in the life of the church (the bride of Christ) does matter. Enjoying the gift of “Sabbath rest” is still relevant and mandated for us today. God built it in for a reason—we need rest after six days of work and time to turn our attention to the Lord. “Keeping it holy” means to set the day apart—different from any other day—a time to worship, refresh, rest and regroup for the week ahead. A time to invite God back into every aspect of your life and guide your future steps.
“As we keep or break the Sabbath day, we nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope by which man rises.” (Abraham Lincoln)
Pastor Steve Vera
King of Kings Lutheran Church
145 Route 46
Mountain Lakes, NJ 07046
In-person, 9:00 a.m.
Sunday Worship Service
Broadcasted at 9:00 am via Facebook Live
and on our YouTube channel